30 July 2016

Rising Stars

by John M. Floyd

A few weeks ago, I did a SleuthSayers column called "Crime (and Other) Scenes," in which I listed some of my favorite movie moments. In the readers' comments that followed that piece, my friend Mary Ann Joyce mentioned the fact that I should do a piece on famous actors' early appearances, sort of an answer to the question "When did you first realize the person on the screen was going to be a star?"

Never let it be said that I cannot take advice given by the readers of our blog--especially when it sounds like fun. And though I've never known that anyone "was going to be a star," I have put together a list of some of the actors/actresses I've seen in movies that were made before their names and faces became immediately recognizable. These aren't necessarily debut performances; they're just roles that I happened to notice during the re-watching (I do a lot of re-watching) of movies I first saw long ago. Even now, I turn to my wife occasionally and point and say, "Look! You know who that IS?"--after which she usually gives me an eye-roll and goes back to doing something productive.

Some of the roles I've listed below are no more than bit parts that you'd miss if you blinked (they'd be called "cameos" if the actors were well-known), and some are too familiar even to include in the list, like Ron Howard in The Music Man or Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th Street. Long or short, though, and memorable or not, I think those appearances are fun to watch.

Here are a few of the sightings I remember most:

Tommy Lee Jones as a college student in Love Story (1970). It's been said that author Erich Segal based Ryan O'Neal's character on two roommates he knew while attending Harvard: Jones and Al Gore. Is that true? Who knows--but it sounds good.

Viggo Mortensen as one of the Amish farmers in Witness (1985). In one of my re-viewings of this movie I saw him in several of the crowd scenes and realized that his was a familiar face, but it took an IMDB search to turn the lights on.

James Gandolfini as one of Christopher Walken's henchmen in True Romance (1993). He looked suitably Sopranoish even back then.

Kirstie Alley as a skinny and gorgeous rookie crew member on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). I remember Shatner telling her wisely, "You have to learn WHY things work, on a starship." So she could tend bar at Cheers, I guess, a few years later.

Jeff Goldblum and Denzel Washington as thugs in Death Wish (1974). They were onscreen at different times, and not for long. The thug mortality rate was unusually high in this film.

Harrison Ford as one of the drivers cruising the strip in American Graffiti (1973). Get in, but don't sit on the Wookiee.

Bryan Cranston as a paramedic in Amazon Women on the Moon (1987). Yes, I watch movies like Amazon Women on the Moon. What can I say?

Ray Liotta as Melanie Griffith's creepy ex-boyfriend in Something Wild (1986). Jeff Daniels was the current boyfriend.

Anthony Edwards as Tom Cruise's best bud in Top Gun (1986).  This was before Goose went to medical school and became Mark Greene on ER. Meg Ryan was even on hand, as his wife.

Frances McDormand as a young wife doing battle with a hired killer in Blood Simple (1984).

Leonardo DiCaprio as a disabled teen in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1983).

James Earl Jones as Lt. Zogg, the bombardier, in Dr. Strangelove (1964).

Ethan Hawke as one of Robin Williams's devoted students in Dead Peets' Society (1989).

Clint Eastwood as a lab technician in Revenge of the Creature (1955). This was even before Rawhide went ahead and made his day.

Keifer Sutherland as the two-bit hood in Stand by Me (1986). Backstory, maybe, for Jack Bauer?

Robert Duvall as a cab driver in Bullitt (1968) (and of course as Boo Radley in TKaM).

Kevin Bacon as an ROTC cadet in Animal House (1978).

Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Crystal's ten-year-old son in City Slickers (1991).

Tom Cruise as the hero's friend in an endless movie called Endless Love (1981).

Matt Damon as a teenager in Mystic Pizza (1988). I think he had one line of dialogue.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as a prep-school student in Scent of a Woman (1992). He also looked really young in Twister, four years later.

Bill Paxton as one of several punks who pester (and wish they hadn't) Ahhnold in The Terminator (1984).

