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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 30, 1963

It's the second last day of July, and also the last Tuesday Timeline of the month of July, so I thought that for this edition, I would spotlight a person who eventually became a huge star and whose most successful role lasted ten years. But the road in which she took to get to that point was filled with potholes, close calls, and disappointments. Nevertheless, her story is one that should be told, and this is the place where we're going to do it.

For now, let's take a look at what else happened in the world on this, the thirtieth day of July.

762 – Baghdad, Iraq is founded by caliph Al-Mansur

1502 – Explorer Christopher Columbus lands at Guanaja in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras during his second voyage

1608 – Samuel de Champlain shoots and kills two Iroquois chiefs at Ticonderoga, setting the tone for relations between the French and the Iroquois for the next century

1629 – Ten thousand people are killed during an earthquake in Naples, Italy

1729 – The city of Baltimore, Maryland is founded

1871 – The Staten Island ferry Westfield suffers a boiler explosion, which kills 85 people

1916 – Actor Dick Wilson (born Riccardo DiGuglielmo) is born – he portrayed Mr. Whipple in close to five hundred commercials for Charmin

1930 – Uruguay wins the first FIFA World Cup in Montevideo

1932 – Walt Disney's “Flowers and Trees” premieres, the first cartoon short to use Technicolor

1945 – 883 people lose their lives as the USS Indianapolis is sunk by Japanese submarine I-58 during World War II

1956 - “In God We Trust” is adopted as the official motto of the United States of America

1962 – The Trans-Canada Highway is opened to the public

1965 – Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Social Security Act of 1965 which establishes Medicare and Medicaid

1974 – Richard Nixon releases subpoenaed White House recordings after being ordered to do so by the Supreme Court of the United States

1975 – The disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa from a restaurant parking lot in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan – he is never seen or heard from alive again

1989 – Bull rider Lane Frost is killed in an accident at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo at the age of 25

1990 – George Steinbrenner is forced by Fay Vincent to resign as principal partner of the New York Yankees for hiring Howie Spira to “get dirt” on Dave Winfield

2006 - “Top of the Pops” airs its final episode after forty-two years

2012 – Author Maeve Binchy succumbs to a short illness in Dublin, Ireland, at the age of 72

Now for the celebrity birthdays. We have a lot of them today, so I won't waste much time. A very happy birthday to Sid Krofft, Edd Byrnes, Bud Selig, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Anka, William Atherton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Otis Taylor, Frank Stallone, Ken Olin, Delta Burke, Anita Hill, Richard Burgi, Kate Bush, Neal McCoy, Laurence Fishburne, Alton Brown, Vivica A. Fox, Terry Crews, Simon Baker, Dean Edwards, Tom Green, Christine Taylor, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Hilary Swank, Graham Nicholls, Misty May-Treanor, Jaime Pressly, Gabrielle Christian, Sam Saunders, Coco Sumner, Hannah Cockroft, and Joey Mead.

(Whew, I'm exhausted! July 30 must be a big day for Hollywood births!)

As it so happens, today's blog subject also happens to be someone who is celebrating a birthday. And it happens to be a really big birthday at that.

She was born fifty years ago today, on July 30, 1963.

Our subject has done a lot during her entire career. She's been a friend to one and all, she attended a high school reunion, she's not a therapist but plays one on television, and she helps other famous faces find out who they think they are! Sounds like a real well-rounded woman, don't you think?

Of course, that's what has happened to her over the last twenty years. Prior to that, she struggled to be heard in an industry that could be cold and unfeeling. Regardless of which, she persevered, and after being turned down for gigs, or miscast for others, eventually received her big break in 1993 – the year before she was cast in the role that would make her one of the six highest-paid and critically acclaimed “Friends” that ever existed in the world of situation comedies.

This is the story of Lisa Valerie Kudrow, who turns fifty years old today.

