Real-life "Alexander Dane"

This morning I caught a bit of an episode of “I Love Lucy” - Lucy has met Orson Welles and is buttering him up to get him to play a scene from Romeo and Juliet with her; she tells him that he’s better than John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier, or Maurice Evans. Well, Gielgud and Olivier are still remembered as great actors (and even Orson Welles never completely erased his reputation as a great actor), but Maurice Evans is a different story - he was on Broadway as Hamlet in four successive productions of the play, and was considered its definitive portrayer - but today, if he’s remembered at all, it’s for being Samantha’s father on Bewitched, “The Puzzler” on Batman or “Dr. Zaius” in the Planet of the Apes. He’s a real-life “Alexander Dane” (Alan Rickman’s character in Galaxy Quest, whose theatrical career is totally forgotten due to his later portrayal of “Dr. Lazarus.”

Another other examples of this kind of thing leap to mind? (TvTropes calls it “The Classically Trained Extra”)

Sir Alec Guinness and Obi-Wan.

As a young man, Robert Reed was regarded as one of America’s most promising Shakespearean actors. Today he’s known almost exclusively for “The Brady Bunch.”

Stacy Keach won raves playing Hamlet as a young actor, but was in Cheech and Chong movies decades later.

Richard Dix was a well known actor in the early 1930s but his star fell so far that by the late 1960s “Star Trek” wouldn’t use his name in the “City on the Edge of Forever” episode for fear no one would remember him as a movie star. They substituted Clark Gable’s name, although Gable didn’t become big until several years later.

Alec Guinness, to a degree. Not that his early work was forgotten, but at the end of his life, he complained that all everyone wanted to talk to him about was Star Wars.

Dudley Moore is best known for bland comedies like 10 and Arthur and not as the groundbreaking comedian of Beyond the Fringe and his work with Peter Cook.

I mostly know Keach from his Mike Hammer series, back in 1984.

Given his recently-announced return to performing, it will be interesting to see how Phil Collins fares. Anyone with reasonable music knowledge understands the breadth and quality of his work. When he left music a few years ago, he was viewed generally as a much-mocked pop star, who had some great early singles but ended up with Sussudio and Disney movies.

I wonder how much Sally Field is remembered for her “you like me!” Academy Award speech.

I think a big factor is the difference between live performances like plays and concerts and recorded performances like TV shows, movies, and albums. Somebody can have a great stage presence but the only people who experience it are those in the building. A recorded performance can be experienced by a far larger audience and long after the performer has gone.

To give an example, I’ve often heard that Julie Andrews was amazing on stage as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. But how many people saw her performance in that role? Compare that to how many people have, and will in the future, have seen Audrey Hepburn’s performance in the movie.

Julie Andrews once commented in a “Playboy” interview in that early 1980s that she and Richard Burton were in the Broadway production of “Camelot”. Burton would sometimes say “In this scene tonight I will have the audience doubled up in laughter and tomorrow night I will have them crying profusely, without changing a single word”. And he would go out and do it. But in film, once it’s in the can, that’s it.

Back in the early 1990s, Erin Murphy (Tabitha in “Bewitched”) did the talk show circuit. When asked about Elizabeth Montgomery and a possible “Bewitched” reunion, she replied she occasionally saw her (Murphy was friends with her son who lived at home) but there would never be a “Bewitched” reunion. Montgomery had awards and photos from everything she did on the walls except “Bewitched”.

When I saw Galaxy Quest, I thought of Patrick Stewart was the target of Alexander Dane’s character. But Patrick Stewart always seemed to me not to be bothered by having done the television show, so it wasn’t a perfect analogy.

This question is being explored over in this thread.

Thought of another one: Dean Jones, the guy from the Herbie, the Love Bug movies. Did you know that he originated the part of Bobby (the lead role) in Sondheim’s Company?

Yeah, from all evidence, Stewart is cool with his Star Trek fame, and it hasn’t prevented him from getting other great roles post-ST.

I have, on more than one occasion, explained to people younger than me that the woman who plays Lady Tyrell on Game of Thrones was definitely in some stuff when she was younger.

Also, how about Judi Dench: performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre, Old Vic Theatre, ten-time BAFTA winner, Officer of the Order of the British Empire 1970, Dame of Order of the British Empire 1988…


I suppose more people saw her as M than as Lady Bracknell or as Lady Catherine de Burgh (in two other fairly recent productions). I think there is a pretty good cadre of people who know her best as Jean Pargiter (later Hardcastle) in the Britcom “As Time Goes By.”

“Alexander Dane” represents an earlier generation of (mostly) British actors. For them, live theatre was The Only True Art, film was Borderline Prostitution & TV was Unmentionable. (So, all too often, they became Movie Stars & drank themselves to death.)

I first remember Patrick Stewart from I, Claudius–an early example of Excellent TV. Realistically, some theater productions are crap, some films are quite good (and even the bad ones may offer juicy roles) & TV can be just fine. Selecting some profitable projects allows an actor to return to the stage from time to time–attracting crowds of fans to Shakespeare. Or something like Waiting for Godot–in which Stewart & Ian McKellen (another versatile fellow) lit up Broadway.

Alan Rickman, of course, was another actor glad to excel in a variety of projects.

Hey, me too! That was great stuff (I also read the books (I, Claudius and Claudius the God))

Well, if you’re going to mention I, Claudius, you have to mention Derek Jacobi. It was relatively early in his career, but he’s done some great work on stage and screen, but he’s still always remembered as Claudius.