Updated: Mar 30, 2020
By Maria Beale Fletcher:
It was my privilege to meet and interact with four of the December birthday celebrities over the years. Some of the memories that stand out in my mind I'll share with you here.
I arrived in New York City in September 1960 after a 24-hour train ride from North Carolina. Only eighteen, I'd graduated high school in three years and was the newly crowned Miss Asheville. I was excited to take dance lessons from professionals other than my parents, Beale and Peggy Fletcher. My ballet teacher at the June Taylor School of Dance was Richard Scott Thomas (born December 21, father of Richard Thomas, soon to be star of The Waltons). I enjoyed his ballet class immensely, though I was the youngest and least-experienced of his students.
There were two well-known actresses in my class of twenty students. Jane Fonda (another December 21 birthday), about twenty-five years old at the time, was one of the best dancers of those who were not professionally appearing on Broadway or members of ballet companies. Jane was an amazing, beautiful ballet dancer, though always sad looking; she never, ever smiled in class or said "thank you" when Richard Thomas complimented her. It's funny, the strange memories that last over the years!
Bert Parks (December 30 birthday) was delightful in his
honest appreciation of the Miss America contestants who
participated in the pageant telecast, which he hosted for
twenty-four years from 1955 to 1979. As a featured
performer in several of the national telecasts, I had ample opportunity to visit with Bert in long conversations before
the several rehearsals leading up to the performances.
I considered him to be a true friend and mentor. My most
vivid memory of him occurred after giving my live farewell address as the outgoing Miss America. I returned from the long walk on the ramp, where I waved goodbye to the audience of 20,000, and as I blew him a kiss from my heart, he smiled at me as tears ran down his cheeks and sang "There She Is, Miss America."
Fast forward to the late 1960s when I'm co-hosting a daily NBC talk show in Nashville, TN, The Noon Show. Albert Gore, Sr. (December 26 birthday), senator from Tennessee, had seen me singing at a music festival and asked to book me at a show he was hosting for his fellow congressmen and colleagues in his apartment complex in Washington, D.C. He was so very gracious, charismatic, and smiling, with gorgeous thick white hair, how could I say no!
He sent a limousine to pick me up at the airport, and I was driven to the Watergate Hotel Apartments, where he lived with his family for 20 years—an address that would become infamous a few years later in 1972 when five intruders were caught in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, leading to Richard Nixon's resignation from the presidency.
In the 1960s and '70s, in addition to my television talk show hosting, I sometimes worked as a spokeswoman, appearing on media shows around the US and Canada for several well-known companies, such as the Toni Company. In the late summer of 1970, when I was about 8 months pregnant with my firstborn, I was asked to appear on The Phil Donahue Show for the entire hour with another young woman, a feminist. I could already imagine Phil's eager anticipation at trying to set us up in a cat fight! (I knew I would not let that happen!) A few minutes before the curtain would rise for the live TV audience to see us seated on the stage, I asked Phil (December 21 birthday) if I could have a pillow to hold in front of me during the interview. My employer had asked me to wear a dress; the mini skirt was all the rage, and I was wearing a beautiful turquoise maternity dress that was mini skirt length! Donahue asked why that was necessary, and I said, "Not only is it necessary, but I will walk off this stage and not do your interview unless you honor my request and bring me a pillow to hold on my lap for the next 60 minutes!" All of a sudden, Phil Donahue starts yelling to no one in particular, "Someone find a pillow for Miss America now before we go on the air live in 2 minutes!" About 90 seconds later, a stagehand came running out to hand me a large, colorful pillow that I strategically placed on my lap, on my thighs where the hem of my dress was precariously resting.
The curtain raised to the thunderous applause of the audience, and after a few moments of banter, Donahue introduced the young feminist. Then he began my introduction: "And now let me introduce Miss America 1962, Maria Beale Fletcher. Maria, what brings you here to our fair city?"
I began, "I'm here on a promotional tour for the Toni Company's latest hair product called 'Magic Moment!'" And then, mischievously occurring to me in that moment, I pulled aside my pillow, allowing my eight-months pregnant form to take the spotlight. I improvised, "And as you can see, I've had my Magic Moment!"
I'll never forget how shocked the audience was as they gasped in unison! And then Donahue, not to be outdone, whispered in a loud stage whisper, as if to shame me; "Miss America!!!"
