January 28 & 29: Happy Birthday Ernst Lubitsch and W. C. Fields


Today we headline two prominent figures who contributed to making the 1930s and early 1940s a great period for film comedy.

Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) grew up in Berlin, and began working in German theater, and then film, in his late teens.  By 1918, he was directing his first feature film, The Eyes of the Mummy, and within a few years he had enough of a reputation that he was invited to Hollywood.  In Germany he had made a few dramatic films, but in the US his trademark quickly became comedy, generally with a sophistication and a style that is often referred to as Lubitsch’s “touch.”

Although Lubitsch made some respected silent films, he hit his stride when talkies came in.  He made successful musicals with Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald, such as The Merry Widow, and helmed the con-artist movie/romance Trouble in Paradise.  He directed Greta Garbo in the movie where “Garbo laughs,” Ninotchka, and the classic romance The Shop Around the Corner.  Heart trouble slowed him in his final years, but he still was able to direct the darker comedy To Be or Not to Be and the romance Heaven Can Wait.

William Claude Dukenfield, better known as W. C. Fields (1880-1946) worked in vaudeville for several years, before making his Broadway debut in 1905.  In 1915, he began appearing regularly in the annual Ziegfeld Follies, and also made his film debut.  Like Lubitsch, he worked regularly in silent films, but is better known for his sound features.

Fields occasionally ventured into films like an adaptation of Dickens’ David Copperfield, as Mr. Micawber, but normally starred in films built around a standard screen persona he developed, a self-absorbed, egotistical and misanthropic figure who nevertheless manages to retain the audience’s sympathy.    Among his best known films are The Old Fashioned Way, It’s A Gift, The Bank Dick, and Never Give A Sucker An Even Break.

MacKenzie Porter, known for her regular roles on Hell on Wheels and Travelers, is turning 28 today.  Jason James Richter, best known as Jesse in the Free Willy films, is 38; he recently appeared in the movie Last Rampage (with Heather Graham).  Terry Kinney, who turns 64, was a founder of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and played Tim McManus on HBO’s Oz.

Adam Lambert, who turns 36, was the runner-up on season 9 of American Idol.   He has since released three successful studio albums and collaborated with the active members of Queen on a number of tours.

Lee Ingleby, who turned 42 yesterday, is known for his regular roles on the BBC series Inspector George Gently and The A Word, and for voicing the title character of Bob the Builder as of its 2015 revival.  Calum Worthy, who is now 27, played Dez on Disney Channel’s Austin & Ally, and is a regular on Netflix’s American VandalSusan Howard, who is 74, is known to TV audiences of the seventies and eighties for playing the wife of the title character on Petrocelli, and then appearing as Donna Krebbs on Dallas.

Last year’s January 28 headliners were Alan Alda and Sarah McLachlan.

Alan Alda, who turns 82, has not been active since a 2016 guest appearance on Broad CitySarah McLachlan is 50.  She has been nominated for a Grammy for her most recent studio album, Wonderland (by the time this article appears you’ll know if she won), and the same album already brought her her tenth Juno Award.

Elijah Wood, who is 37, appeared in last year’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, and also starred on the second season of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective AgencyTom Hopper, who turned 33, joined the cast of Game of Thrones as Dickon Tarly.  Angelique Cabral, who remains a regular on Life in Pieces, is 39.  Ariel Winter, who celebrated her 20th, is now in her ninth season as Alex Dunphy on Modern FamilyWill Poulter, who turned 25, starred in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit and also appeared in War Machine.  Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, who is 38, was a judge on the first season of ABC’s Boy Band.

Last year on this date, Oprah Winfrey and Heather Graham were our headliners.

Oprah Winfrey is 64 today.  She was an executive producer and star of the Emmy-nominated TV movie The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and will play Mrs. Which in Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time; she also remains involved with her numerous television shows.  Heather Graham celebrates her 48th birthday today.  She is directing, writing and starring in the upcoming film Half Magic, and also appeared in last year’s Last Rampage.  She is today’s WTHH birthday.

Katharine Ross, who is 78, made her first feature film in over a decade, costarring with her husband, Sam Elliott, in The HeroSara Gilbert is 43; she will return to the role of Darlene Conner for the revival of Roseanne, and continues to be a cohost of CBS’s The TalkIsabel Lucas, currently a regular on CBS’s rebooted MacGyver, is 33 today.  Justin Hartley, who turns 41 today, continues to star as Kevin Pearson on This Is Us.

If today is your birthday, congratulations on sharing your big day with these notable names.  Birthday wishes to everyone celebrating a big day today.  Come back tomorrow for more celebrity birthdays.


Posted on January 28, 2018, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Oops, this wasn’t supposed to go up until tomorrow morning. 🙂


  2. I’ve seen a number of Lubitsch’s films over the years; I particularly enjoy Ninotchka and The Shop Around the Corner, either of which would be a good introduction to the director’s famous “touch.”

    W.C. Fields comedies had a different flavor than those of some of the other comic greats of the era, such as the Marx Brothers or Hawks or Sturges—I’ve found them bracing and even a bit sour at times. While I don’t have them at the very top of my favorites list, I have enjoyed The Bank Dick and It’s a Gift.


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