50 of the oldest actors still working

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June 4, 2021
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50 of the oldest actors still working

Most movie and television plots center on young characters experiencing a coming-of-age, setting out on a great adventure, or falling in (or out of) love. But there are plenty of stories that escape these familiar storylines and age brackets, from “Grace and Frankie” to “Nomadland,” and feature some of the most talented names in Hollywood. These celebrities lend their experience to a wide variety of roles, often adding much-needed depth to storylines while proving it is possible to have a long, prolific acting career despite the ageism that has plagued the television and film industries since their inception.

To illustrate this point, Stacker curated a diverse list of 50 of the oldest actors still working. These stars range from beloved character actors to A-listers who are still putting in the work in their later years. To qualify, the actor had to be at least 70 and either had to have been in a film in the past year or be working on one currently.

They are well-respected by fans and colleagues and continue to take on challenging and impressive acting roles both on the big and small screens. Whether they got their start on a soap opera or after a stint in San Quentin, these pros have the staying power to withstand decades in a very tough industry.

This diverse lot of performers continues to do what they love, no matter their age. Perhaps that’s what keeps them going. Keep reading to learn more about 50 of the oldest actors still working.

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Sissy Spacek

- Birthdate: Dec. 25, 1949

Born in Quitman, Texas, Sissy Spacek came into the world on Christmas as Mary Elizabeth Spacek. She got her start in television with “Love, American Style” and “The Waltons,” though Spacek’s breakthrough role came when she played a teenager with telekinetic powers in the Brian De Palma film “Carrie.” She continues to work and loves acting on television; she is set to star opposite J.K. Simmons in a new Amazon sci-fi series called “Lightyears.”

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Loretta Devine

- Birthdate: Aug. 21, 1949

With roles in everything from a hit Broadway musical to a 1990s slasher film, Loretta Devine is a force. Her standout roles include the 1995 film “Waiting to Exhale” and the 1996 film “The Preacher’s Wife.” She won an outstanding guest actress Primetime Emmy in 2011 for her role as Adele on television’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” Levine landed a starring role in 2021’s “Queen Bees.”

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Meryl Streep

- Birthdate: June 22, 1949

Arguably one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen, a young Meryl Streep was called “ugly,” in Italian, by legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis when she auditioned for a role in the remake of monster-classic “King Kong.” Streep has the distinction of being the actor with the most Oscar nominations of all time: 21.

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Pam Grier

- Birthdate: May 26, 1949

Pam Grier got her start in director Roger Corman’s 1971 film “The Big Doll House.” Director Quentin Tarantino cast her in the 1997 film “Jackie Brown,” which was a homage to Grier’s earlier work from the 1970s. She was diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer in 1988 and given 18 months to live; she defied those odds and continues to act.

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Samuel L. Jackson

- Birthdate: Dec. 21, 1948

Samuel L. Jackson has been in more than 100 films, though his career didn’t truly take off until he was in his 40s. In 1991, two weeks after completing rehab, Jackson earned the role of a crack cocaine addict in the Spike Lee film “Jungle Fever.” He continues to act, doing voice work in addition to his regular acting roles.

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Youn Yuh-jung

- Birthdate: June 19, 1947

Youn Yuh-jung took home an Oscar in 2021 for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Minari.” The South Korean actor has worked in television and film for more than half a century and staged an inspired comeback after taking a 10-year hiatus from acting in the ’70s and ’80s.

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Glenn Close

- Birthdate: March 19, 1947

Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, Glenn Close’s father was a prominent physician. Her first major film role was as feminist icon Jenny Fields in the 1982 movie “The World According to Garp,” based on John Irving’s novel of the same name. Close, who starred on Broadway in the original 1994 production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard,” will reprise the role in an upcoming film adaptation.

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Danny Glover

- Birthdate: July 22, 1946

Born to postal workers, Danny Glover’s breakthrough came with his 1982 Broadway debut in “‘Master Harold’... and the Boys,” which led to his first leading role in the Oscar-nominated film “Places in the Heart.” His work on the small screen is equally as impressive as his work in film, and he was nominated for an Emmy for his title role in HBO’s “Mandela.”