Mary Martin: actress, singer (starred in the original Peter Pan on Broadway)
Bette Midler: actress, comedienne, singer,
Little Richard: rock 'n roll idol
Woody Allen: actor, writer, producer, director
Lou Rawls: singer, actor, entertainer
John Paul Densmore: rock drummer, The Doors
Jaco Pastorius: jazz-fusion bassist
Dianne Lennon: singer, Lennon Sisters
Connie Booth: psychotherapist, actress, writer
(Fawlty Towers, Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
Maria Callas: opera singer
Gianni Versace: Italian fashion designer
Monica Seles: Yugoslavian, US Women's World Tennis Champion, youngest Grand Slam winner of 20th century, injured in knife attack
Anna Freud: Austrian-English psychoanalyst, daughter of Sigmund Freud
Andy Williams: singer, "Moon River"
Richard Scott Thomas: dancer, educator, co-founder of the
New York School of Ballet with his wife, Barbara Fallis, former soloist with the New York City Ballet; father of Richard Thomas, who portrayed John Boy Walton on the CBS drama series
Ozzie Osbourne: heavy-metal singer, Black Sabbath
Jeff Bridges: actor, The Big Lebowski, Crazy Heart,
The Last Picture Show, True Grit
Walt Disney: pioneer of the American Animation Industry, as film producer holds the record for most Academy Awards earned by an individual—22 Oscars from 59 nominations, 2 Golden Globes, an Emmy, and numerous other awards
Clyde Cessna: American aviator and airplane manufacturer
Ira Gershwin: Pulitzer Prize–winning lyricist teamed with his brother George
Otto Graham: Cleveland Browns football quarterback, 5X All Pro, 2X NFL MVP, basketball All-American
Larry Bird: "Larry Legend," Boston Celtics basketball forward, "Dream Team" gold medalist
Harry Chapin: singer-songwriter, "Cat's In The Cradle"
Sammy Davis, Jr.: entertainer, singer, dancer, comedian, film actor
Jim Morrison: singer, songwriter, poet, The Doors,
James Galway: Irish flutist
Flip Wilson: TV comedian, actor
Kirk Douglas: film actor, producer, father of actor Michael Douglas
Dame Judy Dench: British stage/film actress
Tom Kite: golfer, all-time PGA Tour Money leader with $6.6 million, US Open winner
Emily Dickinson: American poet
Ada Lovelace: brilliant mathematician, first female
computer coder. developed software to input data for a theoretical computer designed by her boss, professor
Charles Babbage, a full century before the first
computer was invented.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: Nobel Prize–winning Russian
writer, The Gulag Archipelago,
Fiorello La Guardia: New York Mayor, US congressman, LaGuardia Airport named for him,
crusader against corruption
Frank Sinatra: singer, songwriter, film actor
Dionne Warwick: singer, actress
Cathy Rigby: US Olympic medal–winning gymnast, sportscaster
Tracy Austin: tennis player, youngest to win US Open
Dick Van Dyke: film and TV actor, star of
The Dick Van Dyke Show, Diagnosis:
Murder, Mary Poppins
Christopher Plummer: actor on stage, film, and TV, starred with Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music
James Doolittle: US Air Force General, led attack on Tokyo, aeronautical engineer, stunt pilot, Vice President Shell Oil
Patty Duke: stage, film, TV actress,
The Miracle Worker
J Paul Getty: oil tycoon, billionaire, art collector
Eslanda Robeson: anthropologist, writer, African Journey, wife and biographer of singer, actor, Paul Robeson
Alexander A. Eiffel: French engineer, Eiffel Tower builder
Ludwig Van Beethoven: German pianist, composer, lost hearing at age 30, most famous work is "Symphony No. 9"
Jane Austen: novelist, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice (completed when she was 21), wrote six books (only after her death at age 41 was her true identity revealed to the literary world)
Margaret Mead: anthropologist, Coming of Age in Samoa, worked with her three anthropologist husbands
Arthur Fiedler: Boston Pops conductor
Willard F. Libby: chemist, developed carbon dating method for determining an object's age
Erskine Caldwell: novelist, Tobacco Road, gunrunner, professional football player, mill hand, bodyguard, cotton picker
Stephen Spielberg: highest-grossing film director/producer of all time, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler's List
Robert Morse: New York City builder, UN building, Lincoln Center, parks commissioner
Ty Cobb: legendary baseball outfielder, all-time highest career batting average .367, 892 steals
Brad Pitt: film and TV actor/producer
Cicely Tyson: film, TV actress
Al Kaline: Detroit Tigers baseball player, youngest AL batting title winner, 3,007 career hits, 399 HRs, played 22 years
Bob Hayes: US Olympic gold medal–winning 100-meter sprinter, All Pro football wide receiver
Branch Rickey: baseball player, Brooklyn Dodgers manager, brought Jackie Robinson into major leagues as first African-American player, 59 years in baseball
Florence Griffith Joyner: US three-time Olympic gold medal–winning sprinter, world 100-, 200-meter
Phil Donahue: American media personality, writer,
film producer, and the creator and host of The Phil Donahue Show. His television program, later known
as Donahue, was the first talk show format that included audience participation. The show had a
29-year run on national television in America that began in Dayton, Ohio, and ended in New York
City in 1996.
