Thursday, January 04, 2007

Actors and actresses we miss

On New Year's Day — seems like an eternity ago, doesn't it? — Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle published an excellent article on the recent trend of actors who, having dropped off the face of the show business map, resurface to acclaim and applause.

Among Hartlaub's examples were Jackie Earle Haley, the former child star (Bad News Bears, Breaking Away) who'll probably be nominated for an Oscar for Little Children, and Thomas Haden Church, the former sitcom actor (Wings, Ned and Stacey) who had more or less retired before his costarring turns in Sideways (one of my favorite films of the current decade, incidentally) and the upcoming Spider-Man 3.

Actors vanish for lots of reasons. Child actors outgrow their cuteness — and their talent — or have difficulty gaining acceptance in adult roles. (Right, Wil Wheaton?) Female actors reach "that certain age" at which Hollywood stops creating good roles for women — although that's changing incrementally, especially as the Baby Boomers age — or leave the spotlight to raise families. Actors of every description simply find that their phones stop ringing, often for reasons that are entirely mysterious. Sometimes they don't get work just because it's been a while since they've had work. Out of sight, out of mind — it happens in show biz as in real life.

All of which got my brain to percolating. Who are some actors I haven't seen in a while, that I'd enjoy seeing making a splashy (or even drippy) return? I've spent random moments over the past few days jotting down a list. For some of these folks, I know why they disappeared — the reasons may appear in the preceding paragraph. For others, I haven't a clue. Some haven't ever completely evaporated, but don't seem to get choice roles anywhere near as often as I think they should, or as they would if I ruled the entertainment industry. (Which I don't. So if your name's on this list, don't call me. I can't help you.)

I did, just for safety's sake, check to make certain that no one I'm about to mention has died. Because that would be embarrassing. As well as a perfectly valid reason for not working.

Phoebe Cates. The stunning young starlet who made red bikinis famous in Fast Times at Ridgemont High married fellow actor Kevin Kline in 1989, and dropped out of acting in the early '90s to raise their kids.

Deborah Foreman. She made Valspeak chic in Valley Girl and limo driving fun in My Chauffeur. Didn't have Cates' range as an actress, but worked the cute perky thing pretty well.

Paul Zaloom. I used to watch his wacky science edutainment series for kids, Beakman's World, with my daughter when she was preschool age. Am I the only one who remembers this show? And whatever happened to Zaloom, who played the title character?

Pamela Sue Martin. Ah, Nancy Drew! (Or Fallon Colby Carrington, if your tastes run more to soaps than sleuthing.) I was reminded of her recently while watching one of those I Love the '70s flashback shows on VH1. Back in the day, I thought she was going to be a huge star. Never really happened, despite an infamous Playboy pictorial.

Michael Paré. A lanky, laconic actor in the young Clint Eastwood mold, he starred in one of my favorite films, Walter Hill's Streets of Fire, as well as the reasonably entertaining Eddie and the Cruisers. Another actor I thought would develop into a megastar, but he's spent most of his career toiling in wretched low-budget action and sci-fi dreck.

Michael Beck. Probably best remembered (not coincidentally, in my case) as Swan, the leader of the title gang in another Walter Hill classic, The Warriors, he costarred with Michael Paré in a decent mid-'80s TV buddy-cop drama called Houston Knights. Like Paré, he never totally vanished, but hasn't worked with the consistency or prominence his early roles suggested.

Jim Kelly. One of the major stars of early '70s blaxploitation, his best role came alongside Bruce Lee in the greatest martial arts film ever, Enter the Dragon. Not merely an actor, but also a genuine karate champion. I keep waiting for Quentin Tarantino to resurrect his career.

Karen Allen. The most amazing pair of blue eyes in the history of cinema, with talent far exceeding the requirements of most of her better-known roles (Katy in National Lampoon's Animal House, Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jenny Hayden in Starman).

Thomas Carter. Never left show biz, just moved into a different and more stable role. After costarring in the '70s TV series Szysznyk and The White Shadow, Carter became a successful director, first in television (Fame, Hill Street Blues, numerous other series), then in feature films (Save the Last Dance, Coach Carter). He was such a talented actor, though, it seems almost a shame to lose him in front of the camera.

Kim Richards. Grew from playing the cute kid in such Disney pictures as Escape to Witch Mountain and No Deposit, No Return to a starmaking turn as the streetwise adolescent in Tuff Turf. Then... nothing. Why didn't she evolve into the second Jodie Foster? Maybe being Paris Hilton's aunt had something to do with it.

Linda Fiorentino. Longtime SSTOL readers knew I'd get to my favorite actress eventually. Yes, I understand she's supposedly hell on wheels to work with. But how can someone with her prodigious talent — she would likely have won the Best Actress Oscar for 1994's The Last Seduction, had not a quirk in Academy rules prohibited the film from being nominated — have made only one film (Kari Skogland's little-seen, but compelling, Liberty Stands Still) in the past seven years?

Stacy Carroll. Her only feature film credit is the thankless role of Corbin Bernsen's scorned wife (who engineers a one-night stand with Charlie Sheen as vengeance on her philandering spouse) in the '80s baseball comedy Major League. She's also one of the most memorable aspects of that movie. I wonder whatever became of her. I hope Bob Uecker didn't scare her off.

Feel welcome to add your forgotten favorites to the comments section.

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2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Mr. Fabulous offered these pearls of wisdom...

A great list, I am familiar with almost all of them.

I would add Debra Winger. Where the hell has she gone?

Warriors....Come out and pla--ay...

3:34 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Mr. Fab: I left Debra Winger off the list on purpose, simply because her case has been so thoroughly reported (i.e., Rosanna Arquette's excellent 2002 documentary, Searching for Debra Winger). She has also made something of a comeback in recent years (spurred in part by the aforementioned documentary), including a 2005 Emmy nomination for the Lifetime movie Dawn Anna.

3:56 PM  

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