Cameo or Came-no? By Mike Malloy. Want to guess which decades-old TV show or film Hollywood is going to remake next? Why bother? It’s not even sporting...
Want to guess which decades-old TV show or film Hollywood is going to remake next? Why bother? It’s not even sporting. For remake fodder, the studios are shamelessly gobbling up any and every entertainment property that has even the slightest cult following or brand name. So the only fun lies in guessing which of these remake filmmakers will deign to give a cameo to an original cast member. Who’s going to throw a bone to some faded star of yore?
That we’re in the thick of Hollywood’s remake mania is a cold, hard, irrefutable fact of the current cinema. This past year has seen scads of movie remakes and big-screen adaptations of TV seriesMiami Vice, The Omen, Poseidon, The Wicker Man, and The Hills Have Eyes. And there’s no end in sight. Race with the Devil, The Evil Dead, The Warriors, Kung Fu, and Death Race 2000 are all in the offing.
But it’s anyone’s guess whether one of these coming remakessome of which are in the earliest stages of pre-production at the time of this writingwill feature a member of the original cast in a bit part. Myriad variables can determine whether a cameo appearance is offered and/or acceptedtone of remake, relevancy of actor, attitude of actor, death of actor. It’s surprising that Vegas doesn’t have betting lines on this sort of thing. There’s just no consistency.
Take, for instance, the gargantuan remake crop of 2005, which included King Kong, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Longest Yard, Fun with Dick and Jane, The Fog, The Amityville Horror, War of the Worlds, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Bewitched, and The Bad News Bears. As for cameos, some of ‘em did, some of ‘em didn’t. Kong remake director Peter Jackson reportedly wanted the original’s leading lady, Fay Wray, to cameo in his film, but the elderly actress died weeks before filming began. Burt Reynolds, on the other hand, was able to play a part in the Longest Yard remake, a part that was considerably larger than a cameoperhaps because he stayed relevant since starring in the 1974 original. And television "Hazzard" star Ben "Cooter" Jones was passed over for a film cameo, and he badmouthed the big-screen version as a "sleazy insult"but it’s unclear which happened first. As will become obvious, actors’ bids for remake cameos are often tales of bitterness and desperation.
Origin of the OCMC
Perhaps the phenomenon of the Original Cast Member Cameo (OCMC) began in 1978, when the first Christopher Reeve Superman film offered a brief cameo to the screen’s original Man of Steel, Kirk Alyn. In the original theatrical version, only a brief glimpse of Alyn can be spied in a train scene, and he’s seated in the passenger car next to actress Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane from 1948-1958. The original edit of these cameoswordless and unbilledare almost pointless. But the cameos were expandedrevealing some Alyn and Neill dialoguefor network television broadcasts and for the DVD release, and it allowed Alyn to give an on-set interview that appeared in the TV special making of Superman: The Movie. (Neill would get plenty more chances to cameo in Superman-related projects, most recently in 2006’s Superman Returns.)
Also in 1978, Invasion of the Body Snatchers star Kevin McCarthy re-created a famous scene from the 1956 movie ("They’re here already! You’re next!") for the remake starring Donald Sutherland. That single cameo almost links the two films as original-sequel instead of original-remake, as the scene implies that the pod invasion has spread from small towns to big cities, and McCarthy is still at it, sounding the alert by screaming in the streets.
(There was another interesting occurrence that year, but it may have been more coincidence than anything. Whit Bissell, a cast member from 1960’s The Time Machine, played a role in NBC’s 1978 television remake. Bissell played different rolesor at least differently named rolesin these two adaptations of H.G. Wells’s sci-fi classic, and there’s nothing to indicate that his performance in the one led to his casting in the other.)
The next two decades offered little in the way of remakes and television adaptations, excepting the occasional unfunny theatrical version of a TV comedy: Dragnet (1987), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), Car 54, Where Are You? (1994), McHale’s Navy (1997), and My Favorite Martian (1999). Each of these films gave a part to an original cast memberHarry Morgan, Buddy Ebsen, Al Lewis, Ernest Borgnine, and Ray Walston, respectively. And in the case of Morgan, the part was larger than a simple cameo (he played a supporting role as a police captain), perhaps because Morgan kept working steadily after going off the air on "Dragnet."