Jane Fonda: film and TV actress, producer, writer, entrepreneur, political activist
Chris Evert: tennis superstar, 7X French, 6X US, 2X Australian Open, 3X Wimbledon winner
Giacomo Puccini: Italian opera composer, Turandot, Madame Butterfly, La Boheme,
Diane Sawyer: TV journalist
Maurice Gibb: singer, songwriter, Bee Gees, twin brother of singer/writer Robin Gibb
Joseph Smith: Mormon founder, visionary
conversion, wrote Book of Mormon, had 50 wives,
shot to death with brother by mob
Francois Champollion: archaeologist, broke hieroglyphic code
John Jay: Supreme Court, first chief justice,
Connie Mack: baseball owner, Philadelphia A's manager for 49 years, coached team to 5
World Series wins, 9 AL pennants, all-time wins leader
Jose Greco: Italian-American choreographer, flamenco dancer
Dec 24, or Dec 14, or Dec 21
Michel de Nostradamus: Provencal-Jewish prophet, physician, astrologer, major predictions for future have come true, Les Propheties published in 1555
St. Ignatius Loyola: Spanish founder of Jesuit order, leader of Counter Reformation
Tycho Brahe: Danish 16th c. astronomer, instituted systematic and accurate astronomical observations
Howard Hughes: industrialist, aviator, film producer, billionaire recluse
Ava Gardner: film actress, born in NC
Cab Calloway: entertainer, singer, musician, bandleader
Michael Curtiz: director of over 150 feature films, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Casablanca
Jesus of Nazareth: traditional birthday
Carlos Costaneda: anthropologist, sorcerer's apprentice,
writer, The Teachings of Don Juan
Clara Barton: "Angel of the Battlefield," she supported
Union troops with food, medical supplies, and care,
volunteered with International Red Cross during Franco-Prussian War, opened American Red Cross in 1881, lived
to age ninety-one
Anwar Sadat: Egyptian president, Nobel Peace Prize winner
for historic accord with Israel, assassinated
Rod Serling: 6X Emmy Award–winning TV screenwriter, host, The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, WWII paratrooper
Susan Butcher: sled-dog racer, 4X Iditarod Trail race winner
Carlton Fisk: Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox baseball catcher, all-time HR leader for catchers,
leader in games caught, 23 seasons
Albert Gore, Sr.: US senator, Tennessee, father of US Vice President Al Gore, Jr.
Marlene Dietrich: German-American film actress, icon, entertained US WWII troops, films banned in Germany
Louis Pasteur: French biochemist, bacteriologist, founder of preventive medicine, germ theory of disease, inoculation, pasteurization
William H. Masters: sex therapist, researcher (with partner Virginia E. Johnson), Human Sexual Inadequacy
Woodrow Wilson: US president, Nobel Peace Prize winner, WWI commander-in-chief, championed League of Nations
Dame Maggie Smith: British stage, film, and TV actress,
James "Doc" Counsilman: swimming coach, 6 NCAA championships, oldest to swim English Channel at age 59
Pablo Casals: Spanish master cellist, conductor
Andrew Johnson: US president, vice president who succeeded Lincoln, purchaser of Alaska, impeached on purely political
charges but acquitted
Mary Tyler Moore: film/TV actress, The Mary Tyler Moore Show