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Helen Mirren

- Birthdate: July 26, 1945

English actor Dame Helen Mirren got her start in theater. She won several awards for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the film “The Queen.” Mirren played another famous leader with her portrayal of a Russian empress in the HBO limited series “Catherine the Great.”

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Danny Trejo

- Birthdate: May 16, 1944

Danny Trejo was in and out of prison as a young man for a variety of crimes, including armed robbery. He became a champion boxer while serving time at San Quentin. He eventually became a drug counselor, and got his introduction to acting while working on a movie set. Trejo is known for his roles in Robert Rodriguez films, such as “Desperado” and “Grindhouse.” Rodriguez is Trejo’s second cousin.

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Richard Roundtree

- Birthdate: Jul. 9, 1942

Richard Roundtree was a former model who has the historic distinction of being the first Black action hero for his role as John Shaft in 1971’s “Shaft.” The movie’s reboot, which came out in 2019, starred Roundtree alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Jessie Usher.

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Michael Gambon

- Birthdate: Oct. 19, 1940

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Sir Michael Gambon continues to work and is set to star in the film “James and Lucia” based on the final years of author James Joyce’s life. Gambon’s portrayal of Professor Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films is one of his most well-known roles as an actor; he also acted in the 2001 film “Gosford Park” and 2010’s “The Book of Eli.”

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Al Pacino

- Birthdate: April 25, 1940

Actor Al Pacino studied Method acting under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York City. One of the most legendary film stars of his generation, Pacino is a triple crown actor, winning an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony Award. His first Oscar nomination came for his role as Michael Corleone in the 1972 film “The Godfather,” a role he played again in “The Godfather Part II” and “The Godfather Part III.” Other memorable films include “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Scarface,” and as labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa in the 2019 film “The Irishman” alongside fellow acting great Robert De Niro.

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Lily Tomlin

- Birthdate: Sept. 1, 1939

Lily Tomlin, born Mary Jean Tomlin, got her start as a stand-up comedian. Some of her most famous roles were on Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh-In” as Edith Ann, a little girl who sits in an oversized rocking chair, and nasally telephone operator Ernestine. She continues to act and starred opposite Jane Fonda as Frankie Bergstein in the comedy, “Grace and Frankie,” for seven seasons.

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Ian McKellen

- Birthdate: May 25, 1939

Stage and screen actor, Ian McKellen has two Oscar nominations, two Golden Globe nominations, and one Golden Globe win for his supporting role in the 1996 TV movie “Rasputin.” McKellen played Gandalf in “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” films. His role as Magneto in the 2000 film “X-Men” and its sequels led to mainstream success.

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Christopher Lloyd

- Birthdate: Oct. 22, 1938

Christopher Lloyd made his film debut as Max Taber in 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” setting off a half-century of beloved film roles. Among his most memorable portrayals are as Doc Brown in “Back to the Future,” Professor Plum in “Clue,” Uncle Fester in “Addams Family Values,” and, in 2021, Harry Mansell Sr. in the action thriller “Nobody.” His television credits are just as vast, including his role as “Reverend” Jim Ignatowski on “Taxi,” which earned him two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.

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Anthony Hopkins

- Birthdate: Dec. 31, 1937

In 1968, Anthony Hopkins played alongside Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn in “The Lion in Winter” and received a British Academy of Film and Television Arts nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He also played one of the greatest and most memorable film villains of all time, when he starred alongside Jodie Foster as psychiatrist-turned-serial killer Hannibal Lecter. Hopkins returned to the role of a psychiatrist in the widely panned 2020 film “Elyse,” when he plays a doctor dealing with a trauma patient. That same year, he starred in “Father” and earned himself an Oscar for Best Actor.

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Jane Fonda

- Birthdate: Dec. 21, 1937

Jane Fonda was born to socialite Frances Seymour Brokaw and legendary actor Henry Fonda, whom she acted alongside in the 1981 Oscar-nominated film “On Golden Pond.” Known for her roles in the film “Cat Ballou” in 1965, “Barbarella” in 1968, “The China Syndrome” in 1979, and “The Morning After” in 1986, Fonda’s career continues today, including her starring role in the popular television series “Grace and Frankie.”

