Why were so many of our very best actors born in April? It’s an unanswerable question, of course, but intriguing nonetheless. And in the rarefied world of movie stardom, the concentration of April birthdays is pretty remarkable.
If I had to name the very best male actors in movie history, the list would certainly include Spencer Tracy, Alec Guinness, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
All these brilliant performers have April birthdays. But it doesn’t stop there: Charlie Chaplin, perhaps the most famous star of the silent era, was also born in April.
Factoring in female Oscar winners, we add Bette Davis, Shirley MacLaine, Julie Christie, Barbra Streisand, Jessica Lange, and Penelope Cruz.
Beyond the legendary names listed earlier, more Oscar-winning male stars join this special club: Walter Huston, Melvyn Douglas, Gregory Peck, William Holden, Anthony Quinn, Peter Ustinov, and Russell Crowe.
You see? It’s quite the line-up.
To pay tribute to all these April babies, let’s consider each actor in chronological birth order, along with their Oscars, my desert island film for them, and one interesting fact you may, or may not, know.
Happy April, when flowers bloom and stars are indeed born.
Birth date: 04/05/1883
Oscars: 1 for Best Supporting Actor, in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948)
Desert Island pick: “Dodsworth” (1936)
Did you know: The Huston family claims three generations of Oscar winners: father Walter, son John (who got two), and granddaughter Anjelica, who won for “Prizzi’s Honor,” directed by her dad.
Birth date: 04/16/1889
Oscars: Best Original Music for 1952’s “Limelight,” and an Honorary Oscar in 1972
Desert Island pick: “Modern Times” (1936)
Did you know: Accepting his honorary Oscar, Chaplin received the longest standing ovation in Oscar history: a full twelve minutes. Hollywood’s “Red Scare” had driven him away two decades before.
Birth date: 04/05/1900
Oscars: Two for Best Actor, in “Captains Courageous” (1937) and “Boys’ Town” (1938)
Desert Island pick: “Bad Day at Black Rock”
Did you know: Tracy was the first and only star to win two consecutive Best Actor Oscars until Tom Hanks matched him in 1995. He still holds the record for most Best Actor nods at 9.
Birth date: 04/05/1901
Desert Island pick: “Ninotchka” (1939)
Did you know: Douglas’s wife, Helen Gahagan, lost her Senate race to Richard Nixon in 1950, who smeared her as soft on communism. Actress Ileana Douglas is their granddaughter.
Birth date: 04/05/1908
Oscars: 2 for Best Actress, in “Dangerous” (1936) and “Jezebel” (1938).
Desert Island pick: “All About Eve” (1950)
Did you know: In 1963, she became the first star to amass ten Oscar nominations for Best Actress. Later she was surpassed by Meryl Streep (17) and Katharine Hepburn (12).
Birth date: 04/02/1914
Oscars: One for Best Actor, in “The Bridge On the River Kwai” (1957)
Desert Island pick: “Kind Hearts and Coronets”
Did you know: Guinness was the only “Star Wars” player to get a best actor nomination. He actually did the movie reluctantly, but since he’d negotiated points, it made him rich.
Birth date: 04/21/1915
Oscars: Two for Best Supporting Actor, in “Viva Zapata” (1952) and “Lust for Life” (1956)
Desert Island pick: “Zorba the Greek” (1964)
Did you know: When not shooting films, Quinn was a gifted and prolific artist. He was also fascinated by architecture, and maintained a long friendship with Frank Lloyd Wright.
Birth date: 04/05/1916
Oscars: One for Best Actor, in “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1962)
Desert Island pick: “Roman Holiday” (1953)
Did you know: Convinced she’d be a sensation, Peck lobbied for newcomer Audrey Hepburn to receive equal star billing on “Roman Holiday.” The two stars remained devoted friends.
