Your Lying Eyes

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10 May 2012


The scourge of typecasting used to be a big deal, but I don't get the sense that it's such a big deal these days. But years ago many an actor were certain their careers were ruined by being typecast in a role.

The 60's in particular seemed a particularly brutal period for typecasting. Actors were being positively subsumed left and right by their characters. Perhaps it was the over-the-top nature of many of these roles. Batman, Herman Munster, Gilligan (not to mention The Skipper, Ginger, et. al.), Maxwell Smart, Batman - these were characters memorable for their hyperbole and often preposterousness and tended to stick with the actors. The actors, as well, were probably not nearly as gifted as the largeness of the characters might have suggested, so they no doubt greatly disappointed when seen in other roles. Adam West's arch blandness was perfect for his campy Batman role, for example, but way too drippy for much else. Don Knotts, on the other hand, partly because he was a talented comic actor and partly because he essentially invented the character, was able to successfully escape his Barney Fife role (albeit to star in a series of goofy Disney movies, though his brief turn in Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was brilliant).

So in more recent decades has typecasting been a problem for any actors?



Blogger Steve Sailer said...

I can think of two things going on:

- the switch from movies to TV burned out characters faster. Cary Grant pretty much played Cary Grant his whole career, but he retired at age 62 close to the top. John Wayne played John Wayne for about 35 years. Clark Gable somewhat burned out his popularity playing Clark Gable after Gone With The Wind, but he had a helluva run. Actors wanted to get typecast, rather than disappear into their roles like Alec Guinness did. But movies weren't as week-after-week intensive as TV when there was only 3 networks. (But, as you say, Clark Gable and John Wayne were better at being typecast than Don Adams and Adam West.)

- There was such a colossal number of Baby Boomer children watching each of the small number network shows in the 1960s that that cohort pretty much set its stamp on pop culture through sheer weight of numbers. A lot of the shows you mention are among the first I can remember, and it was hard for me as a six year old in 1965 to disentangle character from actor. The peak year of the Baby Boom was 1957 and that likely has a lot to do with this phenomenon. Also, the stuff we liked as little kids was, as you mention, not very subtle. But we liked it.

May 10, 2012 3:48 AM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

Another thing that has changed is that the number of TV shows is so vast these days that everybody who was ever anybody is still on TV somewhere. I was flipping the dials recently and there was an NCIS spin-off that starred Linda Hunt, LL Cool J, and Chris O'Donnell. It was great: it reassured that me that no once famous celebrity would ever have to get a real job: here we have a snooty lesbian dwarf, a 1980s rapper, and the guy who was Robin in the most hated movie ever, "Batman and Robin" and, yet, this improbable bunch of one-time stars are all gainfully employed on a big budget show.

If there were as many shows in the 1970s and 1980s as there are now, Gilligan, Mr. Spock, Gomez Adams, Agent 99, Gomer Pyle, Grandpa Munster, and the rest would be headlining detective dramas.

May 10, 2012 3:56 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Dick van Dyke and Andy Griffith finally figured out that detective thing late in their careers. Fred Gwynne probably could have had a nice, lucrative second career as a surly but fair judge if anyone had thought of that role twenty years earlier.

As far as the older stars, I finally got around to watching the Searchers a few months ago, and I was thinking how easy John Ford had it that he didn't have to spend much time developing Ethan Edwards's character. It was the same for most movies - once Jimmy Stewart, say, appeared on screen - Voila' - character developed!

May 10, 2012 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off topic, but because you mentioned the movie, the dance scene is the funniest thing ever.

May 10, 2012 9:02 PM  

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