There might not be a definitive answer for this, so I’m putting it in CS instead of GQ. Although with all of the movie experts here, this is probably the best place for a factual answer.
Anyway, here is what I was wondering. AMC (American Movie Classics, for you furriners - and NO, it does NOT live up to it’s name, but that’s another thread) has ben running some Ron Reagan films in honor of his death.
Tonight they are showing The Last Outpost from 1951. Reagan fights the Indians, reconciles with his brother, etc.
But at one point Reagan faces a bunch of ticked-off townspeople, the leader of which has a shotgun pointed at his gut. When I saw this scene I shouted “Gus!!!”, because the man with the shotgun was none other than Burt Mustin, otherwise known as Gus in the Leave it to Beaver TV show.
But then I did a double-take. Gus was old in this movie, but it was in color. He was old in LITB, but that was in B&W. A quick punch of the “Info” button (I love DirecTV) tells me that The Last Outpost was filmed in 1951. His first appearance in LITB was in 1957. After that, he had an amazingly prodigous career.
I’m wondering: has anyone else had such a prodigious film/TV career after such a late start? Can anyone find our man Burt before 1951? In The Last Outpost he was already 67!
This guy was 45 when the stock market crash occured! He was 57 when Pearl Harbor was attacked!
And yet he’s shown regularly on TV stations throughout the US.
I’m not 100% sure I understand what you’re looking for, but John Houseman made his film debut in the Paper Chase at the age of 71 (although he actually had two uncredited minor movie roles prior to this).
*Marie Dressler. She was 46 when she made her film debut in Tillie’s Punctured Romance (supposedly, the same film where Milton Berle first appeared). Of course, she had to wait until films were made in order to start in them (Tillie was one of the earliest feature films), but Marie dropped out of films for almost ten years, only to return and become one of the biggest stars of the early talkies, winning an Oscar at the age of 63.
She was a success despite being rather heavy not all that physically attractive. And I say this with admiration: no actress these days could be a major star if they looked like her, which is a shame.
Sydney Greenstreet was 65 when he made his debut in The Maltese Falcon.
Even older, Lee Strasberg was 73 when he made his debut in The Godfather. Strasberg was a director, the founder of the Group Theater, and, most famouly, director of the Actor’s Studio (he was considered the guru of Method Acting), but had never appeared in a film until Coppola cast him.
*Berle made the claim that he played her baby at the end, but I don’t know if that’s been confirmed.
Well, Peg Phillips worked in accounting her whole life, and never acted until she’d retired. In 1990, at the age of 72, she got her first professional acting job as a co-star on “Northern Exposure” (she was crusty shopkeeper Ruth Anne).
There’s a lot more to show business than just movies and television.
IMDb says that Burt Mustin dabbled in the biz for decades before 1951:
Lots of actors in the old days had long stage careers before they ever appeared in a movie. Before Sydney Greenstreet’s debut in The Maltese Falcon at 62 (not 65, per IMDb) he had appeared in hundreds of plays.
And the great stage actress Dame May Whitty made a few forgotten silent movies, but her first major screen role was in 1937 when she was 72.