Welcome Back the Original Actor!

Sometimes the filmmakers or TV execs realize that the original actor was a major draw, even if he DID want too much money, or was pain to work with, or we insulted him/her. So they bring him or her back, usually with inducements, and herald the result.


Sean Connery returns to play James Bond in Diamonds are Forever, after George Lazenby played the role in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They were coy about this in the movie trailers, not showing his face for the very beginning of the bit, making you wonder if he really did come back. But then, after that film, he was gone. Although he did return to play Bond 9n a remake of his earlier Bond film Thunderball) in Never Say Never Again (for a different production company). The title just rubs it in. It’s virtually not a double entendre – you simply can’t meaningfuly read it any other way than saying “Look, we got Connery to play Bond again!”

Robin Williams didn’t return to play the Genie in the direct-to-video The Return of Jafar, the sequel to Aladdin, reportedly because of the way Disney violated their promises about the use of his performance. Dan Castellenata (Homer Simpson, no less) played the part, as he did in the spinoff TV series. They realized that they needed Robin Williams’ manic portrayal for another sequel to be a success, so they persuaded him to come back for Aladdin and the Prince of Thieves, and they made a big deal about it.

I’m not sure if this is a case, since I don’t recall them making a point of it, but Roddy McDowell, having played the Chimp character Cornelius in Planet of the Apes did not return (with most of the rest of the ape-made-up cast) to play the role in the sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes. But then he returned to the role for Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and he appeared in the rest of the original series, playing Cornelius’ son, Caesar. (Mad magazine quipped that he did it because the only other role he was offered was Center Square on The Hollywood Squares.). Not only that, but he went on to star in the 1974 TV series Planet of the Apes as Galen. That’s six years in Ape makeup.

Any others?

Patrick Duffy on Dallas; his character was killed off, only for that whole season to be written off as a dream that Bobby Ewing’s wife had.

The Dukes of Hazzard is another good example. Tom Wopat and John Schneider left the series after the fourth season in a pay dispute. Bo and Luke Duke were written out and replaced with Coy and Vance. This went over like a lead balloon, and Bo and Luke were ultimately brought back before the end of the season.

That '70s Show had an ensemble cast, but everything basically revolved around the Forman household, and more specifically, the character of Eric Forman, played by Topher Grace. Grace left the series at the end of its seventh season, and so it was never really the same show in the eighth and final season. The Forman character was replaced by Randy Pearson, who was never really accepted by fans. Grace returned for the series finale to provide the ending everyone really wanted for Eric and his girlfriend Donna.

Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher was brought back in Season 3 of TNG, after having been unceremoniously fired before Season 2. Her replacement, Diane Muldar, played a more cantankerous Dr Pulaski who was quite polarizing.

That said, it helped that the guy who fired her did so due to personal reasons and was himself fired, and that the same Patrick Stewart (Picard) wanted her back.

In Rosanne, Alicia Goranson originated the role of Becky. She was replaced by Sarah Chalke. They alluded to this when Chalke was introduced the family watched an episode of Bewitched and commented on the new Darren vs the old Darren.

After that, both actresses played the role somewhat interchangeably with many sly comments about it made by the cast. They even were on the same episodes, although I don’t believe both as Becky.

Margaret Dumont returning to “Duck Soup” and subsequent Marx Brothers films after they did two with Thelma Todd.

Shemp Howard returned to the Three Stooges after his brother Jerome Howard (Curly) suffered a stroke. Shemp had been one of the original Three Stooges with his brother Moe Howard and Larry Fine before starting a solo career. He returned to the Stooges to help out his brothers, and assumed Jerome would recover and and return to the role of Curly. Jerome never did recover and Shemp stayed with the Stooges until his own death a decade later.

After Shemp’s death actor Joe Palma worked as a body double in order to finish scenes on films started with Shemp. An actor taking the place of dead actor eventually became known as a Fake Shemp based on those scenes and has now become a legal issue. And that crosses over into case of actors returning to roles after their death.

Donna Reed replaced Barbara BelGeddes as Miz Ellie on Dallas when Barbara was hospitalized for (IIRC) heart surgery. After the end of the season, Donna (who, I believe, was described as “wooden” by one of the regular cast members) was dumped and Barbara was persuaded to come back.

Jason London was cast as Nathan Bedford in the show I’ll Fly Away but had to leave because of a conflict with a movie role. He was replaced by his twin brother Jeremy.

When it came time to do a reunion episode, all the main cast was able to make it except for Jeremy London. So Jason stepped in to play the part he had originally been cast in.

Luke Perry returned to “Beverly Hills 90210” after a three year absence.

Filmmaker Sam Raimi was a huge fan of the Three Stooges, and very familiar with the Fake Shemp. He and his crew used the term “Fake Shemp” all the time, and it’s even in the credits for Army of Darkness, which I find hilarious.

Speaking of the Stooges and Shemp, Curly had a brief cameo in one short and almost had another, both after his stroke. It doesn’t quite amount to “returning to the role”, though

I’m a little confused… Are we talking about actors returning to their original role after being replaced by someone else in the same role, or are we also counting actors who were replaced by another actor in a different role but then came back to play their original role?

I’m talking about actors who left the role, were replaced by another actor in that role , but then the original actor came back to that role.

I think that’s your first suggestion. I’m having trouble parsing the second one.

All of these suggestions meet that set of criteria. I might have muddled things up by mentioning urly Howard’s cameo, because Curly pretty clearly wasn’t replacing Shemp, but I said that this wasn’t a case of my original proposition. It was just too interesting to ignore.

Nobody replaced Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing. Dack Rambo was added to the cast as a “romantic lead” opposite Priscilla Presley, but he was not a “new Bobby,” and his character lasted only one season.

My second example would be like Gates McFadden mentioned above in Star Trek:TNG. Her character was Dr. Crusher, she was replaced by Diana Muldaur playing a different character (Dr. Pulaski), but then McFadden was brought back in her original role in Season 3. That sort of example seems like more of a gray area.

It wasn’t far off course. Every one of these returns has a story behind it that includes at least the replaced and replacement characters and this one was quite interesting.

I also was trying to introduce the concept of posthumous returns to roles. I’m not coming up with one that follows a replacement in the role but if none has it can’t be long before it happens.

Raymond Burr returned to the role of Perry Mason for a number TV movies. He played the part from 1957 to 1966 in the first television series. In 1973 a new series, The New Perry Mason, had Monte Markham in the title role for it’s brief run. Burr returned as the character in 1985 for the TV movies, along with Barbara Hale who had played Della Street on the first series as well, so this one is a twofer.

Brett Somers replaced Barbara Hale as Della Street in the Markham version.

Wow! My memory was really jogged on this one! (I also happen to be watching Match Game '78 at the moment, featuring perennial panel member Brett Somers.)

Just to clarify this, Mr. McDowell did not appear in the immediate apes sequel because he was making his directorial debut with Tam Lin a.k.a. The Devil’s Widow. He also had 2 other acting credits in 1970. Relatively speaking, it was a lean year for him acting-wise, but we can assume the task of directing his first - and only - feature film more than made up for it.

Noel Neill played Lois Lane (opposite Kirk Alyn’s Superman) in the two Columbia Pictures matinee serials, Superman and Atom Man vs Superman.

Phyllis Coates played Lois (opposite George Reeves’ Superman) in the Lippert Pictures feature film, Superman and the Mole Men

Phyllis Coates played Lois in the first season of the TV show The Adventures of Superman. Production shut down after one season.

By the time they got a new sponsor, and resumed production, Coats had committed to other projects. Noel Neill played Lois in the second through sixth seasons.