She was born on July 30, 1963 in Los Angeles, California, the youngest of three children born to a physician father and a travel agent mother. And growing up in Tarzana, California, Lisa certainly proved that she had brains. After graduating from Taft High School in 1981, Kudrow studied at Vassar College, earning her BA in Biology. Her original intent was to follow in her father's footsteps to do some research on what caused headaches, and how they could be cured. For eight years, Kudrow worked on her father's staff, actually earning a research credit for Kudrow's father's study on the comparative likelihood of left-handed individuals developing cluster headaches.

TRIVIA: Whereas some stars in Hollywood remain coy on whether or not they have had plastic surgery done, Lisa readily admits that when she was sixteen years old, she underwent a rhinoplasty in an effort to reduce the size of her nose.

Now here's the thing with Lisa. In between doing research and studying biology in school, she had a second love. She was always interested in the world of acting and drama, but wasn't exactly sure how she could break into the industry. In fact, it wasn't until her older brother introduced her to a friend of his that she began to entertain the possibility of working as an actress.

That friend? Jon Lovitz.

Acting on the suggestion of Lovitz, Lisa Kudrow tried out for and joined the cast of the improv troupe “The Groundlings” in the 1980s. She was also the only female member of the “Transformers Comedy Troupe”. And one of her first roles was in an episode of “Cheers”, where she played Emily in the 1989 episode “Two Girls for Every Boyd”.

But as Lisa Kudrow began her career in Hollywood, every single project that she had signed onto just didn't work out at all. Just take a look at some of the career prospects in which she had high hopes for, but just didn't pan out.

In 1990, she tried out for the cast of Saturday Night Live, and was a very strong contender for joining the cast for the 1990/1991 television season. But when it came down to the producers, they decided that they liked Julia “It's Pat” Sweeney just a little bit more, and Kudrow was turned down for the show.

(Although Kudrow would return to the program six years later to guest host.)

She starred in two pilots during 1989 and 1990. One was NBC's “Just Temporary”, and the other was ABC's “Close Encounters”. Unfortunately for Kudrow, neither one was picked up for a full season.

Believe it or not, Lisa Kudrow was initially cast for the role of Roz Doyle in the television series “Frasier”, which debuted in September 1993. But when Lisa felt as though she wasn't exactly working out in the role, her part was replaced by Peri Gilpin.

Also in the 1990s, Kudrow had a three episode gig on the Bob Newhart series “Bob”, which ran on CBS between 1992 and 1993. Ironically enough, Lisa Kudrow also guest-starred on the infamous “Newhart” finale, which aired in May 1990. However, that series was cancelled before any further appearances could be made.

So, after several failed attempts at making it big in Hollywood, Lisa Kudrow was beginning to get very frustrated. By the time that she had won a recurring part on the NBC sitcom “Mad About You” in 1993 as Ursula Buffay, a waitress who is so self-absorbed and self-centered that she is not very well-liked, I imagine that Lisa was worried that this gig would only last a few months like all the others.

Well, not only did this particular job help get Lisa Kudrow's name on “Maps of the Stars” all over, but it was actually this role on “Mad About You” that helped propel her onto another show that became an even bigger pop culture phenomenon than “Mad About You”.

You see, while Kudrow was filming the first season of “Mad About You”, David Crane and Marta Kauffman were in the planning stages of their own sitcom set to air on NBC.

That sitcom was “Friends”.

One of the roles on “Friends” was an eccentric type going by the name of Phoebe. Several actresses auditioned for the role of Phoebe when the show was doing their casting in early 1994. Kathy Griffin, Jane Lynch, and Megan Mullally all auditioned for the role of Phoebe, but ultimately none of them were given the part.

They were all beat out by Lisa Kudrow.

Turns out that the producers were impressed by Kudrow. They were fans of “Mad About You”, and they loved her performance as Ursula Buffay. In fact, the producers came up with an idea to tie the two shows together by making Phoebe a Buffay. By having Phoebe as Ursula's identical, but nicer twin sister, they could have a connection between two NBC shows, which they hoped would create a buzz for both shows.

