Alive and kicking! These iconic stars are pushing 100
Doris Day, 94
Born: April 3, 1922
As a girl, Cincinnati native Doris Kappelhoff wanted to be a dancer, but a car accident when she was 15 injured her legs. As she was recovering, she spent hours listening to the big bands of the day, and formed an ambition to become a singer instead. After eight months of lessons, she made her local radio debut, attracting the attention of orchestra leader Barney Rapp, who offered her a job if she'd change her name. This gig led to bigger ones with the bands of Bob Crosby and Les Brown, with whom she had her first hit,Sentimental Journey. Impressed with her beauty, personality and talent, Hollywood soon came knocking.
The big time:
Day scored a major hit in her first film, 1948's Romance on the High Seas, with the song Its Magic, and went on to star in a series of politely forgettable musicals through the early 1950s. In 1955, however, she was able to flex both her singing and acting chops in the backstage drama Love Me or Leave Me, in which she portrayed 1930s torch singer Ruth Etting opposite James Cagney as her gangster lover. This led to her being cast by Alfred Hitchcock to play the extremely nervous wife of James Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much, a Moroccan thriller that included her full-throated rendition of what would become her signature song, Que Sera Sera. Day was riding a string of successes at this point, which only got bigger when she was paired with Rock Hudson in 1959s Pillow Talk, a massive hit that spawned two more frothy comedies. In 1960 and from 1962 to 1964, Day was Americas top star, ranking number one at the box office with such films as Send Me No Flowers and That Touch of Mink Still, the changing times began to signal the end of Days cinema stardom, and her persona became dated, with wags calling her the worlds oldest virgin. She then entered television with her eponymous sitcom, which ran from 1968 to 1973.
She continued to perform sporadically through the 1970s and 80s, but because of a fear of flying would appear less and less. Today she lives a reclusive existence in Carmel-by-the-Sea, devoting her time to her beloved charity, the Doris Day Animal Foundation. She did, however, release a new album, My Heart, in 2011, which she promoted with radio interviews discussing her career. In 2004 she was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in a ceremony she declined to attend.
Here, Day sings "Que Sera, Sera" in The Man Who Knew Too Much
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Betty White, 94
Born: January 17th, 1922
Born in Oak Park, Illinois, White moved with her family to Beverly Hills in the 1930s. Attracted to show business, she made the rounds of the movie studios but was deemed not pretty enough for film work. Thus, she turned her attention to the radio, appearing on shows such as Blondie and The Great Gildersleeve as well as her own eponymous program. A career in television began to seem possible when she scored a success hosting a daily L.A. talk show, which she followed up with her first sitcom, Life With Elizabeth, which garnered her an Emmy nomination and ran from 1952 to 1955. Twenty more years of sitcom roles, game-show appearances and hosting gigs followed.
The big time:
Though she was a well-known personality appearing on game shows like Password and What's My Line? and hosting the annual Tournament of Roses Parade, it took White until the 1970s to truly cement her TV fame. Her 1973 guest appearance on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as conniving Sue Ann Nivens was so successful producers made her a regular cast member. Until the shows 1977 finale, she regaled audiences with a happy homemaker routine that always concealed a more base nature, a characterization that won her two consecutive Emmy Awards. From there she reprised a role she had created on The Carol Burnett Show for the syndicated series Mama's Family, before scoring the part of Rose Nylund in the immensely successful ensemble sitcom The Golden Girls. Running for seven years, from 1985 to 1992, White and co-stars Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty created an iconic foursome that remains among the most memorable ever assembled on television. White won another Emmy for the role, and, amazingly, was nominated every year of the shows run.
In some ways, Betty White is bigger today than she ever was, maintaining her position as Worlds Most Famous Old Lady. Post-Golden Girls, she never stopped working, appearing on everything from Ally McBeal to The Bold and the Beautiful to the 2009 comedy The Proposal. Around the time of her memorable 2010 Snickers ad with Abe Vigoda (also on this list), her name brand began to soar, and a grass-roots campaign was launched to have her host Saturday Night Live. When she appeared on May 8th of that year, she was at 88 the oldest person ever to have helmed the show. She currently has another hit sitcom on TV Land, Hot in Cleveland, and recently hosted a prank show involving senior citizens, Betty White's Off Their Rockers. In February of this year just to prove she's everywhere she even served as a guest judge on WWE Raw. Her legendary love of animals keeps her busy when she's not on-camera.
Here, check out a compilation of some of White's best moments from "The Golden Girls"
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Abe Vigoda, 94
Born: February 24th, 1921
Born to Russian-Jewish parents in Brooklyn, Abe Vigoda (which means advantage in Russian) toiled as an actor for 30 years in relative obscurity. In the 60s, he appeared on Broadway in Peter Weiss acclaimed avant-garde play Marat/Sade, and achieved his greatest film fame in 1972 when he played Salvatore Tessio in The Godfather.