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Morgan Freeman

- Birthdate: June 1, 1937

Morgan Freeman found success with theater, television, and film work in the ’70s and ’80s. He won an Obie Award for performance for his successful portrayal of Hoke Colburn in Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Driving Miss Daisy” and reprised the role in the 1989 film version with Jessica Tandy. Among his latest projects is Amazon’s star-studded sci-fi anthology “Solos.”

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George Takei

- Birthdate: April 20, 1937

George Takei’s career spans television, film, theater, and radio, and he is an ardent activist and a successful writer. Born Hosato Takei, he is known for playing Sulu in the 1960s series “Star Trek.” Takei continues to act and do voice work.

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Billy Dee Williams

- Birthdate: April 6, 1937

Known for his role as Lando Calrissian in the 1980 film “Star Wars: Episode V-The Empire Strikes Back” and the 1983 film “Star Wars: Episode VI-Return of the Jedi,” Williams also works in television. He continues to find success with his portrayal of Lando Calrissian in video games and on TV.

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Vanessa Redgrave

- Birthdate: Jan. 30, 1937

Daughter of renowned theatrical actor Michael Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave followed in her father’s footsteps and went on to have a successful stage, film, and television career. She’s acted in everything from the 1974 Sidney Lumet film “Murder on the Orient Express” to the controversial FX television series, “Nip/Tuck.” Redgrave more recently played Great Nana in the 2020 Netflix film “The Lost Girls.”

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Robert Redford

- Birthdate: Aug. 18, 1936

Robert Redford was born in Santa Monica, California, and given the moniker Charles Robert Redford Jr. His prolific acting career includes myriad memorable roles and awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2002. Redford founded the Sundance Film Festival in 1980. He continues to do voice work and work as an executive producer.

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Louis Gossett Jr.

- Birthdate: May 27, 1936

Louis Gossett Jr. is the first African American to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as drill Sergeant Emil Foley in the 1982 film “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Gossett started out with numerous television roles and continues to find success in both television and film.

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Alan Alda

- Birthdate: Jan. 28, 1936

Alan Alda’s film and TV credits include those as an actor, writer, and director. For his well-known role as Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television series “M*A*S*H,” he won Emmy awards across three categories. Often his roles reflect his liberal political leanings, and he continues to take outstanding roles in important films and television series, including the show “Ray Donovan,” which ran from 2013 to 2020.

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Julie Andrews

- Birthdate: Oct. 1, 1935

Her most famous role is that of Maria in the 1965 film “The Sound of Music,” though Julie Andrews also starred in the titular role in 1964’s “Mary Poppins.” More recently, Andrews voiced the Queen in several of the Shrek franchise and played Queen Clarisse Renaldi in “The Princess Diaries” and its 2004 sequel. Andrews continues to do voice work in film and television.

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Donald Sutherland

- Birthdate: July 17, 1935

Canadian actor Donald Sutherland got his big break with the role of Vernon L. Pinkley in the 1967 war film “The Dirty Dozen.” He has proven his versatility, with comedic roles such as that in the 1970 comedy film “M*A*S*H” as well as serious characters such as his portrayal in Robert Redford’s 1980 film “Ordinary People.” Sutherland remains a formidable acting force, proven with his role in the 2020 HBO thriller miniseries “The Undoing.”

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Maggie Smith

- Birthdate: Dec. 28, 1934

Dame Maggie Smith was born in Essex, England, as Margaret Natalie Smith. One of her most well-known roles is as Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter films, though she’s acted in many popular films including “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” “Gosford Park,” and “The First Wives Club.” One of her more recent projects was reprising her role as Violet Crawley in the 2019 “Downton Abbey” film.

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Judi Dench

- Birthdate: Dec. 9, 1934

Born in York, England, as Judith Olivia Dench, the actress has performed on stage at the Old Vic Theatre, the National Theatre, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Dench is also an accomplished film actor and received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in the 1998 film “Shakespeare in Love.” She secured a starring role alongside Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe in Kenneth Branagh’s 2021 film “Belfast.”

