The usual way movie stars are made. A starving actor takes uncredited bit parts in movies just to make ends meet. He builds enough of a resume to move up to minor characters. He then gets a supporting role in a low budget movie or two. Builds a name for himself. Some director decides to give him a break and cast him in the lead of a major production. The movie is a hit and he is offered the lead role in other movies. That is usually how movie stars are created. But not always. Celebrities like athletes, recording stars, stand-up comedians and television stars are often cast as the star of their own movies. Sometimes this does lead to a successful career. But often you have a case where that celebrity is the star of one film, and is never cast as the star of a film ever again. They may turn up in bit parts, cameos, television movies, direct to video releases and the voice of a character in a cartoon, but after all the hype from their one starring role their film career is more or less finished.
Popular athletes have had no problem finding work in Hollywood. Success stories like Olympic athletes Johnny Weissmuller and Sonja Henie, who both went on to star in several films, have encouraged other Athletes to try their luck in the movies. Julius Erving had his one shot at movie stardom with The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979). Although highly promoted, the film bombed at the box office and Erving was never asked to star in a movie again. On the other hand, while the movie Space Jam ( 1996 ) was a box office hit, star Michael Jordan made the decision to return to basketball instead of pursuing a movie career. One of the all time crash and burns with an athlete was Bruce Jenner who’s movie career began and ended with Can’t Stop the Music (1980). Jenner’s leading lady was suppose to be Olivia Newton John in her followup to Grease (1978), but when the producers decided to add The Village People to the cast Olivia dropped out of the production. Coincidentally, Can’t Stop the Music was also the only movie that The Village People starred in.
The Village People are not the only music group to have starred in films. Of course the most notable example of an entire group to get star billing in their own movie was The Beatles, although together they were the star of two successful movies and one theatrically released long form cartoon. It is as solo artists that they did not have much acting success. John Lennon’s movie career went no further than a supporting role in How I Won The War (1967) and Paul McCartney had only one starring role in the movie Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984). Ringo Starr did slightly better with co-star roles in The Magic Christian (1969), Blindman (1971), That’ll Be the Day (1973) and Son of Dracula (1974). He finally graduated to leading star with the movie Caveman (1981) which was his last major role in any film. The Beatles had wanted to do a third movie based on their Sgt Peppers album, but could not come up with the budget the script called for. The project was all but dead when The Beatles broke up, but Robert Stigwood revived the project with the movie Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) with The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton cast as The Fab Four’s replacements. Needless to say none of the leads were ever asked to star in a movie again. America’s version of The Beatles, The Monkees, were the stars of one single movie called Head (1968). And The Spice Girls were the stars of Spice World (1997), which was a update of A Hard Days Night (1964). The only spice girl to be offered a starring role in a movie since was Scary Spice (aka Melanie Brown) in the 2006 independent film Telling Lies. One can only wonder if ABBA even knew they were the stars of their own film. The real star of ABBA: The Movie (1977) is Robert Hughes who plays a DJ chasing after the group for an interview. While ABBA does appear in at least half the movie, it is almost entirely footage from concerts and news conferences while the rest of the movie is about Hughes character. Neither ABBA or Hughes were the stars of their own movie again.
Perhaps it is understandable when an entire music group fails to star in a second movie. Solo recording artists are another story. Bing Crosby, Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra, Cher, Elvis Presley and Madonna have all seen success in the movies. But chart success does not always translate into a successful acting career. The most surprising is the late Michael Jackson who after getting the male lead as the Scarecrow in The Wiz (1978) was never again cast in a starring role, with exception to long form music videos like Thriller (1983), and the 3D short Captain Eo (1986). After a small role in the classic comedy Annie Hall (1977), Paul Simon wrote the script for his own movie One Trick Pony (1980). Many critics agreed that the script for the film was good enough that if a real actor was cast in the lead it would have been a hit. Perhaps he was inspired by his ex-partner Art Garfunkle who had his own movie being released the same year called Bad Timing (1980), although Garfunkle one upped Simon by starring in a second movie Good to Go (1986). Neil Diamond had no acting experience when he was cast in the lead of the remake of The Jazz Singer (1980). The original 1927 version not only made a movie star out of recording artist Al Jolson, but kick started the sound era. The 1980 version was a dud at the box office, but did result in one major achievement. One of the many top 40 hits to come off the movie’s soundtrack was the song, America, has since gone on to become one of the all time popular standards. Rick Springfield had years of acting experience on the soap opera General Hospital before he starred in Hard to Hold (1984), his one shot at movie stardom. On the other hand, tenor Luciano Pavarotti had no acting experience at all when he was cast as the lead in his one and only movie Yes Giorgio (1982). Interesting thing about the movie Light of Day (1987). Not only was it the only starring role for rocker Joan Jett, but for her co-star Michael J Fox who was attempting to branch out as a recording artist, the movies theme song (written by none other than Bruce Springsteen) was the only single he ever appeared on. Shortly after winning the first season of American Idol, winner Kelly Clarkson starred with runner up Justin Guarini in the questionable romantic musical comedy From Justin to Kelly (2003), written, cast, filmed and rushed into theaters in a matter of nine months. Fox had hoped to capitalize on the popularity of the two American Idol finalists, but rushing a musical into production in that short amount of time had its consequences. Both fans and critics found the film horrible, and it only made a mere $5 at the box office. Kelly participated in the movie as a legal obligation to her American Idol contract, but once the contract had been fulfilled chose to concentrate on a singing career and all but gave up on acting.
