Yes, this title is a very feeble pun I know, but my cheeky twisting of a Supertramp song title from 1974’s Crime of the Century album may sum up the attitude of some readers when they see their literary heroes try to further burnish their credentials by acting or directing.
Playwright John Osborne (Look Back in Anger) as villainous porn baron Cyril Kinnear in Get Carter (1971)As we’ll see, some writers come out with credit in their ledger.Others…well, not so much.Gore Vidal (1925-2012) wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but I thought that he was a superb essayist and occasionally great novelist (Creation, Julian), who could, within limits, turn in a decent performance on screen – as long as the character mirrored his own.
Here’s a couple of clips of Vidal in the movies:
He was also a dab hand with the put-down and quip; witness his classic Reagan Library joke and ribbing of fellow author Kurt Vonnegut’s cameo in Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School (1986):
Vidal was a guest in a documentary I exec-produced about the classic ITV series Brideshead Revisited some years ago:
So what was Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five, Mother Night) like in Back to School?
Judge for yourself:
The playwright John Osborne (Luther, Look Back in Anger, The Entertainer) was an actor before he became a full time writer, so it wasn’t that surprising when he gave an assured performance as the slimy crime lord Kinnear in the classic Get Carter (1971):
This contrasts with Quentin Tarantino’s consistently crap performances:
Harold Pinter (No Man’s Land, Betrayal) was theatrically trained, but in all honesty I found his acting as mannered and artificial as his pretentious plays…
My animus to Harold could have something to do with his unforgivably awful script for Ken Branagh’s remake of Sleuth in 2007:
Interestingly (or not), although Robert Shaw was primarily an actor (and not that great IMO), best known for his oddly- accented salty sea dog Quint in Jaws (1975), he also was a novelist and playwright of some note.
Two of his works were made into motion pictures:
Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, In Cold Blood) was simply peculiar in 1976’s Murder by Death:
I suppose I should also mention Sam Shepherd (Food for Love, True West), but he was to many people as much (if not more) an actor as playwright:
And saving the worst for last, I submit for your consideration one Norman Mailer. Acclaimed author of novels such as The Naked & The Dead and The Executioner’s Song and frenemy of Vidal, short-tempered Norm fancied himself something of a Renaissance Man, developing a side-line in directing and acting.
Amongst Mailer’s movies was the infamous Maidstone (1970), when he kept the cameras rolling as Rip Torn hit him with a hammer and he responded by attempting to bite the actor’s ear off, surely a foreshadowing of Tyson/Holyfield fight seventeen years later.
Except with two middle-aged white guys…
Mailer went on to direct Tough Guys Don’t Dance in 1987, an attempted modern noir based on his novel of the same name, TGDD features one of the worst line readings of all-time, courtesy of a barrel-scrapping Ryan O’Neal.
To be fair to Mailer, he was OK in Milos Forman’s adaptation of E.L.Doctorow’s Ragtime, in a brief role as real life architect Stanford White: