Author Archives: jestak2
Our recent abundance of musical birthdays continues today. Our headliners today are known, respectively, as the Queen of Country and the Princess of Pop (although neither is the sole claimant to her title).
Reba McEntire celebrates her 62nd birthday today. She was studying to be a teacher at Southeastern Oklahoma State University when country singer Rod Steagall heard her sing the national anthem at a rodeo competition, and helped her land a recording contract with Mercury. Her first album came out in 1977, but she didn’t begin to be a major success until the early 1980s. Her fifth album, Unlimited, resulted in her first two #1 Country singles, but she soon moved to MCA in order to have more creative control over her recordings. In 1986 Whoever’s in New England became her first #1 Country album, while the title song won her her first Grammy.
Quentin Tarantino is celebrating his 54th birthday today. A film buff from an early age, he worked at a variety of jobs around Southern California, including, famously, in a video store. He wrote a script for a heist movie and a friend showed it to Harvey Keitel, who liked it and signed onto the movie as a co-producer, as well as becoming one of the stars, enabling Tarantino to raise a budget of somewhat over $1 million for Reservoir Dogs, which came out in 1992 to favorable reviews.
Tarantino did a number of screenplays for other filmmakers in the early nineties, including True Romance and From Dusk Till Dawn. However, he was more focused on the film that would really establish his reputation, one that even more than Reservoir Dogs was full of the traits we now consider “Tarantino style filmmaking”—nonlinear storytelling, clever dialogue full of pop culture references, stylized violence, etc. It was named Pulp Fiction:
Diana Ross is turning 73 today. As a child, she lived in the same Detroit neighborhood as Smokey Robinson for a few years. At the age of 15 she joined an all-female singing group called the Primettes; within a little over a year they had won a talent competition, auditioned successfully for Motown, and changed the group’s name to The Supremes. Initially a quartet, they soon were a trio when one member left to get married.
The Supremes were Motown’s most successful act during the sixties. Initially all three members—Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson—shared lead vocals, but in late 1963 Berry Gordy of Motown designated Ross as the group’s lead singer. It was shortly after that that they had the first of their twelve #1 singles during the decade. Any of those twelve is a good representation of the group’s style; this was one of them:
While we have some worthy names from the world of film and television with birthdays today, we have a pair of music legends who were essentially self-selecting choices as headliners.
The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, celebrates her 75th birthday today. She began her singing career as a gospel singer, first at her father’s church (he was a Baptist minister), then touring. When she turned 18, she decided she wanted to move into more secular music. She initially signed with Columbia and her first album came out in 1961, but it was when she moved to Atlantic Records in 1967 that she became a big success.
Franklin has, like any performer, had ups and downs career-wise but she has never become irrelevant. She has won 18 Grammys and in 1987 became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When someone has had 88 singles that reached the Billboard Hot 100—and Franklin has—picking a single song to represent their entire career would be impossible. However, there is one song that, above all others, she is identified with; you probably know what it is already, but it’s below the fold:
Two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain celebrates her 40th birthday today. Although she was interested in the performing arts as a young girl, her acting career got off to a relatively late start, compared with most actresses of similar stature. After attending a community college for two years, she auditioned for and was accepted to Juilliard, graduating in 2003. She made a variety of TV guest appearances before her 2008 feature film debut as the title character in Jolene.
Chastain began to emerge as a star in 2011, appearing in several films including Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Tate Taylor’s The Help, for which she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. A year later she starred in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, receiving a Best Actress nomination and winning a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama.
For today, I had a choice among a number of well-known but not superstar faces from the present, and a pair of big names from the past, so I decided to go with one of each.
Keri Russell is celebrating her 41st birthday today. She made her performing debut on the All-New Mickey Mouse Club in 1991. A role in the film Honey, I Blew Up the Kid followed, along with a number of TV movies and guest roles. In 1998, she was cast in the lead role of the WB network’s new drama Felicity. Russell won a Golden Globe as Felicity Porter for the first of the show’s four seasons.
In the mid-2000s, there were times when it seemed that Russell might emerge as a major film star. A fairly important supporting role in Mission: Impossible III offered her a chance to be a part of a big hit; however, the film would up with the weakest box office numbers in the series. She received very good critical notice for starring in Waitress, but was not able to follow it up with further successes. However, she is once again finding success on the small screen. She stars on The Americans as Elizabeth Jennings, one half of a Cold War era couple who are Soviet moles. Currently in its fifth season, the show has brought Russell nominations for an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
Our two headliners today are probably the two most influential figures in musical theater in the post-Rodgers and Hammerstein era.
