1956 was quite a year: Ike was re-elected to his second term (with Richard Nixon as his Vice President), Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier, IBM invented the hard disk, Elvis swiveled that wobbly pelvis on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, Charlton Heston killed ‘em as Moses in The Ten Commandments, and Yankee right-hander Don Larsen tossed the only perfect game in World Series history. The space race was heating up, Korea was a memory and Vietnam was somewhere beyond the horizon. And, for some reason, a whole lotta beautiful women were born.
Maybe it was the nuclear testing, maybe it was fluoride in the water, but whatever the reason, here are half a dozen of the many women born during that year who continue to put the “well” in the phrase “aging well.” So as to not show favorites, let’s look at them in birth order
From Mrs. Fly to Madame President: Geena Davis (January 21)
Whether she’s driving off a cliff in Thelma and Louise or wielding a knife like a mad chef in The Long Kiss Goodnight, Virginia Elizabeth “Geena” Davis brings a massive talent to the silver screen and in her occasional forays into the small screen (“Commander in Chief”). She’s not just a pretty face, either: Davis is a member of Mensa, a talented musician, and made the semifinals while trying out for the 2000 Olympics women’s archery team. She’s also worked with the Women’s Sports Foundation and served as chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women.
Davis’ career began in 1982 when the model (at an even six feet tall, what else did you expect?) was cast for a part in Tootsie. She received a 1988 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (The Accidental Tourist), was nominated for Best Actress (Thelma & Louise, 1991) and received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress (A League of Their Own, 1992). Her work on “Commander in Chief” won her a Golden Globe for Best Actress and a SAG nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series.
Fiery Redhead of the Year: Dana Delany (March 13)
Dana Welles Delany is a native of Stamford Connecticut. The Delany family business is plumbing products, one of which is the Delany Flush Valve. Dana went another direction, however.
Credit: freeclassicimages.comWith a film and television career that reaches all the way back to the ‘70s, Delany continues to wow viewers with her Irish good looks and sassy attitude. Her breakthrough role was as Army nurse Colleen McMurphy in the series “China Beach” (1988-1991), a role for which the talented actress picked up a pair of Emmys and two Golden Globe nominations, losing to Angela Landsbury (“Murder She Wrote”) and Patricia Wettig (“thirtysomething”). After cancellation of the critically-acclaimed series, Delany moved on to film, including a daring stint as a dominatrix in Exit to Eden, and a role in Live Nude Girls alongside Kim Cattrall. She’s stayed busy ever since with guest appearances and recurring roles in a wide variety of television shows, including three seasons as Katherine Mayfair on “Desperate Housewives.” As of 2013, Delany stars as Dr. Megan Hunt in the medical examiner series “Body of Proof.”
Delany is active for a number of causes, including Planned Parenthood, the Schleroderma Foundation, arts advocacy and gay and lesbian issues. According to public biographies, she has never been married.
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They Call her Everyone's Favorite Girl Next Door: Sela Ward (July 11)
Credit: Sela Ward-ChambersThe pride of Meridian, Mississippi, Sela Ann Ward first showed off her dazzling smile in the role of cheerleader for the Alabama Crimson Tide and (you saw this coming, right?) as ‘Bama’s Homecoming Queen in 1976. After a stint as a model in New York, Ward’s small-screen career began at “Emerald Point N.A.S” and continues today with her co-starring role in “CSI: NY.” In almost thirty years of television, Ward’s twice received an Emmy: the first time was for her portrayal of the alcoholic artist Teddy in the critically-acclaimed “Sisters” (1994) and the second was in 1999 as Lily Manning in “Once and Again.”
She’s also appeared in films, most notably the 1983 Burt Reynolds vehicle, The Man Who Loved Women and a cameo role in Runaway Bride. Like Davis, she’s no slouch in the brains department: Ward is a member of Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society. She’s been married to a venture capitalist since 1992; the couple has two children.
Jason Bourne's Frenemy: Joan Allen (August 20)
Credit: Jasin Bowlan / Universal PicturesTriple-threat Joan Allen is our fourth 1956 baby, a native of the Land of Lincoln. Allen’s probably best-known to current movie-goers for her recurring role as CIA spook-master Pamela Landy from the Jason Bourne series (The Bourne Supremacy, Ultimatum, and Legacy), and she received Academy Award nominations for her roles in Nixon, The Crucible, and The Contender. On the small screen, Allen has received Emmy nominations for her work in the miniseries “The Mists of Avalon” (opposite Juliana Margulies) and as Georgia O’Keeffe in the television biography of the late American artist. She started her Broadway career with a bang, in 1989 snagging a Tony for her debut role in the play “Burn This.”
Allen is the mother of a teenage daughter.
Still a Femme Fatale After All these Years: Kim Cattrall (August 21)
Though probably best known for her role as the lascivious Samantha Jones in the HBO series “Sex and the City” (and the films based on the series), Kim Cattrall’s career was launched by her appearances in several 1980s movies including Porky’s, Porky’s 2, and Police Academy. She kept busy throughout the 1990s both on television and in the movies. Kim received a Golden Globe for “Sex and the City” in 2003 and shared a 2010 Razzie with her co-stars for Worst Actress, “awarded” for Sex and the City 2. Can’t win ‘em all. Credit: wikimedia commons
Cattrall, who holds dual British-Canadian citizenship, has been married three times but is presently unattached. She has no children. Perhaps playing on her Samantha Jones persona, Kim has published two books on feminine sexuality, 2002’s Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm (with her then-husband, Mark Levinson) and 2005’s Sexual Intelligence.
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She's Out of this World! Mae Jemison (October 17)
The quintessential combination of brains and beauty, Mae Jemison’s acting career pales alongside her other accomplishments. A native of Decatur, Alabama, Jemison grew up in Chicago where her mother was an elementary school teacher. Jemison grew up fascinated by both science and the arts; especially dancing. But it was science that took her farthest: the early entrant to Stanford University (a sixteen-year-old freshman) picked up a chemical engineering degree before going on to an MD from Cornell at the age of 25 (while still dancing at the Alvin Ailey School).Credit: PeaceCorps.org
Jemison took her medical degree to the Peace Corps for three years before applying to NASA’s astronaut program. She was accepted in 1987 and became the first African-American woman in space in September, 1992, on the Shuttle Endeavour’s flight STS-47. She resigned from NASA in 1993.
After her NASA career, Jemison appeared as herself in several films and also appeared on an episode of “Star Trek the Next Generation.” Jemison started a biotech firm in 1999. In her public life, she continues to advocate for science education and for improving healthcare in the developing world.
Television news correspondent Paula Zahn (February 24)
Actress and celebrity spouse Rita Wilson (October 26; married to Tom Hanks)
Atress and celebrity widow Lisa Niemi (May 26; widow of Patrick Swayze)
Child star Maureen McCormick (aka Marcia Brady; August 5)
Actress Mimi Rogers (January 27)
Actress Stephanie Zimbalist (October 8)