It might be a milestone in movie history, but Hollywood is suddenly finding a new reverence for the stars of its past an attitude in marked contrast with the boot-'em-out-the-door policy of its past. This Cocoon-like trend was rekindled last year when Tim Burton cast Vincent Price, 80, as the father/horror figure in Edward Scissorhands. Then came Richard Widmark, 76, in True Colors, playing an old-boy politico to ambitious yuppies James Spader and John Cusack. For the grizzled old cowboy in City Slickers, raspy Jack Palance, 71, was Billy Crystal's only choice. Maureen O'Hara, 69, came out of retirement for the part of John Candy's overbearing mother in Only the Lonely. Her suitor in the film, Anthony Quinn, 75, also balances out the youthful cast in this summer's Mobsters. Spike Lee cast Quinn in Jungle Fever out of a lifelong admiration for the actor.
And there are more coming. Martin Scorsese has brought back practically half the original cast of Cape Fear for his remake of the 1962 thriller: Robert Mitchum, 73, Martin Balsam, 71, and Gregory Peck, 75, will appear, though not in their original roles. Peck will also star this summer in Other People's Money, playing a small-town factory owner who gets chewed up by takeover artist Danny De Vito. Making a return this fall are former sex goddess Kim Novak, 58, in Liebestraum, and Julie Harris, 65, in George Romero's The Dark Half.
Why the revival? Maybe because, unlike much of today's crop, these are actors the audience takes seriously. Says Other People's Money producer Ric Kidney, ''They bring a stature to the role'' the kind of stature you can acquire only over time.