Andrew Lloyd Webber (or Baron Lloyd-Webber, as he is known today) is turning 69 today. He is from a musical family—his parents were both musicians, and his younger brother Julian Lloyd Webber is a prominent cellist. He began writing music at a very young age, and was in his teens when he first began setting T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats to music. A couple of years later, he worked for the first time with lyricist Tim Rice; their first musical was not produced until 2005, but their second became the first hit of a successful partnership that lasted over a decade.
Lloyd Webber’s career is fairly well known and contains a lot of high points. You have not one but two super-sized monster hit musicals (Cats and The Phantom of the Opera). You have a good old fashioned big hit (Evita). You have the huge success in London/modest hit in the US (Starlight Express). You have the earlier hits with Rice (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar). You have the long-runner that never quite covered its big budget (Sunset Boulevard), and still other less renowned musicals. And you have a major parade of songs that are known all over the world.
Matthew Broderick, who is a WTHH subject, turns 55 today. He began acting in the theater, appearing in an off-Broadway production of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, and then won a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play in his Broadway debut in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs (he is the youngest actor ever to win in that category). He has continued to put together an impressive stage resume, including a second Tony, for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for a 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
But it’s his film career that Broderick is best known for. He made his film debut in Max Dugan Returns in 1983, and later that year starred in WarGames. In 1985 he appeared in Ladyhawke, and a year later he was a Golden Globe nominee for playing a certain teenager from the Chicago suburbs.
William Hurt is turning 67 today. After studying at Tufts and Juilliard, he spent several years with the Circle Repertory Company. He was a Tony nominee for his Broadway debut in David Rabe’s Hurlyburly. He made his film debut in Altered States in 1980 and received a Golden Globe nomination. His next film roles were in the romantic thriller Eyewitness with Sigourney Weaver, as a classic film noir sap in Body Heat, with yesterday’s headliner Glenn Close, among others, in The Big Chill, and in the lead role in Gorky Park. And then he starred in an adaptation of a novel by Manuel Puig:
Glenn Close celebrates her 70th birthday today. After graduating from William & Mary, she pursued an acting career, and made her Broadway debut in 1974 in a revival of William Congreve’s Love for Love. She worked steadily both on and off Broadway for the next decade, and won a Tony for Best Actress in a Play for the original Broadway production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing. By this time, she had also begun a film and television career; her first three film appearances, in The World According to Garp, The Big Chill, and The Natural, all brought her Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress. She then received her first nomination for Best Actress for a 1987 thriller:
Queen Latifah, the stage/screen name of Dana Owens, turns 47 today. She first became known as a rapper; her debut album came out in 1989 and was followed by two more in the next four years. Her third album, Black Reign, included her Grammy-winning single “U.N.I.T.Y.” By the time that album was released she had made her film debut in Jungle Fever and had a starring role on Fox’s Living Single. In the late nineties she had prominent roles in films like Set It Off and The Bone Collector.
In 2002, Latifah had her most acclaimed film role, receiving Oscar and Golden Globe nominations as “Mama” Morton in Chicago. More recently, she was a Golden Globe winner and an Emmy nominee for the HBO film Life Support, and she currently is a regular on Fox’s Star. As a musician, she has evolved from a rapper into more of a jazz and R&B vocalist on albums like The Dana Owens Album and Trav’lin’ Light.
Kurt Russell celebrates his 66th birthday today. He began working as a juvenile actor in 1960s television, including starring on a short-lived Western series, The Travels of Jamie McPheeters. He began to work regularly in features in the seventies, starring in a series of Disney films, most notably the three films featuring Medfield College undergrad Dexter Riley, beginning with The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.
In the late seventies Russell began to break with his Disney image, with an Emmy-nominated performance in the TV movie Elvis, and made an even more decisive break as Snake Plissken in Escape from New York. By the late eighties and early nineties, Russell was a credible leading man in many genres, including romantic comedy (Overboard), crime thriller (Tequila Sunrise, Unlawful Entry), and even Westerns:
French actress Isabelle Huppert is turning 64 today. She made her debut in 1971 on French television and her film debut a year later. Two of her early successes were in the 1975 film Aloïse, for which she received the first of sixteen Cesar Award nominations (more than any other actress has received), and the 1978 film Violette Nozière, the first of seven collaborations with director Claude Chabrol, for which she received another Cesar nominatoin and the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Huppert has won the Cesar for Best actress twice, and been nominated seven times for a Moliere Award, the French equivalent of a Tony. She has appeared in a small number of American films over the years—Michael Cimino’s infamous bomb Heaven’s Gate, the thriller The Bedroom Window, David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees, and a few others. However, she probably more American attention in the past year than ever before thanks to her starring role in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, for which she won a Golden Globe and her second Cesar, and was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress.