Showbiz Comebacks

Mickey Rourke’s Golden Globe-winning performance in The Wrestler is being hailed as one of the great comeback performances of all time. This has gotten me thinking about comebacks, specifically those of an equal magnitude, if any.

Rourke has been working steadily, albeit in fairly crappy movies, for the last decade or more.

John Travolta’s Pulp Fiction performance is often cited as a comeback. He’d been doing a downward spiral of Look Who’s Talking sequels when it came along.

Fred Astaire’s performance in The Band Wagon portrayed someone making a comeback, which was supposed to have some resonance with his actual situation, but I’d argue that though his late-'50s movies were better than his early-'50s movies, he hadn’t exactly been completely out of sight after leaving RKO.

What are the great showbiz comebacks?

Moving this to Cafe Society.

Probably the classic of all time is Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity.

Mickey Rooney had pretty much been relegated to occasional TV appearances and kitschy cameo roles until he made The Black Stallion.

The best example I can think of is Neil Patrick Harris.

Forever sentenced to a life of being called “Doogie” while taking parts in TV guest spots and B-movies before coming back as Barney in “How I Met Your Mother”. I would have to guess that his hilarious cameo as a bizarro version of himself in Harold & Kumar started the comeback rolling.

I thought Sin City I got Rourke back out of the ghetto.

You might consider “George Burns,” in his Oscar winning role in the “Sunshine Boys,” which started a second career for him and finally allowed him to get out of the shadow of Gracie Allen.

Of course you could also make the argument, George Burns never had arrived in the first place TILL the “Sunshine Boys.”

That’s the problem with the therm “Comeback,” you have to figure out those people who were never really there in the first place.

Like Neil Patrick Harris, he was the star of a minor hit show. And he now is in another minor hit show. It may be a comeback on some level, but Neither of his shows hit the top ten (the mark of a bonefide hit) and he’s still much better known as Dougie Howser or that “gay guy,” then he is for his role as “Barney.”

Not really. He had a prime time hit TV show in the 50s.

Let’s consider:

Gloria Swanson – Major silent and early film star, she only made one filme from 1934 to 1950 and was pretty much forgotten until Sunset Boulevard made her a film icon.

Similarly, Buster Keaton was considered so washed up that he appeared in Sunset Boulevard as one of Norma Desmond’s bridge partners. However, he was rediscovered at around this time and had a relatively successful second career.

**Harve Presnell **-- Lead actor in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. The movie flopped, and his career petered out. He went from 1976 to 1996 with only one IMDB credit, but made a second career as a character actor starting with Fargo, including a recurring part in The Pretender.

Gloria Stuart – successful starlet of the 30s and 40s, dropped out of acting for almost 30 years, and made a big splash in Titanic.

Does William Shatner on Boston Legal count? Or actually, commercials? (which was first?)

He was always “around” and “known” since Star Trek but he wasn’t really a major part of the public consciousness again until he started his Priceline gig.

I would tend to disagree about Shatner. He starred in two other series, T. J. Hooker, and Rescue 911, which while not hits,were both long-running. T. J. Hooker ran for five seasons and Rescue 911 for seven seasons, so Shatner appeared on TV screens weekly for more than a decade. Don’t forget the seven Star Trek films he starred in, directing one of them (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier). So he was never really in the background since his “Star Trek” days, he’s regularly been in the prime time lineup.

I would nominate Meat Loaf. His smash 1977 debut album Bat Out of Hell was followed up by a string of largely ignored albums.

In 1993, Meat Loaf recorded Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, which sold 14 million copies and was #1 in the US, Australia, and the UK, and jump-started his career all over again.

Between Star Trek: Generations in 1994 and Boston Legal, I’d say he was mostly thought of as a self-parody ham actor. I know he won an Emmy during that period, but he had more of a reputation than a career.

I’m given to understand that his Broadway career has actually been pretty substantial.

Tina Turner. She rose to quite respectable heights with Ike, then divorced him and started over basically nothing. It took a number of years before she regained and then far surpassed her prior fame.

Leslie Nielsen went from forgotten Western actor to comic icon thanks to Airplane.

Excellent one. She didn’t really become an icon until 1984, when she blew us all away with the Private Dancer album.

Robert Downey Jr.

He practically rendered himself unemployable through substance abuse. Now he’s at the top again.

He said in an interview (“Fresh Air”) that the H&K bit led directly to Barney.

Cher–After splitting with Sonny, she played Vegas until scoring huge in movies.

Will Smith–Fresh Prince, then nothing until he scored huge in movies.

Gotta disagree – he started making movies while on TV, and Independence Day came out the same year that Fresh Prince ended. link.

In 1981 James Cagney came out of retirement to play the police commissioner in Ragtime, his first onscreen role since 1961. Don’t know if that counts as a “comeback,” as it was also his last film role and he died five years later.