Johnny Depp as the ill-fated translator, Lerner, in Platoon (1986).

Scarlett Johansson as a disabled thirteen-year-old in The Horse Whisperer (1998).

Amy Adams as Leo DiCaprio's love interest in Catch Me If You Can (2002). Elizabeth Banks was in there, too.

Daniel Craig as Kate Winslet's love interest in A Kid in King Arthur's Court (1995). His name in the movie was Kane, Master Kane.

Tom Hardy as a soldier in Blackhawk Down (2001). His combat training would pay off later, on Fury Road.

Elijah Wood as an eight-year-old playing a game in a video arcade in Back to the Future II (1989). Probably looking for Gandalf.

Steve Buscemi as a waiter in Pulp Fiction (1994). 

Hugh Bonneville as a bumbling stockbroker in Notting Hill (1999). What's Lord Grantham doing in a Julia Roberts comedy . . . ?

Season Hubley as the girl her then-husband Kurt Russell runs into in Chock Full o' Nuts, in Escape from New York (1981). 

Vince Vaughn as a football player in Rudy (1993).

Ryan Gosling as a football player in Remember the Titans (2000). I do, but only barely.

Josh Brolin as one of the Goonies (1985).

Helen Hunt as Kathleen Turner's and Nick Cage's daughter in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986).

Jack Lord as Bond's pal Felix Leiter in Dr. No (1962). Jack later went to Hawaii to chase other villains with funny names, like Wo Fat.

Raymond Burr as the spied-upon murderer in Rear Window (1954). This wasn't really an early role--it was just surprising to see Perry Mason as a bad guy.

Kevin Costner as the dead friend whose funeral brought the old gang back together in The Big Chill (1983). Reportedly, his flashback scenes were all cut, so he appeared onscreen for only a few seconds, as a corpse.

Robert Redford as a prison escapee being chased in The Chase (1966). Butch, who are those guys?

Brad Pitt as the hitchhiking cowboy in Thelma and Louise (1991). Thanks, Earl Staggs, for reminding me of this one.

James Coburn and George Kennedy, as low-level criminals in Charade (1963).

And my all-time favorite long-ago celebrity appearance:

My friend and fellow Criminal Briefer Melodie Johnson Howe, as the lady in the bathroom love scene with Clint Eastwood in Coogan's Bluff (1968). 

Okay, faithful movie addicts, who are some actors and actresses you've spotted in the early days, before they attained fame and fortune? How many did I miss? Are there any you remember seeing and didn't recognize? Did you think, at the time, that they were destined for greater things? Do you ever find yourself watching for appearances like this, especially in the really old movies? Do you have more important things to do? (I'm a lost cause, but there might be hope for the rest of you.)

Something else I like, although this is a bit off topic, is that actors are sometimes cast in parts far different from their usual roles. Such surprises were: Gene Hackman, Young Frankenstein; John Travolta, Pulp Fiction; Robin Williams, One-Hour Photo; Henry Fonda, Once Upon a Time in the West; Charlize Theron, Monster; Harrison Ford, Cowboys and Aliens; Liam Neeson, Love Actually; Paul Newman, Nobody's Fool; Jack Palance, City Slickers; John Lithgow, The World According to Garp; Sean Connery, The Untouchables; Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction; Nicolas Cage, Raising Arizona; Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou; Steve Martin, The Spanish Prisoner; Robert DeNiro, Meet the Parents; Jack Nicholson, Batman; Kirk Douglas, The Man From Snowy River; Al Pacino, Dick Tracy; Denzel Washington, Training Day; Jeff Bridges, True Grit (2010 version); Ted Danson, Body Heat; and Burl Ives, The Big Country. I love to discover performances like those.

Back to the subject: As Mary Ann suggested in that SS comment, I've put All About Eve into my Netflx queue so I can check out a younger Marilyn Monroe. Ah, the sacrifices I make.

