Film: The Screen is Smaller
By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES May 2014 online
Conventional wisdom has it that the shelf-life of the average film actor’s stardom is about ten years. After that the star’s luster beings to noticeably diminish. And the end is either graceful retirement or a picking up what ever acting gigs may come along even if this may mean a “stepping down” into the basement of television. For some this can be a sadly ironic ending to their film career; for others a lucrative rebirth. Buddy Ebsen, a third tier actor and dancer in the 30’s, found top billing in the long running Beverly Hillbillies from 1962 to 1970- the reruns still going strong. But Ann Sheridan, a serious actress known in the 40’s as the “Oomph Girl”, was cast as Henrietta Hanks in a western sit-com embarrassingly enough called Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats in 1966. Yvonne DeCarlo (nee Peggy Middleton, by the way), an exotic hottie in many 40’s films, hitting a performance high playing opposite Charlton Heston in the epic “Ten Commandments”, closed out her career as Lily, the vampire-like spouse in the Munsters. And who can remember a political sit-com of the 60’s The Governor and J.J. that starred Dan Daily, top song and dance man in the 40’s musicals. The television of the 60’s became both a retirement home and renewal of life for numbers of Hollywood actors winding up their allotment of star years. Many had the good luck to extend stardom by head-lining successful TV shows that opened in the 60’s - Barbara Stanwyck, Donna Reed, Anne Francis, Fred MacMurray- before fading out in the 1970’s. Aging character actors of the previous decades benefited from the variety of parts available in the comedy and drama series of the period- George Tobias, John McGiver, Slim Pickens, Baron MacLane to name but a few. Peyton Place, long running from ’64 to ’69 had an usually large cast of regulars that included Dorothy Malone, Leslie Nielson, Lee Grant, Gene Rowlands, Dan Duryea and delivered two future stars: Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal.
Give us another ten years and the next round of graying film stars will be staring their runs of television. How would you go for watching Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling in a re-do of Roseanne?