Birth date: 04/17/1918
Oscars: One for Best Actor, in “Stalag 17” (1953)
Desert Island pick: “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957)
Did you know: Holden was a heavy drinker, but always professional on set. Still, feeling incredibly self-conscious, he insisted on drinking before his sexy dance with Kim Novak in “Picnic” (1955).
Birth date: 04/16/1921
Desert Island pick: “Lola Montes” (1955)
Did you know: Ustinov was the first choice to play Inspector Clouseau in 1963’s “The Pink Panther.” When he pulled out, they hired Peter Sellers, who’d go on to play the character in five films.
Birth date: (04/03/1924)
Desert Island pick: “On the Waterfront”
Did you know: Brando was a voracious eater, and as he got older, had to go on crash diets before starting films. On “Apocalypse Now” (1979), he was so obese he had to be shot in shadow.
Birth date: 04/14/1925
Oscars: One for Best Actor, in “In the Heat of the Night” (1967)
Desert Island pick: “The Pawnbroker” (1964)
Did you know: George C. Scott turned down Steiger’s Oscar-winning role (in “Heat of the Night”). Three years later, Steiger rejected the title role in “Patton” (1970), which gave Scott his Oscar.
Birth date: 04/24/1934
Oscars: One, for Best Actress in “Terms of Endearment” (1983)
Desert Island pick: “The Apartment” (1960)
Did you know: The older sister of Warren Beatty, the two have never made a film together. MacLaine also shares a birthday with Barbra Streisand, and they usually celebrate it together.
Birth date: 04/22/1937
Desert Island pick: “Chinatown” (1974)
Did you know: Nicholson grew up being told that his real mother was his sister, and his grandparents were his parents. The truth came out in the mid-seventies after he was famous.
Birth date: 04/25/1940
Oscars: 1 for Best Actor, in “Scent of a Woman” (1992)
Desert Island pick: “The Godfather, Part 2” (1974)
Did you know: Originally, Paramount was dubious about casting the unknown Pacino as Michael Corleone, but director Francis Coppola (another April birthday) defended his choice.
Birth date: 04/14/1941
Oscars: One for Best Actress, in “Darling” (1965)
Desert Island pick: “Don’t Look Now” (1973)
Did you know: Early in her career, she was up for the role of Honey Rider in “Dr. No” (1962) that went to Ursula Andress. The producers felt she was insufficiently busty for the part.
Birth date: 04/24/1942
Oscars: Two, for Best Actress in “Funny Girl” (1967), and Best Original Song in “A Star is Born” (1976)
Desert Island pick: “Funny Girl”
Did you know: Due to a tie vote, Streisand’s first Oscar in 1968 was shared with Katharine Hepburn. Later, she turned down the role in “Cabaret” (1972) that won Liza Minnelli an Oscar.
Birth date: 04/20/1949
Oscars: Two, one for Best Supporting Actress in “Tootsie” (1982) and one for Best Actress in “Blue Sky” (1994)
Desert Island pick: “Tootsie”
Did you know: Lange achieved the Triple Crown of acting, winning an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy. Married once, she later had children out of wedlock with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Sam Shepard.
Daniel Day Lewis
Birth date: 04/29/57
Desert Island pick: “In the Name of the Father” (1993)
Did you know: A disciplined Method actor, Day-Lewis is the only male star to win three Best Actor Oscars. Married to filmmaker Rebecca Miller, he was also son-in-law to playwright Arthur Miller.
Birth date: : 04/07/1964
Oscars: One for Best Actor, in “Gladiator” (2000)
Desert Island pick: “L.A. Confidential” (1997)
Did you know: Over seven years, Crowe starred in five movies nominated for Best Picture. Two of those films (“Gladiator” and “A Beautiful Mind”) actually won in consecutive years.
Birth date: 04/28/1974
Oscars: One for Best Supporting Actress, in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008)
Desert Island pick: “Volver” (2006)
Did you know: Cruz was the second Spanish actor to win an Oscar. The first was husband Javier Bardem, who won Best Supporting Actor the prior year in “No Country for Old Men” (2007).