One last thing: I've heard that George Clooney played a slasher victim in Return to Horror High, that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was an eleven-year-old kid in A River Runs Through It, that Jack Black was Sean Penn's brother in Dead Man Walking, and that Robert DeNiro showed up as an uncredited diner in a restaurant in Three Rooms in Manhattan--but I think I might pass on those. Besides, I saw River and DMW in theatres before I even knew who Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jack Black were, and watching them again doesn't sound all that thrilling.

Maybe there's hope for me yet.


  1. I have taken a bunch of notes to do my version of that scenes column you did a while back. Not ready yet but someday maybe.

    James Coburn and George Kennedy, as low-level criminals in North by Northwest (1959).
    Wow! One of my favorite movies. I'll have to watch it again (what a sacrifice).

    THere is a rather sad story about Kevin Bacon in Animal House, which I can't remember adequately. It was his first movie and when they had the cast party he couldn't figure out how to get in. So he didn't.

  2. Wow. This is an extensive list! Some of these I recognize and even remember, but I have to admit, with a couple of these "before they were stars" mentions, I don't even know the stars in question. Had to look up Season Hubley to figure out who she was! This was much fun to read—and sounds like fun to compile as well. :-)

  3. Rob, the reason James Coburn and Geo. Kennedy sounded unfamiliar in N. by NW is that I was thinking of Charade, not N. by NW. I'll correct that. In my defense, they both starred Cary Grant.

  4. Art, glad you liked the list. And yes, it WAS fun to compile. Even though, as you said, it might be stretching it a bit to call some of these folks stars.

    Is it obvious that I watch way too many movies?

  5. Eastwood was a jet fighter pilot that same year (1955) in the low-budget thriller "Tarantula." Don't know which was actually released first. And I only know this because I was one of the zillions of kids who saw "Tarantula" in a then-common Saturday matinee kid session (several times in fact; they must have rotated those movies through on the cheap) and remembered the people in it. When, many years later, I saw "Rawhide" in reruns on TV, I actually recognized the pilot as one of the stars. Goes to show what kind of silliness soaks into little kids' heads. LOL

  6. Anonymous, I didn't know about Tarantula--good powers of observation, though, if you later remembered having seen him. He must've made an impression!

    Eastwood also appeared in "Francis in the Navy," around that same time. (There were a bunch of those movies starring Francis the Talking Mule. I think Chill Wills was Francis's voice.)

  7. You left out my favorite, John: Richard Dreyfuss offering to call the cops in The Graduate.

  8. You really should do a book about Everything You Don't Remember about the Movies but Would Like To Know!

  9. Josh, I didn't even remember that!!! And I bet I've seen The Graduate a dozen times. Thanks--that's the kind of thing I love to hear about.

    Janice, the only problem would be, I'm not sure they're things everyone WOULD like to know. An alternate title might be Things Guaranteed to Make You Doze Off. But I can't help myself--I love this kind of trivia.

  10. This is a great list John and a lot of fun to read. Off the top of my head, one of my favs in this category, I came up with Michael Landon playing the lead in "I was a Teenage Werewolf", then later going on to star in Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie. Others I can think of are Toni Collette almost unrecognizable to how we picture her today as the young mother in "The Sixth Sense." And Robin Wright from today's fame in "House of Cards" but playing Princess Buttercup in "The Princess Bride" then as Bruce Willis' wife in "Unbreakable." (See how I quickly wove 2 Shyamalan movies in there?) And let's not forget Kevin Spacey as Mel Profit in "Wiseguy."

  11. Good work, Mary Ann! I actually saw I Was a Teenage Werewolf when I was a kid (a few years after its release, and around the time Bonanza was a big deal). And that reminds me, I remember seeing Steve McQueen in (I think) the lead role in the SF movie The Blob.