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Sophia Loren

- Birthdate: Sept. 20, 1934

International movie star Sophia Loren has received critical acclaim in her native Italy as well as in the United States. Her role in the 1960s Italian film “Two Women,” about the horrors a widow and her daughter face during World War II, won Loren the first Best Actress Oscar for a non-English language performance. The actor took on her first role in a decade as Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor, in the 2020 film “The Life Ahead,” which was directed and co-written by her son Edoardo Ponti and based on the novel “The Life Before Us.”

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Shirley MacLaine

- Birthdate: April 24, 1934

The older sister of screen actor Warren Beatty has starred on Broadway and in feature films. Her silver screen debut came in 1955 in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Trouble With Harry.” She took home her first Oscar for Best Actress for her performance as an overbearing mother in the 1983 film “Terms of Endearment.”

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Alan Arkin

- Birthdate: March 26, 1934

A veritable jack-of-all-trades, Alan Arkin is an actor, director, singer, producer, composer, and author. His career dates back to the 1950s, though his feature film debut came in the 1966 film “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Memorable performances include the role of Grandpa in “Little Miss Sunshine,” as Lester Siegel in the film “Argo” alongside Ben Affleck and John Goodman, and his work in the TV series “The Kominsky Method,” which earned him numerous Golden Globe nominations for best supporting actor.

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Michael Caine

- Birthdate: March 14, 1933

Michael Caine was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite in London, eventually changing his name in the interest of his acting career. The actor started out in theater but and transitioned to film with numerous memorable performances in films like “Alfie,” “Educating Rita,” and “The Cider House Rules.” The double Oscar winner continues to act in films, with roles in three films in 2021 alone: “Twist,” “Best Sellers,” and “Medieval.”

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Nichelle Nichols

- Birthdate: Dec. 28, 1932

Chicago-born Nichelle Nichols’ career spans more than six decades. She was 16 when she started out in entertainment, singing with Duke Ellington and his band. In 1959, she danced with Sammy Davis Jr. in “Porgy and Bess,” her first film. In television, she is probably best known for her role as Lt. Nyota Uhura in “Star Trek: The Original Series.”

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Ellen Burstyn

- Birthdate: Dec. 7, 1932

One of Ellen Burstyn’s first roles was as a showgirl on television’s “The Jackie Gleason Show,” though her big break didn’t come until she was cast in the 1971 Peter Bogdanovich film “The Last Picture Show.” She won the best actress Oscar for her 1974 performance in the film “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” She stars alongside several others on this list in the 2021 comedy “Queen Bees.”

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Rita Moreno

- Birthdate: Dec. 11, 1931

One of the few entertainers to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony, Rita Moreno is part of the EGOT Winners’ Circle. Born Rosita Dolores Alverío in Puerto Rico, one of the actor’s most memorable roles came when she played Anita in the 1961 film “West Side Story,” for which she became the first Latina to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. In 2021, she is set to star as Valentina (an expanded, reimagined version of the original version’s Doc) in Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic musical.

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Philip Baker Hall

- Birthdate: Sept. 10, 1931

Philip Baker Hall didn’t begin acting until 30. His most memorable performances came in the Paul Thomas Anderson films “Hard Eight,” “Boogie Nights,” and “Magnolia.” Among his more recent acting roles was his role in the 2020 Netflix show “Messiah.”

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Barbara Eden

- Birthdate: Aug. 23, 1931

Barbara Eden is most famous for her portrayal of a genie who grants wishes to the astronaut who released her from a bottle in the 1960s sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie.” Born Barbara Jean Morehead in Tucson, Arizona, Eden acted in several television movies throughout her career. In 2019, she played Mrs. Claus in “My Adventures with Santa” and appeared on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” as herself.

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James Earl Jones

- Birthdate: Jan. 17, 1931

In addition to his acting, James Earl Jones is also known for providing the iconic voices of Darth Vader in “Star Wars” and Mufasa in the animated and live-action versions of “The Lion King.” His earliest television roles include turns on soap operas, but he is best known for films like “The Great White Hope,” “Coming to America,” and “Field of Dreams.” He reprised the role of Jaffe Joffer for “Coming 2 America” in 2021.

