Once-Famous Stars Who Have Come To a Sad end

I just saw a TV ad for a local ambulance-chaser law firm…the announcer was somebody I dimly recognized…it was Robert Vaughn (of the “MAN FROM UNCLE”, and a few other roles). It made me wonder…when you’ve fallen out of favor in Hollywood (and you aren’t yet ready for the boneyard) what do you do?
I know certain stars have rejuvinated their careers rather late in life (Buddy Ebson is an example), but once you’ve missed a generation, how do you convince your agent to go out and sell you?
Any other stars of the past, that you’ve noticed shilling on TV?
Vaughn was actually a pretty good actor…I wonder what he did wrong, to be condemned to shilling for Blotnic, Blotnic & Schmuck:

…“have you had an accident lately?”

He got old.

Really. Unless you’re a superstar or can switch to character parts, once you get past 50, it’s hard to get work in Hollywood.

It’s like the old joke about an actor’s career:

  1. “Who’s Joe Smith?”
  2. “Get me Joe Smith for the part.”
  3. “Get me a Joe Smith type.”
  4. “Get me a young Joe Smith.”
  5. “Who’s Joe Smith?”

You forgot the high point of Vaughn’s life…he got to zork the young Natalie Wood.

EVERYTHING would have been a comedown after that.

Somebody once posted that making Old Navy commercials doesn’t mean your career has hit rock bottom. It means your career has hit rock bottom, face-down and skidding…

Zork? I hope they kept the lights on during that, otherwise they risk getting eaten by a grue.

Would you prefer “boink” ?

You can thank TV that a lot of these older actors are finding any work anywhere. When you see people like Tom Bosley get a three-line role as a patient on ER, you can take some comfort in knowling he at least kept his SAG membership current and got some points in the pension fund.

On the other hand, take a couple of fine, but underused, character actors like Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts. Give them a shot at a show like Everybody Loves Raymond and suddenly you have two people who will not have to live in the Old Actors’ Home.

All kinds of tragic cases come to mind:

The saddest of all had to be poor Jim Backus making a cameo appearance in “The HArlem GLobetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.” Never mind that the show itself was idiotic- you wouldn’t EXPECT it to be good! But Backus was soo weak, so frail, in such poor health, they didn’t even use him for most of the show! They had some young comedian (supposedly Thurston Howell’s nephew) doing a bad Backus imitation for most of the episode. Only at the end did they bring poor, sick Jim Backus on, to utter a feeble “By George!”

It was truly heartbreaking. Look, I don’t know all the facts. Perhaps Backus was desperate for money (maybe medical bills had wiped out his savings), and couldn’t afford to say “no.” But it struck me as bad taste to wheel out a sick old man, under the circumstances.

Less tragic, more comical examples of “how the mighty have fallen”?

  1. Football legend Dick Butkus doing infomercials for that newspaper-burning barbecue grill.

  2. Nancy Sinatra doing a graphic Playboy spread, about 35 years AFTER anybody wanted to see such a thing. Of course, that was STILL far more dignified than the low-budget TV commericals Frank Jr. used to do for “Lennie’s Clam Bar.”

  3. Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carroll Naish, two of the greats in classic horror, reduced to the cheesey “Dracula vs. Frankenstein.” (I think that was the last film either man ever made.)

  4. How many Oscar winners ever fell as far as Ray Milland, who played a head grafted to Rosey Grier’s body?

  5. Toward the end of his life, Laurence Olivier seemed to take any bad American movie role he was offered,so long as it paid well (remember him dropping his drawers in “The Betsy”?).

  6. The other week, when I was in England, I saw Rick Wakeman, one of my musical heroes when I was a teen, as the “celebrity” on a British game show! You KNOW you’re no longer cool when you’re a game show celeb! One of my favorite rock stars is now the equivalent of Charles Nelson Reilly or Joanne Worley!

I was going to suggest Dana Plato, but I think Robert Vaughn has done okay.

Didn’t he take all this crap so he could fund his plays back in the UK.

Or what about singer Mary Wells, (“My Guy”)?

Didn’t she end up on welfare?

Easy… you go on Celebrity Squares.

Yes, all those were awful, but you’re leaving off perhaps the single most unfortunate one: Orson Wells. In some ways he dug his own grave by being one of the most difficult people in Hollywood to work with but going from Citizen Kane to the voice of Unicron in Transformers the Movie…

Orson Wells…and peas

Still he was the voice of Omicron…

You have to remember that Robert Vaughan has made these commercials for firms all over the country, and that he probably gets paid each and every time they are shown. How hard could it have been to go in, say a few lines (chaning the name of the firm) a couple of dozen times, and go home. Sad end? He’s probably raking the dollars in hand over fist.

He also has a Ph.D. His disertation was on the Hollywood Ten.

Well, since Astorian has taken us back before the TV days . . .

Florence Lawrence, a huge star of the early silents, wound up as an extra in the 1930s and killed herself by eating rat poison.

Stage and screen star Lou Tellegen stabbed himself with a pair of scissors, surrounded by his old scrapbooks.

Nita Naldi and Ann Pennington wound up living in seedy Times Square hotels.

Actor and director John Bowers walked into the ocean, inspiring A Star is Born’s Norman Maine.

Mary MacLaren and Mary Miles Minter ended their days in decaying Sunset Boulevard-style mansions.

Bela Lugosi

How about MC Hammer? He’s currently doing late night commercials for high-interest car loans.

The scene: Two work pals chatting on their lunch break at the Big Manly Construction Site.

Pal 1: Hey, thanks for the ride this morning.
Pal 2: No problem. So when are you going to get a car?
Pal 1: I keep trying, but my divorce and bankruptcy screwed up my credit rating!

All of a sudden, a tiny MC Hammer materializes inside one of the construction worker’s toolboxes.

Pals (together) Hammer?!

MC Hammer: I’m Hammer! And here’s my shpiel about how you can get a 44% interest short term car loan if you put your firstborn up as collateral!

Pal 1: But what are you doing in my toolbox?
MC Hammer: I’m the Hammer, baby!

Or this variation:

“Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Vanilla Ice.”
“Vanilla Ice who?”
“That’s show biz.”

In the case of the former, it was his own damned fault. He was warned many, many times that acting was much harder than it looked- mostly by his father, who always had the career of paper-hanger and interior designer to fall back on.

Actually, just watching Wolfman and High Noon in the past month or so has made me quite sad.