Monday, November 15, 2010

Happy birthday, Judge Wapner and Nova Pilbeam!


Ninety-one years ago on this date, Joseph Albert Wapner was born in Los Angeles…but I’ll bet dollars to donuts no one calls him “Joe” or even “J.A.” nowadays—he’s better known as Judge Wapner.  (I’ll bet even Mrs. W calls him that.)  From 1981 to 1993, he was the presiding arbiter on TV’s The People’s Court, a syndicated TV series that invited litigants to settle their small claims gripes on the air while the former L.A. County Superior Court jurist restrained from sentencing a great many of those yahoos to life imprisonment for idiocy.  The popularity of Court was such that it inspired a myriad number of imitations, including Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown, that pretty much take valuable time away from essential classic television reruns…so when it is time for Judge W. to enter a courtroom not of this Earth I hope he brings along effective counsel—he has a lot to answer for.

Attending Hollywood High School in the 1930s, he briefly dated Lana Turner before she got discovered at that drugstore soda fountain, so that might weigh in his favor in the afterlife.  After Court’s initial run, the Judge turned up on Judge Wapner’s Animal Court, an Animal Planet program that I’m guessing was a relief from the former job because he was less likely to get bit by a plaintiff.  Last year on November 12, Wapner received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and the next day guest-hosted on the current People’s Court in honor of his 90th anniversary (which was, of course, two days later).

An entry for the IMDb says that Wapner was living in my current stomping grounds of Athens, GA in 2006…but Wikipedia says he now resides in L.A. as of 2009, so he either moved (he only lasted three years?  I’ll have that beat by next May) or one of those impeccable sources (rolling eyes) is incorrect.  It’s a shame he’s no longer hanging his hat in Athens—we could have got together for a root beer.  (Happy birthday anyway, your Honor!)

Our other nonagenarian today is British actress Nova Pilbeam, who also turns the big nine-one—the veteran of stage and screen, who began her career as a moppet thesp, is best known on this side of the pond for her appearances in two Alfred Hitchcock-directed classics: The Man Who Knew Too Much (the 1934 version) and Young and Innocent.  The happiest of natal anniversaries to Ms. Pilbeam…and to these fine individuals as well:

Lewis Stone (1879-1953) – Stage and screen stalwart who was required by law to appear in every single M-G-M feature from the beginning of the studio’s founding in 1924…okay, I may have made that last part up*

Franklin P. Adams (1881-1960) – Newspaper columnist (“The Conning Tower”), Algonquin Round Table member and longtime Information, Please panelist

Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986) – American painter

Samuel Ornitz (1890-1957) – Hollywood Ten screenwriter whose film contributions include The Case of Lena Smith, Hell’s Highway, Men of America and One Man’s Journey

Erwin Rommel (1891-1944) – Desert fox

Jack Ingram (1902-1969) – TDOY character actor fave who was a B-western and chapter play stalwart, appearing in such serials as Dick Tracy Returns, Terry and the Pirates, Manhunt of Mystery Island and Jack Armstrong

Ray Kellogg (1905-1976) – Motion picture special effects artist who also helmed a few movies, including The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster

Curtis LeMay (1906-1990) – WW2 Air Force General whose kooky right-wing politics scored him the gig as George Wallace’s running mate in the Alabama governor’s 1968 Presidential campaign; supposedly inspired George C. Scott’s “Buck Turgidson” character in Dr. Strangelove

Dona Drake (1914-1889) – Singer/actress whose films include Strike Me Pink, Road to Morocco, Without Reservations and Another Part of the Forest; also went by “Rita Rio” and once fronted an all-girl band that included Toby Wing and Marie Wilson

Bill Melendez (1916-2008) – Animation director-producer who, with partner Lee Mendelson, was responsible for the Peanuts specials, movies and TV show…and also supplied the “voice” of Snoopy

Dee Green (1916-1985) – Character actress fondly remembered by Three Stooges fans as the homely dame Shemp must marry in the classic 1947 short Brideless Groom

Carol Bruce (1919-2007) – Stage, screen and television actress who will always be remembered around Rancho Yesteryear as (Mother) Lillian Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati

Bill Fries (1928-     ) – Country music singer-songwriter who, as C.W. McCall, scored a mega-successful crossover hit with a song about a bunch of gearjammers driving like maniacs


Barbara Cason (1928-1990) – TDOY character actress fave best remembered as Garry Shandling’s mom on his TV sitcom; her other vehicles include House of Dark Shadows, Cold Turkey and TV’s Carter Country

Edward Asner (1929-     ) – Emmy Award-winning TDOY character actor god who cemented his television immortality as the curmudgeonly Lou Grant on Mary Tyler Moore and later a self-titled dramatic series

Mike Winters (1930-     ) – British television performer who partnered with his brother Bernie before the duo called it quits in 1978

Whitman Mayo (1930-2001) – Grady

J.G. Ballard (1930-2009) – English novelist who specialized in science fiction but also wrote books like the semi-autobiographical Empire of the Sun

John Kerr (1931-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Tea and Sympathy, South Pacific, Pit and the Pendulum and TV’s Arrest and Trial and Peyton Place

Clyde McPhatter (1932-1972) – One-time vocalist with both the Dominoes and Drifters who later launched a fairly successful solo career


Petula Clark (1932-     ) – British pop music institution who started out as radio and music hall star in the 1940s and became a 60s sensation with hits like this one:


Jack Burns (1933-     ) – Film and television comedy institution who has worn hats as a standup performer (with George Carlin and Avery Schreiber), actor (The Andy Griffith Show, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home) and director-writer-producer (The Muppet Show, Fridays, Brothers)

Joanna Barnes (1934-     ) – Journalist and novelist who started out acting in TV shows (The Trials of O’Brien)  and movies like Auntie Mame and The Parent Trap (both versions) to pay the rent; was married at one time to TDOY OTR god Lawrence Dobkin

Yaphet Kotto (1937-     ) – TDOY character actor great best known as Lt. Al “Gee” Giardello on TV’s Homicide: Life on the Street; his films include Blue Collar, Alien and Midnight Run

William E. “Little Willie” John (1937-1968) – R&B vocalist whose rendition of Fever reportedly sold more copies than Peggy Lee’s version, despite the fact that Lee’s cover charted higher


Thalmus Rasulala (1939-1991) – Stage, screen and character actor who was a major presence in many blaxploitation films including Blacula, Cool Breeze, Willie Dynamite and Friday Foster; also played wayward dad Bill Thomas on the sitcom What’s Happening!

Sam Waterston (1940-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor and TD Waterhouse shill whose presence on TV’s Law & Order for sixteen years made him one of my mother’s personal heroes; if Baz Luhrmann thinks he can find a Nick Carraway for his version of The Great Gatsby that will top Waterston’s 1974 performance ol’ Baz has been smoking some serious rope

Bob Gunton (1945-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include Matewan, The Shawshank Redemption, Dolores Claiborne and TV’s 24 and Desperate Housewives

Beverly D’Angelo (1951-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Coal Miner’s Daughter, the Vacation movies, Maid to Order, American History X and TV’s Entourage

James Widdoes (1953-     ) – Actor-director whose modest beginnings as “Hoover” in Animal House blossomed into a prolific career behind the camera on such TV shows as Dave’s World, 8 Simple Rules and Two and a Half Men

Kevin Eubanks (1957-     ) – Bandleader on Jay Leno’s show

Judy Gold (1962-     ) – Actress and standup comedienne who lost a lot of my respect when she started turning up on that idiotic “World’s Dumbest Dipsh*ts” show or whatever the hell that program is called that my father watches on TruTV

Jack Ingram (1970-     ) – I swear this is not a repeat—Wikipedia says the country music vocalist with the same name as the other Jack Ingram was born on this day, too…what are the odds?


*According to the always reliable IMDb, Stone’s death was apparently tragic: “A group of rowdy teenagers had invaded his meticulously kept garden, and he ran out to prevent damage and ask them to leave. The effort proved too much for the gallant 73-year-old and he collapsed of a heart attack, dying almost instantly.”  So Bill Crider’s not kidding around when he stresses the importance of keeping kids off one’s lawn.


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1 comment:

Brent McKee said...

Oddly enough I've been hearing Carol Bruce on some podcasts of the 1942 or '43 Al Jolson series. The lady had some serious pipes.