    I'd forgotten about Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense (she was the mother of the kid who "saw dead people," right?)--the first time I saw her was in Muriel's Wedding, which I remember mostly because of the great ABBA songs in that movie. The first time I saw Robin Wright was in The Princess Bride too, but my most vivid image of her is of Forrest Gump's girlfriend. In it, she bears NO resemblance to Claire Underwood from House of Cards. And yes, I share your love of Shyamalan movies!!! I think we're in a dwindling minority, but I'm hoping these latest few Shyamalans do well and get him back into the good favor of the critics.

  12. Really enjoyed the post, and remember way too many of these movies! I also remember watching (on TV) Marilyn Monroe in "Niagara" - the only role (I believe) where she is an out and out villain.

  13. HA!--I know what you mean, Eve, about remembering "way too many" of these. If only I could replace some of these memories with worthwhile information!

    I'm glad you mentioned Niagara. These discussions always remind me why I'm a Netflix subscriber--by this Wednesday I'll be watching that movie again, here at home. Yes, I recall that MM killed (or was plotting to kill) Joseph Cotten, and I think the climactic scene was in a bell tower, but that's all I can remember about it.

  14. Years ago my husband spotted Harrison Ford in an episode of Gunsmoke and the other day I saw Clint Eastwood in "The First Traveling Saleslady". My husband and I used to always look for unexpected actors in old Westerns, we were actually surprised to see Dustin Hoffman in an old Rifleman episode. It's such fun to see where these actors started out. Thanks for the memories, John

  15. Thanks, Sandra. I agree, old Westerns are a great place to spot now-familiar faces. I remember Rifleman episodes with Robert Vaughn, Sammy Davis Jr., Lee Van Cleef, Vic Morrow, Dennis Hopper, Robert Culp, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker, Richard Kiel (Jaws, from the Bond movies), Mike Connors (Mannix), Buddy Hackett, and many more.

    REAL trivia: One Rifleman guest star whose name not many people know but whose face is instantly recognizable was Bing Russell, the father of Kurt Russell. He was in dozens of movies and TV shows back then, most of them Westerns.

  16. Thanks John! Thought of some others. Jesse Eisenberg from "The Social Network" etc. fame is a young villager in "The Village" and how about all the stars that got bit roles in the old Twilight Zone. Like Robert Redford very young playing Death. Sooo good. Can talk movies/ pop culture forever...

  17. Me too, Mary Ann. God help us both.

    Like Josh, you caught me. I've seen The Village many times, and I sure don't remember Eisenberg, who will always be the other berg--Mark Zuckerberg--to me. And yep, Twilight Zone might've had more guest stars than any other series, over its run. It's a lot of fun to re-watch those. (I finally had to put a hyphen in re-watch because Blogger's Autocorrect kept making it rematch. Grrr,)

  18. I enjoyed this column, John--as others have said, it brought back memories. I also remembered even earlier appearances for a couple of the starts you mentioned. Before she played Kathleen Turner's daughter in Peggy Sue Got Married, Helen Hunt played Murray's daughter in a 1977 episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. (Maybe she's one of those actresses who just looks like somebody's daughter.)And Harrison Ford's first movie role was an uncredited one as a "bellhop pager" in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round in 1966. He's on the screen for about half a minute, has only two or three lines, and got paid $150 for the job--but he still manages to get in what would become his trademark grin right at the end. You can watch it on You Tube--https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrlULhMtmMQ.

    And by the way, congratulations on your 44th wedding anniversary! (Dennis and I recently celebrated our 43rd.)

  19. Thanks, Bonnie! Yes, I remember Harrison Ford in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (I didn't know him back when I saw that movie for the first time, but I found out about it later), but I certainly didn't know about Helen Hunt's bit part in MTM. She must've been REALLY young then, fourteen or fifteen. (I still think the writing in series like MTM, Bob Newhart, M*A*S*H, etc. was some of the best ever. Compare that to the writing in most network TV shows now . . .)