Rap artists have been very successful at making the transition from recording star to movie star. Will Smith, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah and Ice Cube all began as Rap stars. Actor Mark Wahlberg began as the Rap artist Marky Mark having a #1 hit single with Good Vibrations before making the transition to Calvin Klein underwear model and then on to acting. Other rappers were not as lucky. Take Marshall Mathers, better known by his stage name Eminem. After a hugely successful recording career he starred in a movie in 2002, the semi-autobiographical 8 mile (2002). The movie was a huge success, and Eminem was praised by critics for acting. But a combination of negative publicity over lyrics on his Rap records, bouts with drug addictions and a highly publicized divorce made studios reluctant to cast him in any other movies. Mathers is currently still pursuing an acting career and is still releasing hit Rap singles. One of the original Rap acts, Run-D.M.C., were the stars of their own gangster film, Tougher than Leather (1988). It made a modest $3 million at the box office, not enough to interest studios in investing in a second Run-D.M.C. movie. Warner Brothers thought the novelty Rap group The Fat Boys had potential as the next Three Stooges. Their single comedy film Disorderlies (1987) did a disappointing $10 million at the box office, and universal bad reviews of their performance kept Warner Brothers from producing any more Fat Boys films.
The comedy genre has been harsh on film careers. Pulling off a successful comedy film is not that easy, and many notable comedians had unsuccessful movie careers. The most frustrating was Andy Kaufman who wanted to film a script he wrote called The Tony Clifton Story. Kaufman had some acting experience, a small part in the movie In God We Tru$t ( 1980 ) and over three years as Latka on the series Taxi (1978-1983). Universal Pictures agreed to green light the film provided that Kaufman star in one of their films first. Heartbeeps (1981) was a science fiction comedy about two robots (Kaufmann and Bernadette Peters) who fall in love and end up running away from their human masters. Not only was the movie a critical and financial flop, but Andy Kaufman chose to apologize for the movie during his talk show publicity tour, offering refunds to anyone who saw it. Universal responded by cancelling production on The Tony Clifton Story and Kaufman, who died three years later, never acted in a movie again. Jay Leno had some acting credibility with a supporting role as Mookie in American Hot Wax (1978) and small roles in Silver Bears (1978) and Americathon (1979). Taking a ten year break from acting to concentrate on his stand up career, after he became the permanent guest host on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Hollywood came calling again. At the time a recurring formula for comedians was to cast them in hard core police-action films. Eddie Murphy had done so with 48 Hrs. (1982) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Billy Crystal in Running Scared (1986), Whoopi Goldberg in Fatal Beauty (1987) and Rosie O’Donnell in Another Stakeout (1993). Leno ended up in the buddy cop film Collision Course (1989) co-starring with Pat Morita. During the final days of shooting the studio, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, went bankrupt. Important scenes had not yet been shot, and there was nearly no money left for post production. The film was inevitably completed, but was so bad that no American distributor would touch it, although it did get released in other countries including Canada. Collision Course was finally released on video in 1992, but by then the damage had been done and Leno’s movie career was finished. Fortunately he had a hosting job on The Tonight Show to fall back on. Other comedians to crash and burn in their first and only starring role include Carrot Top with Chairman of the Board (1998) which was not only a box office bomb but considered one of the worst comedies ever made, and Jackie Mason who had the misfortune of replacing Rodney Dangerfield in what turned out to be Caddyshack II (1998).