It seemed to work. “Friends” became a huge hit and millions of viewers tuned in every Thursday night to catch up on the adventures of Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Ross, Joey, and Phoebe. And, Phoebe was one of those characters who stood out in a huge way. Phoebe had an interesting background. Her father abandoned her family when Phoebe was very young, claimed that her mother was a drug dealer, and she lived in extreme poverty during her childhood years. She ended up living on the streets by the time she was fifteen, and had some rather interesting experiences while struggling to survive, including getting stabbed by a police officer, making sombreros in a factory, and mugging a little boy named Ross Gellar for his comic book!

Eventually, Phoebe did get off the streets, answering a roommate ad that was posted by Monica Gellar, and the two became good friends, which set the stage for Phoebe befriending the other four friends.

Now, I don't really want to make this blog entry all about Phoebe, so I'll just post three or four highlights of Lisa Kudrow's talent on “Friends”.

(NOTE: The triplets that Phoebe are holding are not Phoebe's. She acted as a surrogate for her brother.)

As you know, “Friends” lasted a total of ten seasons on the air from 1994-2004. And, that period helped Kudrow become a huge star, and critically acclaimed actress. Throughout her time on “Friends” and beyond, Kudrow was nominated for a total of twelve Screen Actors Guild awards (winning twice in 1996 and 2000), and nine Emmy Awards (winning once in 1998).

And it was during her time on “Friends” that Lisa Kudrow began getting offered roles in movies, which she filmed in between seasons of the show. She played the ditzy Michele Weinberger in the 1997 film “Romy and Michele's High School Reunion”, she received critical acclaim for her roles in 1998's “The Opposite of Sex” and 1999's “Analyze This”, and she voiced the character of Anya the bear in “Dr. Doolittle 2”.

Mind you, not every film project that Lisa Kudrow was involved in turned to gold, and nothing she could do could give “Lucky Numbers” and “Marci X” rave reviews. But hey, at this stage in her life, I think Lisa was just happy to have constant work as an actress, and to Kudrow's credit, she worked her magic in just about everything she did.

Even after “Friends” wrapped up, Lisa still continued to get prime acting gigs. Her short-lived series “The Comeback” earned her three Primetime Emmy Award nominations despite the fact that it only aired thirteen episodes before getting canned, and her latest project, “Web Therapy”, which has aired since 2008 has gotten Kudrow noticed in the online community as well, earning her a couple of Webby Awards for her portrayal of therapist Fiona Wallace.

And, beginning in 2010, Lisa Kudrow took on what could be considered her most rewarding project yet. She started up the television series “Who Do You Think You Are”, which showed the journeys of several Hollywood stars going into their own family backgrounds and uncovering long buried secrets, reuniting with family members that they never knew existed.

One of the subjects of the television show was Kudrow herself, and in this clip from the show, she learned about the ultimate fate of her great-grandmother, who was murdered during the Holocaust.

The show aired on NBC for three seasons, ending its run in 2012. Luckily, the show was picked up by TLC for the 2013 season, and is currently airing new episodes. Once again, the series was critically acclaimed, and once again, Lisa Kudrow was recognized with award nominations for the program. Seriously, take a look at this show. It's quite an interesting show.

So, as we conclude this look back on Lisa Kudrow, we have to ask ourselves...who is Lisa Kudrow?

Well, she's a woman who was surrounded by brilliance and who is beautiful and intelligent. She's a woman who struggled at first with the entertainment industry, and yet persevered to be on one of the most successful sitcoms of all time. She's a woman who developed a film career on top of that, and thrived in many of the movies she starred in (and those that flopped, she still had fun making). She's even managed to have success in the world of reality television and online television.

That's Lisa Kudrow for you. A woman who never gave up on her dream and finally achieved it. I am honoured to wish Lisa Kudrow a happy 50th birthday.

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