The big time:
Fame finally hit with the 1975 sitcom Barney Miller, which chronicled the comical travails and irritations befalling a New York police precinct. Starring Hal Linden as the title character, the show featured Vigoda in the memorable role of Sergeant Fish, a long-suffering, world-weary veteran with a morose face but kindly manner. All Vigoda had to do was turn his hangdog expression to the camera and audiences would fall into hysterics. Fish became so popular, in fact, that in 1977 ABC gave Vigoda his own spinoff, which lasted two seasons (the original show, by contrast, continued until 1982). After Fish ended, Vigoda continued to act in films including Look Who's Talking, Joe Versus the Volcano and Good Burger.
Vigoda is one of the more famous examples of someone who has repeatedly been declared dead in various media. An 1982 editorial mistake in People magazine described him as the late Abe Vigoda, a description that was repeated a few years later on New Yorks heavily viewed WOR-TV. Realizing the PR benefit, Vigoda played along with the joke, popping up on late-night shows from Letterman to Conan to prove that he was, indeed, still alive. In 2010, he appeared alongside Betty White in a Super Bowl ad for Snickers that immediately went viral. Last October, he made a surprise appearance at a concert of the rock band Phish in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Here, watch Abe Vigoda and Hal Linden chatting about the days they worked together on Barney Miller
Hugh Downs, 94
Born: February 14th, 1921
Legendary television newsman and host Hugh Downs was born far from the limelight in Akron, Ohio, and spent his early years traveling around the Midwest Detroit, Chicago working as a radio and television announcer. After a stint in the Army, he became a regular on TV; viewers enjoyed his mellifluous voice and trustworthy demeanor, and soon he was doing voice-overs for shows from Kukla, Fran and Ollie to Sid Caesar's comedy hour.
The big time:
In 1957, Downs became the announcer for Jack Paar's Tonight Show, a gig he maintained throughout the hosts five-year run. Now a recognized TV personality, he assumed emcee duties on the game showConcentration in 1958, a spot he held for the next decade. In 1962, however, concurrent with Concentration, he accepted another high-profile position: host of the Today show alongside Barbara Walters. He stayed with the program until 1971 and then entered semi-retirement, helming such programs as Over Easy, a show about aging. This all changed in 1978, when he was recruited to host ABC's new newsmagazine, 20/20, where he stayed for 21 more years, teaming back up with Walters in the process. Through it all he racked up 15,188 hours on commercial network television, more than any other person as confirmed by The Guinness Book of World Records; it took 19 years for Regis Philbin to overtake him.
During his last 20/20 broadcast in 1999, he expressed his support of libertarian politics and his belief in the inefficiency of the war on drugs, adding that he felt marijuana should be legalized. An author, composer and American TV Game Show Hall of Fame member, Downs lives today in Arizona with his wife of 70 years, Ruth; in 2012, he appeared with the Phoenix Symphony, narrating the text to Aaron Condpla's orchestral piece Lincoln Portrait.
Here, watch Downs and Barbara Walters discuss retirement on 20/20
Carol Channing, 94
Born: January 31st, 1921
Born in Seattle, Broadway legend Carol Channing was raised in San Francisco, where she first experienced the magic of the theater and saw stars such as Ethel Waters on national tours. After attending Vermont's Bennington College, she headed to New York, knocking about the offices of casting agents and producers until she landed a featured role in the 1948 revue Lend an Ear, which directly led to her first major success.
The big time:
Literary wit Anita Loos saw Channing in Lend an Ear and decided she'd be perfect to play her iconic character Lorelei Lee in a new musical adaptation of her 1925 comic novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Channing's wide-eyed, vivacious interpretation of the bouncy flapper and her delivery of classic Jule Styne/Leo Robin songs such as Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend made her an instant sensation: New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson called her performance the most fabulous comic creation of this dreary period in history, and proceeded to say, There has never been anything like this before in human society. Audiences certainly agreed, and Channing went on to essay a series of roles in pleasantly received but mildly successful productions for the next 15 years until 1964, when she played the title character in Jerry Herman's record-breaking smash Hello, Dolly!. Her rendition of the title song, descending down the staircase of a turn-of-the-century restaurant, became one of the most indelible stage images of the 1960s. The part made her world-renowned, and she would go on to play it throughout the globe well into the 1990s.
Though she lost both of her iconic stage roles to others for the film adaptations Marilyn Monroe inGentlemen Prefer Blondes and Barbra Streisand in Hello, Dolly! Channing received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her madcap turn in the 1967 musical Thoroughly Modern Millie. She continued to appear on stage and television through the late 2000s, and is often interviewed today for documentaries, including the highly acclaimed Carol Channing: Larger Than Life. In 2003, she reconnected with her childhood sweetheart, Harry Kullijian, and they were married for eight years, until his death in 2011. She lives today in Rancho Mirage, California.
Here, watch Channing perform Before the Parade Passes By from Hello, Dolly!:
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