Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Immortality through Christmas Specials

While watching some classic Christmas specials last night I was struck by how they have altered our perception of several actors. Take Darren McGavin. IMDB has 180 entries for his work. This includes a couple of TV series that he starred in and at least two cult movies from the 1970s (Tribes about a hippy drafted into the Marines and Night Stalker about a vampire in Las Vegas). However, to most people he was the unnamed "old man" in Christmas Story.

Jimmy Stewart was one of the most celebrated actors of his generation with one Oscar and four other nominations (plus one for lifetime achievment) but It's A Wonderful Life is the only movie he made that is regularly played.

For several generations, Boris Karloff was the most famous horror movie actor ever. A victim of type casting, he seldom played anything but a villain and usually was cast as a mad scientist. However, the last few generations mainly know him as the voice of the Grinch. He also won a Grammy for narrating this story.

There are worse ways to be remembered. These are classics for a reason and it is likely that these would not have reached classic status without these actors.

I suspect that Jimmy Stewart would prefer to be remembered for some of his meatier roles. McGavin spent most of his career playing an "everyman" so he would probably be ok with being remembered for Christmas Story. Karloff would probably be gratified to be remembered for doing a children's story. He was a gentle, cultured man, very unlike the characters he usually played.

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