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Robert Duvall

- Birthdate: Jan. 5, 1931

His time in the military helped Robert Duvall get his start in the entertainment industry. The successful actor and director used the GI Bill to attend The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City, where he studied under influential acting teacher Sanford Meisner. Duvall starred in “Apocalypse Now,” “The Godfather,” and “Colors” and has a starring role in the 2021 Netflix sports drama “Hustle.”

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Lois Smith

- Birthdate: Nov. 3, 1930

Known for her roles in the films “Minority Report,” “Twister,” and “Lady Bird,” Lois Smith is also an accomplished stage actress. Her first film was “East of Eden” in 1955 and she continues to remain active in the industry, appearing in the 2020 film “Tesla” starring Ethan Hawke.

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Tippi Hedren

- Birthdate: Jan. 19, 1930

Born Nathalie Kay Hedren, actress Tippi Hedren was discovered by famed director Alfred Hitchcock, who saw her in a TV commercial. Hedren acted in two Hitchcock films, “The Birds” and “Marnie.” She went on to land roles in various television series over the next several decades.

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June Squibb

- Birthdate: Nov. 6, 1929

June Squibb became an Oscar nominee at 84 for her role in the 2013 Alexander Payne film “Nebraska.” Her diverse career has seen her playing everything from the stripper Electra in the Broadway show “Gypsy,” to an uncredited role as the voice of Michael’s mother on the television show “The Office.” Squibb continues to act in both film and television and had a recent role on the show “Good Girls.”

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James Hong

- Birthdate: Feb. 22, 1929

One of the founders of the East-West Players, an Asian American theater in Los Angeles, James Hong has more than 600 acting credits. Three of the films he appeared in—“Chinatown,” “Airplane,” and “Blade Runner”—were selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry because of their cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.

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Lisa Lu

- Birthdate: Jan. 19, 1927

The Chinese-born actress migrated to the United States in the 1950s. Lu had notable roles in the 1987 film “The Last Emperor” and in the 1993 film “The Joy Luck Club.” At 91, she portrayed the family matriarch in 2018's “Crazy Rich Asians.”

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Mel Brooks

- Birthdate: June 28, 1926

Mel Brooks' expansive, enduring career has spanned acting, comedy composing, directing, producing, and writing.  The filmmaker's most famous comedies include "Blazing Saddles," "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," "The Producers," and "Young Frankenstein." He has executive producer and acting credits on 2021's computer-animated, action-adventure comedy "Blazing Samurai."

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Dick Van Dyke

- Birthdate: Dec. 13, 1925

Born Richard Wayne Van Dyke, the actor got his start in television on “The Phil Silvers Show” and also appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” as a sketch actor. By 1961, the entertainer landed his own show “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which ran until 1966. His early films include 1963’s “Bye Bye Birdie” and 1964’s “Mary Poppins.” More recently he voiced a character in 2020 on the TV series “Kidding” and signed on for an upcoming comedy called “Capture the Flag.”

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Angela Lansbury

- Birthdate: Oct. 16, 1925

Angela Lansbury got her start in the entertainment industry in the 1944 film “Gaslight.” She is known for her role as mystery writer Jessica Fletcher in the long-running television series “Murder, She Wrote” and her voice role as Mrs. Potts in the 1991 Disney classic animated film “Beauty and The Beast.”

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Eva Marie Saint

- Birthdate: July 4, 1924

Two of Eva Marie Saint’s most memorable roles are her Oscar-winning role in the 1954 Elia Kazan film “On The Waterfront” and her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 film “North By Northwest.” Her most recent role was as Mother Saint-Raphael in the 2019 film “Mariette In Ecstasy.”

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Betty White

- Birthdate: Jan. 17, 1922

An animal lover and animal rights activist, Betty White, remains active in the entertainment industry even in her late 90s. She began her acting career in the 1940s and is most famous for her roles as Sue Ann Nivens in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Rose Nylund in “The Golden Girls.”

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