It does not matter much why someone became a celebrity, if they are then Hollywood studios have seen their potential in stardom. It does not always work. Reality star Colleen Haskel became famous with the rest of the cast of the original season of Survivor. She was the first and only cast member to be offered a role in a major Hollywood production, the Rob Schneider comedy The Animal (2001). Although the movie did well at the box office, Colleen’s participation was seen as stunt casting to take advantage of Survivor’s popularity. Once the second season began interest in Haskel waned, and so did the movie offers. Magicians and movies go back to 1919 when Harry Houdini starred in The Grim Game. Others followed, from Dante co-starring with Laurel and Hardy in A-Haunting We Will Go (1942), to David Copperfield as part of an ensemble cast in the slasher film Terror Train (1980). Penn & Teller followed this tradition with the movie Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989), a film that followed the ‘day in a life’ formula but with the added plot twist that someone is trying to kill them. Fans of the magicians loved the movie, but it made so little at the box office that they were never offered a second movie. Daredevil Evel Knievel had his one shot at movie stardom with the film Viva Knievel! (1977) where he played himself in a fictional story where he ends up fighting drug dealers. By today’s standards the movie is so corny that it has become a cult classic, but in the day it was released audiences simply found the movie bad. And that is usually the biggest problem with non-acting celebrities cast as the star of their own movie. It is done purely out of exploitation of their fame, so the trend is to write an original script that takes what made them famous and incorporates it into the story. Little care is taken in writing these scripts, which are rushed through as the studio wants the film released now while the celebrity is still hot. This was the case with The Jerky Boys, a duo who were briefly popular in the ’90s for recording and releasing their prank phone calls as comedy tapes. As early as 1993 the duo had begun work on a movie script that had them in trouble with the mob after accidentally prank calling a mob boss. The result was Jerky Boys: The Movie (1995) which got a very modest release to a few movie screens before it was pulled for home video. Fans of the Jerky Boys gave the film mixed reviews with some saying the movie was hilarious and others calling it terrible and a huge mistake. Meanwhile John Brennan and Kamal Ahmed who made up The Jerky Boys were no longer getting along, and soon after the movie was made the duo broke up to pursue their own solo careers.
Not every film was crap. Weird Al Yankovic became popular by making song parodies of hit songs. While he did not have a top ten hit until 2006 with the song White and Nerdy, in the ’80s his music videos were popular enough to gain him superstar status. The videos had been directed by his manager at the time, Jay Levey. Together they collaborated on what eventually became the movie UHF (1989). During filming of the movie character actor Trinidad Silva was killed in a car accident, forcing Al to rewrite parts of the movie to cover up the scenes Silva had not yet shot. Despite this setback the movie had the most successful test screening in Orion Picture’s history. Executives had high hopes for the film, believing it would be a blockbuster hit for the studio. But it only made a modest $5.7 million dollars, just barely covering the production costs, and Weird Al’s film career was over. A similar fate faced radio shock-jock Howard Stern. With his immensely popular radio show Howard had always talked about trading his fame up for the movies, television or even as a rock star. This all seemed to be hot air as each of his announced projects never took off. A talk show for Fox, a rock album produced by Dee Snyder, a movie based on National Lampoon’s Fartman, even a run for Governor on the Libertarian Party ticket that was abandoned three months before election day. One project that did see fruition was a book written for Simon & Schuster, the semi-autobiographical Private Parts. Becoming one of the all time best selling books, it was not long before the studios were offering money for the movie rights. Howard had one stipulation, that whichever studio made the movie had to cast Howard as himself. After a few aborted attempts by various production companies it seemed as if the Private Parts movie would never be made. It wasn’t until Ivan Reitman took over the production that the movie finally took off. A test screening resulted in the best numbers Paramount ever had on any film, and coupled with a massive promotional blitz by Howard coupled with promises that all his 60 million listeners would go see the movie, Paramount had high hopes that Private Parts (1997) would become one of the all time box office hits. But while Private Parts was number one at the box office the week it was released, and although it was universally praised by film critics, even getting the coveted Two Thumbs Up from Siskle & Ebert, business quickly dropped off in the second week of release. The film ultimately made only $41 million dollars, far short of the projected $500 million the studio had hoped on, and only just breaking even over production, promotion and distribution costs. This was no exactly the end of Howard Stern’s acting career. $41 million was still pretty good. Just not good enough for Howard to be offered any A-list projects. Toying with the idea of reviving the Fartman project, he ultimately settled on accepting a role in an independent movie with Melanie Griffith. Despite promises made the producer failed to secure financing for the movie, and it was ultimately scrapped. Rumors that Warner Brothers wanted him cast as The Scarecrow in the next Batman film ended when the batman series was put on hiatus, not being revived until 2005 with Batman Begins. Any future as a movie star now hinged on the success of Private Parts II. But Reitman had conceived the first movie as a love story between Howard and his wife Alison, so when they both got divorced in 1999 Reitman scrapped plans for the sequel. Howard has since made claims that he is regularly offered scripts which he turns down for not being funny. He was offered the lead in Barry Levinson’s Man of the Year (2006) which he had to turn down due to having just signed with Sirius and needing time to both wind down his contract with K-ROCK while at the same time setting up his Satellite channel. To date Stern has not stepped foot on a movie set since filming wrapped on Private Parts.