On this day in 1950, Julie Kavner, perhaps best known as the voice of Marge Simpson on The Simpsons, the longest-running animated show in TV history, is born in Los Angeles. Before taking on the role of the famously blue-haired housewife, Kavner played Brenda Morgenstern on Rhoda, a spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that originally aired from 1974 to 1978. In 1978, Kavner won an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal of Brenda, the younger sister of the show’s lead character, played by Valerie Harper. She won another Emmy in 1992, for Outstanding Voice-over Performance, for an episode of The Simpsons. On the big screen, Kavner has been a frequent performer in the films of the writer-director Woody Allen, including Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987) and Shadows and Fog (1992). Among her other film credits are Awakenings (1990) and Judy Berlin (1999).
The Simpsons began as a series of animated shorts created by cartoonist Matt Groening (who reportedly based some of the main characters on members of his family) that aired on The Tracey Ullman Show starting in 1987. On December 17, 1989, The Simpsons debuted as primetime program on Fox with a Christmas special titled “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.”
Set in the fictional town of Springfield, The Simpsons skewers American culture and society with its chronicles of a middle-class family comprised of the buffoonish husband and father Homer Simpson, a safety inspector at a nuclear power plant; his well-meaning, sometimes gullible wife Marge; and their troublemaker son Bart, precocious daughter Lisa and baby Maggie. The Simpsons is known for its sharp writing (Conan O’Brien used to write for the show before he became a late-night TV host) and features a large cast of supporting characters, including Homer’s boss and nemesis, Mr. Burns; the Simpsons’ neighbor Ned Flanders, a devout Christian; and Krusty the Clown. In addition to providing the voice of Marge Simpson, Julie Kavner also voices the characters Patty and Selma, Marge’s chain-smoking twin sisters. A long list of celebrities, including Kelsey Grammer, Larry King, Sting, Hugh Hefner, Ringo Starr, J.K. Rowling, Tony Blair, Stephen Hawking, 50 Cent and Mel Gibson have made guest appearances on the show as themselves or fictional characters.
The Simpsons has been an enormous commercial and critical hit–in 1999, Time dubbed it the greatest TV show of the 20th century–and images of the yellow-skinned Simpson characters have appeared on everything from T-shirts to video games. As a pop phenomenon, the show paved the way for other popular animated comedies, including Beavis and Butt-head and South Park, and has been a source of popular catchphrases,
including Homer’s “D’oh!” which was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001. A big-screen version of the show, The Simpsons Movie, debuted July 27, 2007, and was a box-office hit.