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Movie Stars You Forgot Were in a TV Series

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Oh, how quickly we forget. A good many of the actors we’ve come to love on the big screen spent at least part of their career on the little screen. Sometimes it was when they were just starting out, and other times it came much later. Either way, it’s entertaining to see these stars in a different setting.

JIMMY STEWART

It’s hard to picture the great Jimmy Stewart in a TV series, but he actually did two of them! First came “The Jimmy Stewart Show,” 1971-72, in which he played a college professor. Despite tons of publicity, it lasted only one season. He tried again in “Hawkins,” a 1973-74 series about a country lawyer. It fared no better.

SANDRA BULLOCK

Many years before winning her Oscar, Bullock starred in 1990’s TV version of the hit movie “Working Girl.” The show was pulled after a dozen episodes.

CLINT EASTWOOD

Clint, on the other hand, was a TV success story. He played Rowdy Yates on the hit western, “Rawhide.” The show, about the adventures of the longest cattle drive in history, ran from 1959-65. Clint, it should be noted, was not the main character – a situation he would rectify in his subsequent film career.

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO

Leo has been in two series: “Growing Pains,” in 1991; and “Parenthood,” in 1990. It’s unlikely we’ll see him again as a TV regular until his movie success winds down. Which brings us to …

TONY CURTIS

Curtis tried TV twice. He was the star of “McCoy,” a mercifully short-lived drama from 1975-76, and “The Persuaders,” an absolute guilty pleasure from 1971-72. In “The Persuaders,” Tony played a very cool, very American adventurer in England. His co-star was Roger Moore, pre-007.

HALLE BERRY

In 1989, a young Halle Berry was part of “Living Dolls,” a show about a teen modeling agency. That’s a young Leah Remini in the photo, lower right.

BING CROSBY

Yep, Der Bingle did a TV series. But, in keeping with his cool, unruffled image, he didn’t stray far from his comfort zone. In “The Bing Crosby Show,” 1964-65, he played an ex-entertainer who was attempting to lead an ordinary, domestic life with his wife and two kids. As you would expect, his answer to most problems involved singing.

TOM HANKS

Lots of people will remember Hanks from his TV series days, but it’s still amazing to think that a two-time Academy Award winner once starred in a 1980-82 sitcom in which he played a guy named Kip who pretended to be a woman named Buffy – in order to get a decent apartment.

CHARLES BRONSON

Classic movie tough-guy Bronson did multiple tours of duty in TV series. He played an adventurous photographer in “Man With A Camera,” 1958-60; a ranch hand in “Empire,” 1962-63; and leader of a wagon train in “The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters,” 1963-64. In that last one, his character was Linc Murdock, a much more suitable name for him than Jaimie McPheeters (a young Kurt Russell).

DENZEL WASHINGTON

Mr. Washington was an excellent part of the ensemble in one of my favorite shows, “St. Elsewhere,” from 1982-88. The incredible cast also included David Morse, Ed Flanders and, yes, Howie Mandel.

SHIRLEY MacLAINE

“Shirley’s World,” featuring MacLaine as a magazine photographer and writer, had one season only, 1971-72. But it had a real international flavor, with much of the show set in England.

GEORGE C. SCOTT

By far the most interesting TV series work the great Scott did was “East Side/West Side,” 1963-64, in which he played a crusading social worker in New York City. One of his co-stars was Cicely Tyson. Later, Scott did some uneven series work: “Mr. President,” 1987-88, a comedy about a U.S. president; “Traps,” 1994, in which he played a retired cop; and “New York News,” 1995, set at a newspaper.

HENRY FONDA

It was something of a big deal when Fonda starred in “The Smith Family,” a 1971-72 drama about a police detective. What many viewers had forgotten was that Fonda played a marshal in “The Deputy,” from 1959-61.

MICKEY ROONEY

Mickey has done tons of TV during his long career, including at least five series. I’m only going to mention one of them: a 1982 comedy called “One of the Boys,” in which his co-stars were Dana Carvey and Nathan Lane. Now that’s entertainment!

MORGAN FREEMAN

This one’s my favorite. Morgan Freeman, an actor whose work I dearly love in films, also has a place in TV history as a member of “The Electric Company.” This kids’ show from 1971-77 afforded him the chance to play such characters as Dracula and the utterly sublime Easy Reader. Well done, sir.

Well, that gets things started. Which great examples did I forget?

The League of Miscast Actors

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There’s something almost quaint about seeing an actor miscast in a movie. First of all, it’s tangible evidence that much of life and art is simply a judgment call. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong. Here are some instances in cinema where someone got it really wrong.

NICOLAS CAGE

“PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED”

Cage may be the most erratic big-name actor in recent memory. In this 1986 fantasy, he was just plain miscast. Kathleen Turner is Peggy Sue, a woman in her 40s who is somehow transported back in time to high school in 1960. Cage plays her boyfriend-and-later-husband, Charlie. He’s wayyy out of his depth as the middle-aged husband, and wayyy too peculiar as the high school boyfriend. Some of his line readings are utterly Shatnerian.

STOCKARD CHANNING

“GREASE”

No doubt I’ll catch some flak on this one, because so many people have fond memories of  the 1978 hit musical. And Channing gives it her all as Betty Rizzo. But come on – playing a teenager? She was in her 30s! She probably had shoes older than her character.

TONY CURTIS

“SON OF ALI BABA”

Ah, yes. If it weren’t for 1952’s “Son of Ali Baba,” we’d never have heard the immortal line, “This is da palace of my fadah, and yondah lies da Valley of da Sun.” Curtis, a wonderful actor in many films, just wasn’t a good fit here with his New York accent. Trivia Note: some people mistakenly think this famous line is from the 1954 British knight movie, “The Black Shield of Falworth.” They change it a little to say, “Yondah lies da castle of my fadah.”

KEVIN BACON

“X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”

It’s really two cases of bad casting in one part. This superhero extravaganza from last year asks us first to believe Bacon as an evil Nazi doctor, THEN asks us to buy him as a debonair super villain. At one point, he dons a super villain’s helmet and struts around looking like a kid about to go out trick or treating.

SOFIA COPPOLA

“GODFATHER III”

It wasn’t her fault. Coppola’s dad, the great director Francis Ford Coppola, cast her at the last minute in a pivotal part of the 1990 finale of the Godfather story. Talk about an offer you can’t refuse – but it didn’t work.

MICHAEL CAINE

“ON DEADLY GROUND”

God knows Michael Caine has played every sort of character known to man. That includes lots of quality movies and also lots of stinkers. Yet something about this one, a 1994 Steven Seagal flick in which Caine is the bad guy, seems different. Caine steers a course into over-the-top, nutjob evil territory, which isn’t his style.

JOHN WAYNE

“THE CONQUEROR”

“The Conqueror,” from 1956, is the Great White Whale of movie miscasting. It’s epic in its badness. John Wayne – John Wayne! – plays the man who would become Genghis Khan. Let me put it this way. Some actors taking on historical roles try to embody both the physical mannerisms of the era, the proper vocal characteristics, and something of the inner, psychological underpinnings of the person. The Duke went in another direction.

So there you have your starting seven. The League of Miscast Actors will now accept your suggestions for new members!