The Modern OCMC
By the turn of the millennium, remake mania was in full swing, with any cult film or TV show considered fair game for a rehash. Perhaps it was because remakes were now so commonplace, that it wasn’t special enough for each to contain a cameo. Actor Bill Moseley played a character named Chop Top in the second Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, and despite having the inside track with someone connected to the 2003 Chainsaw remake, he was given the brush-off when the subject of an OCMC came up.
"The casting assistant lives downstairs from me, takes care of my pets when I’m out of town," says Moseley. "And I handed her some pictures of me as Chop Top, and she said, ‘Frankly, there’s nothing in this for you. There’s no point in even taking the pictures in.’"
But perhaps not all original cast members even care to cameo in remakes. Michael Caine was given a sizable supporting role in the Sylvester Stallone remake of Caine’s 1971 action classic Get Carter (there again, the actor stayed relevant, so he got more than a mere cameo). But after that film flopped, WENN reported in 2001 that Caine had sworn off "guest shots," saying he felt his Get Carter remake role "backfired." Caine was conspicuously absent from remakes of his ’60s hits The Italian Job (2003) and Alfie (2004), although he had told WENN he was considering "the Noel Coward part" in the Italian Job remake. Ken Foree, star of 1979’s original Dawn of the Dead, says he initially rejected an OCMC offer in the 2004 Dawn retread. When he finally consented to the cameo, he had mixed feelings because of his increased weight.
"I was very happy when I saw the premiere," says Foree, "And they just had my face there, saying the line. But when the director’s cut came out, and there I was looking like the Pillsbury doughboy, weighing 360 lbs, I was not very happy. I looked bloated, fat, and looked like I should be in a rehab center."
Foree’s cameo also serves to illustrate that original cast members are generally not the first to know when their movies are being remade.
"I was at San Diego ComiCon one year," says the star. "A gentleman came up, and he said to me, ‘They’re going to remake Dawn of the Dead. Look for a call from Universal.’ Everyone at the booth said ‘That guy’s crazy.’
"A year later, my agent gets a call. They’re remaking it, and they would like me to do a cameo."
Sometimes a remake or adaptation can be announced, only to languish for years in development hell. The project can go in different directions, and different directors can be attached—maybe making different promises to potential cameo makers. This can raise a lot of hopes and string actors along. Lou Ferrigno starred in the 1978-1982 TV series "The Incredible Hulk" and breathed a sigh of relief when he finally made an OCMC as a security guard in the 2003 film version, Hulk. "I worked about 12 or 13 years to get in this film. It’s been pending for a long time," said Ferrigno in 2003. "If I wasn’t in the movie I’d be pretty upset about it."
Death and Desperation
Then there’s the unfortunate matter of death. Robert Urich was the obvious choice for a cameo in 2003’s S.W.A.T., being the only cast member from the ’70s TV series to later become a household name. But Urich died in 2002, and the OCMC went to his "S.W.A.T." co-star Steve Forrest (who?). Perhaps, had Urich still been with us, the cameo would have included both he and Forrest, but this writer guesses it would’ve been Urich only.
Similarly, Ferrigno says his cameo would’ve surely been shared with his late "Incredible Hulk" co-star Bill Bixby, had Bixby not passed away in 1993.
"They’d probably have him and I together doing something, because Bill is my alter ego."
And film journalist Terry Pace sheds light on exactly how the late Fay Wray might have figured into Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong remake.
"I asked her if she would consider doing a cameo," says Pace, who interviewed the original Kong actress in late 2003, "And she just said, ‘I haven’t been asked!’ The following February, she and her friend, filmmaker Rick MacKay, had dinner with Jackson and Naomi Watts in New York. Rick told me the subject of a cameo came up, and that she politely said no, but I believe he and Jackson both had hopes she might eventually relent. Unfortunately, she passed away before she could be talked into it."
"Rumors were circulating that Peter Jackson wanted her to say the final line: ‘It wasn’t the airplanes...’"
And although actor David Soul did indeed live to make his cameo in 2004’s big-screen Starsky & Hutch his story, too, has a certain sadness to it. Soul starred as Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson in the 1975-1979 "S&H" TV cop series, and when a film version was announced in the new millennium, he campaigned, via an online plea, to be cast again as Hutch. The role instead went to Owen Wilson, twenty-five years his junior. Before the film was in production, Soul derisively guessed it would be "another one of those bad, glitzy action pieces." But when cameos were being handed out, Soul stood in line, and took the bit part of Original Hutch.
"There was some bad blood at first," says Todd Phillips, who directed the big-screen Starsky & Hutch. "And I called him up and said, ‘Hey man, I’m directing the movie. We want you guys to be in it.’ And then everything kind of changed. He’s a great guy. He’s conflicted."
Reflecting reality, the movie has Original Hutch, along with Original Starsky, reluctantly and sadly passing the torch to the new cast.
"They didn’t really want to do it, but times have changed," says Phillips.
Likewise, it was rumored that TV’s Batman, Adam West, campaigned for the lead role in Tim Burton’s big-screen Batman (1989), despite being 60 years old. West wrote in Back to the Batcave that he was "angry and profoundly disappointed" not to have been cast as the caped crusader in Burton’s blockbuster. It is further rumored that West was offered a consolation cameo of Bruce Wayne’s father, which he refused.
The consolation cameo seems a pretty standard practice. In addition to the Soul and West instances, horror star Gunnar Hansen was offered a cameo as a truck driver at the end of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Hansen is well known to genre fans for playing skin-wearing homicidal maniac Leatherface in the classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and for almost playing Leatherface in the three sequels (the producers never could come up with a non-insulting salary to seal the deal on Hansen’s return). A trucker cameo must have seemed an additional insult to an actor who created an iconic role and then fought for respect on the later movies. Hansen had enough dignity to reject the bit part.
But not all actors are so possessive about the roles they originate. In a personal interview at a celebrity autograph convention, Ferrigno says he didn’t mind the computer-generated Hulk occupying the role he once inhabited.
"The good thing is that the Hulk in the movie cannot sign autographs."
Significance of Cameos
"My agent calls and says, ‘Listen, maybe we should do this. It might be good. They really want you. There are some reasons you should do it, principally because you were in the original and the fans would like it. And I agreed with that."
So went Foree’s reasoning for giving in and making a cameo appearance in the Dawn of the Dead remake after initially declining. And this "cameo for the fans" logic is perhaps even more important to studios and directors, as they often try to have it both ways with remakes: cashing in on the original’s name recognition while totally disregarding its qualities that hardcore fans hold near and dear. So the presence of an original cast member in the remake might ameliorate the bitterness felt by hardcore fans, or so the thinking goes. Hell, an OCMC might even be viewed as an endorsement of the new movie by the old star. But are fans of the original bought off by a brief cameo sighting?
"I think the fans enjoyed seeing me in it and the other guys in it," says Foree of cameos made by himself and two other original Dawn actors. "I think they still had problems with the film—‘Why do it?’ A lot of the fans thought it should be called something else instead of Dawn of the Dead."
But in 2006, we’ve seen a decline in the number of OCMCs being offered. The Omen remake features original antichrist youngster Harvey Stephens in the role of Tabloid Reporter #3. And after the Hills Have Eyes remake was announced, director Alexander Aja hinted that he might offer a cameo to the original’s distinctive-looking Michael Berryman. But Aja ultimately forwent the cameo, as have most other remakes released this past year. And it’s been reported that the 2008 bigscreen adaptation of Kung Fu will be completely sans Carradine.
Maybe remake filmmakers—who already have little enough care and respect for the films they’re recycling—are realizing that a token cameo isn’t necessary to fill seats. They don’t have to win over die-hard devotees of the originals any more. They know that complaints by loyal fans are going to be drowned out by the mindless prattle of ignorant teens with Friday-night pocket money and fanboys who’ll watch any genre product that’s shoved down their throats. This is not to suggest that an OCMC makes a remake any less unnecessary. But at least it gives a nod to an earlier movie, an original movie.
Interesting Cameo Varieties
The "I acted in the original and now I’m playing myself in the remake" cameo: Angie Dickinson and Henry Silva played supporting roles in the original Ocean’s 11 (1960) before making bit appearances as themselves in the 2001 remake.
The "Big screen to small" cameo: Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in four theatrical films, later guested as a scientist in two episodes of TV’s "Smallville," the Superman-based teen soap.
The "I didn’t cameo in the first movie, but I did in the sequel" cameo: Original 1970s "Angel" Jaclyn Smith is nowhere to be found in 2000’s big-screen Charlie’s Angels, but strangely she does turn up in 2003’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
The "mine’s bigger than yours" cameo: Planet of the Apes leading man Chuck Heston appears in a long dramatic scene in the 2001 remake, but original Apes leading lady Linda Harrison only got a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo.
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