Movie Article

False Starts

Actors who started too soon -- Anjelica Huston, Candice Bergen, and Jane Fonda are some of the actors who almost didn't have a career

Twenty-one years before Sofia, another teenager was pushed into the spotlight by a well-meaning father: Anjelica Huston was cast by her director dad, John, in a leading role in his medieval romance, A Walk With Love and Death. ''John soon realized he'd made a mistake casting her,'' says Lawrence Grobel, author of The Hustons. Anjelica was intimidated by her father during shooting; when the film was released in 1969, reviews were generally poor, but the notices for Anjelica were devastating. Charles Champlin wrote that both she and her costar, Assaf Dayan, ''have the embarrassed stiffness of high schoolers performing before an audience for the very first time''; John Simon pronounced her work ''supremely inept'' and, lest anybody mistake him, added that she had the face of ''an exhausted gnu, the voice of an unstrung tennis racket, and a figure of no describable shape.''

It took Anjelica 16 years to get over it. She didn't find the nerve to tackle another major role until Prizzi's Honor (1985), again for her father and opposite then-beau Jack Nicholson. The third generation of Hustons to be honored by the Academy, Anjelica won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Maerose Prizzi and joined a long line of Hollywood stars who overcame an early drubbing.

Jane Fonda
Henry Fonda's eldest was so scarred by her film debut in 1960's Tall Story — a lightweight tale of a girl courting a basketball star (Tony Perkins) — that she ran back to Broadway and didn't make another movie for two years. ''Everyone has to start somewhere. But after Tall Story, there was nowhere for me to go but up,'' she said of the experience. Motion Picture magazine deemed her ''unlikely to follow in her father's footsteps,'' but by 1970 she had an Oscar nomination (for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?), and two years later won her first statuette, for Klute.

Paul Newman
Hoping to parlay his stage success into film stardom, Newman suffered through The Silver Chalice (1954), a big-budget biblical fiasco he has called ''the worst motion picture filmed during the '50s.'' The New York Times' A.H. Weiler wrote that his performance was ''rarely better than wooden.'' Newman went on to raves for Somebody Up There Likes Me, a prelude to his Oscar nomination for 1958's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and his eventual Oscar win for The Color of Money in 1987.

Candice Bergen
The future Emmy winner (for Murphy Brown) and Oscar nominee (for Starting Over) took a sound critical thrashing in her first film, 1966's The Group. Pauline Kael, who was on the set during production, wrote in Life magazine, ''She doesn't know how to move, she cannot say her lines so that one sounds different from the one before. As an actress her only flair is her nostrils.''

Jessica Lange
The transition from model to actress got off to a hairy start for Lange in the 1976 remake of King Kong. Judith Crist, in Saturday Review, dismissed her as ''a dumb blonde who falls for a huge plastic finger.'' Lange steered clear of movies for a while, finally taking a supporting role in 1979's All That Jazz; soon after came the twin triumphs Frances and Tootsie, which brought her two Oscar nominations in the same year and a win as Best Supporting Actress for the latter.

Originally posted Jan 25, 1991 Published in issue #50 Jan 25, 1991 Order article reprints
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