    As for your anniversary well-wishes, many thanks! Hard to believe it's been 44 years--I'm just lucky that I chased her until she caught me. And Happy Anniversary to you and Dennis as well!

  20. Very fun article!

    There's also Harrison Ford's bit part in a Star Trek episode that takes place on a cloud city.

    If you get a chance to see Wings, the great silent WWI flying movie, Gary Cooper has a great scene. Maybe a minute long at the most, but he totally dominates it.

  21. Enjoyed this much John as I am a movie trivia nut myself! In my opinion Leonardo's performance in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993 opposed to Cuba Gooding Jr's in Radio or Sean Penn's in I Am Sam, as a mentally challenged person, it's one of my favorite movies to re-watch..lol!!

  22. Many thanks, Andrew! It's great to see you here.

    I didn't know about the cloud city (sounds as if the Star Wars bunch must've borrowed that idea from Star Trek), and--believe it or not--I've not seen Wings. But I assure you I will fix that.

    Good stuff!

  23. I enjoyed the article John as I am a movie trivia nut myself! In my opinion Leonardo's performance as a mentally challenged person in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" 1993, is the best performance for that kind of role, opposed to, just to name a few, Cuba Gooding Jr in "Radio" or Sean Penn in "I Am Sam" but must say I enjoyed all three movies!

  24. Thanks, Anonymous--glad you liked this trip down memory lane.

    I agree with you, on Gilbert Grape--that was well done. (And DiCaprio STILL looks like a teenager, to me.)

    This is neither here nor there, probably, but--with regard to the portrayal of a mentally challenged person--have you seen Regarding Henry? We've talked a lot today about Harrison Ford, and in this movie he's a ruthless lawyer who's lost his memory and has to learn everything all over again--and did a great job. It's another of those roles that's far different from the ones an actor usually does. The beauty of it is, in the character's learning about life he teaches US about life, which (in a perfect world) is what fiction's supposed to do . . .

  25. That's a good list, but for Peggy Sue Got Married you mentioned Helen Hunt but forgot Jim Carrey. He's one of Nic Cage's high school buddies.

    There's also Laurence Fishburne as an underage soldier in Apocalypse Now.

  26. Ben, I sure did forget about Jim Carrey. Now you've got me wanting to go back and watch that again.

    Yep, that was Laurence Fishburne all right--he's one of those people who's instantly recognizable, even if he WAS nineteen or so, back then. I saw him again last night, matter of fact, in the remake of Assault on Precinct 13--not a great movie, but Fishburne was great as the unflappable crime lord.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  27. I recommend "Wings," (Cooper does steal every scene!) Half the fun of an old TV show or movie is seeing who shows up! Lloyd Bridges is the co-pilot of the plane to the next world in "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," Mike Farrell shows up as a bellhop in "The Graduate," and among the locals hired to be extras in "Harper Valley P.T.A." was Woody Harrelson! (He decided he liked acting!)If you ever see "The Masked Rider" from 1928 both the condemned man and one of the horse race spectators are John Wayne. Couldn't find any truth to the legend that Wayne was ever a crowd extra with the English-born actor who had family from India who plays Mexican In Saloon #2 in "The Masked Rider" at around the same time---it's Boris Karloff! Happy viewing, John! And Happy Anniversary to you both! :)

  28. Jeff, these are great, my friend. I've already decided to watch Wings--embarrassed that I never have--but I didn't remember either the Lloyd Bridges appearance (I loved Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and its Heaven Can Wait remake), and I must've missed spotting Mike Farrell in The Graduate as well. AND Woody Harrelson--I can't really remember anything from Harper Valley PTA (though I did see it, once upon a time). I hereby declare you as big a movie trivia nut as I am . . . and I'm not at all sure that's a compliment.

    Thanks for the well wishes! We had a good day.

  29. Great column, John. Lots of fun. And makes me want to run and watch many of these -- many that I'd forgotten about.

  30. Paul, I know you like movies as much as I do. I really do find myself re-watching old ones almost as often as I see new ones. And I continue to believe that we as fiction writers can get some useful pointers from them. Like books and stories, some are well-done and some aren't, but we can learn from all of them.

    Many thanks!

  31. John, there's only one thing to say: you watch way too many movies. ;) Um, wasn't Leo DiCaprio the surly young nephew who didn't want to give Diane Keaton his bone marrow in Marvin's Room? Also, I remember seeing Brad Pitt projecting star quality all over the screen as the golden-boy alcoholic favored son in A River Runs Through It (the other son was or wanted to be a writer--what else?) and thinking, "This guy is going to be the next Robert Redford"--but afterward, I couldn't remember his name. ;)

  32. You're right, Liz (he replied, pausing the DVD player)--I do watch WAY too many. But you will be pleased to learn that I never saw Marvin's Room, so I can't reply.

    Yep, Pitt was so good in River that I can't even remember much about his brother in the movie (Craig Sheffer). I think that was only a year or two after Thelma and Louise.

    By the way (I've probably told you this before), your novel Voyage of Strangers would make a GREAT movie.

  33. I remember Charade vividly, as well as numerous other older movies. I don't watch nearly as many as I used to but I'm surprised at how many in your list I recognized. And now I have even more ways to "waste" time. My favorites are old Twilight Zone episodes.

  34. Susan, I'm still crazy about Twilight Zone. Some of those episodes are unforgettable.

    I was disappointed overall in the film version of Twilight Zone, but I still watch it now and then for the Scatman Crothers installment, "Kick the Can" (directed by Spielberg), and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," from a story by (I think) Richard Matheson. That "Kick the Can" story brings a tear to my eye, every time, and "Nightmare" is one of the scariest short pieces ever.

    I'm glad I could suggest another way for your to waste time. Writers need a few of those.

  35. Great post, John. Saw a lot of these. I guess I watch too many movies and TV shows also.

    Just saw Diane Lane in A Little Romance (1979) She was fourteen but you can see the star quality in her.

    Zac Efron plays a 'bad' teenager in an early NCIS episode. I think he was 19 at the time but played an young middle or high school kid.

  36. Thanks, Pat, for stopping by!

    I've not seen A Little Romance, but I think I remember seeing Diane Lane is some other movies when she was really young. That's always fun.

    Yes, sounds like we both spend too much time in front of the idiot box (or in theaters)--but one thing I've learned: I prefer watching movies and cable series a LOT more than anything out there on network TV. I can't even imagine watching the shows that ABC, CBS, and NBC run anymore. Some are good, but SO many are terrible. My opinion only.

  37. Randy Quaid and I think John Hurt, very young, as prisoners in Midnight Express. Maybe everyone already knew, but it blew my mind when I spotted who they were.

  38. I can't remember: Did you cover Harrison Ford in Apocalypse Now...young Intel officer at initial briefing.

  39. I can't remember: Did you cover Harrison Ford in Apocalypse Now...young Intel officer at initial briefing.

  40. Randy Quaid and I think John Hurt, very young, as prisoners in Midnight Express. Maybe everyone already knew, but it blew my mind when I spotted who they were.

  41. Dix -- Thanks for the additions!

    I did NOT know about Quaid and Hurt in Midnight Express. I saw it years ago, and need to give it a rewatch. I did pick Harrison Ford out, in a reviewing of Apocalyse Now a few months ago--didn't realize until then that he'd made an appearance there.

    Keep your eyes peeled--these celebrities pop up in the most unexpected places . . .

  42. Belatedly once more:
    I'm astonished that nobody seems to remember Jack Nicholson's bit as a Capone gunman in Roger Corman's The St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
    The story goes that Corman offered Nicholson a more important part in Massacre (the one that Bruce Dern wound up with), but Jack wanted the mostly silent bit - because it recurred throughout the movie, with the daily work adding up to a larger paycheck overall.


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