IFC Films

The Bizarre Late-Career Roles of Fading Starlets

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The trailer for the Lindsay Lohan/James Deen B-movie The Canyons is out, and it will hit IFC on August 2nd. But the buzz isn’t good; even SXSW wouldn’t take the film, reportedly due to “quality problems. So the film’s director, Paul Schrader, wrote a piece for Film Comment about, obviously, what it was like to direct Lindsay Lohan. He expresses his good wishes to Ms. Lohan by comparing her to… Marilyn Monroe. Who died of a drug overdose. And who Schrader himself admits might not have been as talented an actress as Lohan. It’s all a little backhanded.

Of course, there comes a time in every actress’s life when her star fades. And if she has not properly invested her money and/or co-branded a K-mart clothing line or perfume, she may find herself having to choose less-than-ideal projects. The late-career odd role can be a valuable way station, saving lives and mortgages alike. Or, worst-case scenario, they add colorful footnotes to a distinguished career. Here follow some examples.

Judy Garland, Gay Purr-ee

Judy Garland, whose career trajectory seems almost like a model for Lohan’s, was hard up for work late in life. As the tabloids were making fun of her weight, she probably found comfort in the voice work she did for Gay Purr-ee (1962). In the Aristocats-ish tale, Garland plays a cat named Mewsette who moves to the big city with her lover, but is promptly kidnaped by the evil Meowrice. The trailer asks: “Who Else Could Sing Like That But Judy Garland?” though its initial mournful music and sad-looking Mewsette are a bit tragic, in retrospect.

Bonus: Red Buttons also got some work in this film voicing a sidekick kitten named Robespierre.

Tallulah Bankhead, Die! Die! My Darling

Tallulah Bankhead lived the kind of life that would make Lohan blush. She made her name as an actress in meaty roles on Broadway but was more of a public personality than a dedicated artist. She was a drug addict and alcoholic, and the ravages those habits and age took on her looks were legendary; reportedly Orson Welles once called Bankhead “the most sensational case of the aging process being unkind. I’ll never forget how awful she looked at the end and how beautiful she looked at the beginning.”

One of her last films was Die! Die! My Darling! (1965), in which she plays a religious fanatic who becomes unhinged when the former fiancée of her dead son shows up for a visit. After the one onscreen murder her character commits, Bankhead intones, in that deep, scratchy voice of hers, “He who sheddeth man’s blood, so shall his blood be shed.” Per The New York Times, the film makes “precious little sense.”

Bonus: Donald Sutherland is in this, and plays… some sort of developmentally delayed person.

Tatum O’Neal, Faerie Tale Theatre

After a few hits in the early 1980s, Tatum O’Neal’s career was in the doldrums. So, like a lot of 1980s stars in need of cash, she decided to star in an episode of the supremely weird Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre. O’Neal played Goldilocks in sausage curls and a high-pitched, if hoarse, voice. The bears are men in terrible outfits and brown makeup. And that’s not even addressing the opening in which Shelley Duvall is wearing some kind of beekeeper’s uniform.

Bonus: John Lithgow and Carole King play Goldilocks’ parents.

Mae West, Sextette

After the apotheosis of her film career in the 1930s, Mae West kept working pretty steadily in radio and Broadway. Being a camp icon turns out to give you a lot of longevity; even when West started doing turkeys like Myra Breckenridge (1968), that film was at least scripted by the likes of Gore Vidal. But in her last film, Sextette (1978), Mae West may have at last gone overboard with the eyeliner. A “send-up” of Hollywood and the gossip industry, complete with musical numbers, it was a disaster. The Times called it a “disorienting freak show.” Also: “The character we see in this peculiar film looks less like the Mae West one remembers from even ‘Myra Breckinridge’ than like a plump sheep that’s been stood on its hind legs, dressed in a drag-queen’s idea of chic, bewigged and then smeared with pink plaster.”

Bonus: Dom DeLuise as Ms. West’s personal assistant.

Joan Crawford, Trog

Joan Crawford’s decline-and-fall is a pop-culture standard by now, thanks to Faye Dunaway and Mommie Dearest. Sadly, that movie doesn’t depict how Joan felt about having to film the likes of Trog (1978). In it, Crawford plays an anthropologist who unearths a caveman/”troglodyte” who turns out to be a link to the Ice Age. The Times, again, was not impressed: “There is, however, a rudimentary virtue in ‘Trog,’ a sort of second cousin, 15 years removed from ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon,’ in that it proves that Joan Crawford is grimly working at her craft. Unfortunately, the determined lady, who is fetching in a variety of chic pants suits and dresses, has little else going for her.”

Bonus: Here is a picture of Crawford drinking Pepsi with said troglodyte. The angelic blonde child is likely one of her children.

Drew Barrymore, Poison Ivy

And now for an uplifting story. In the early 1990s, Drew Barrymore was still coming off those stints at rehab and was chiefly known as Little Girl Lost. She capitalized on the notoriety when she made Poison Ivy (1992), a sort of cross between Lolita, Single White Female, and Clueless. It’s a lot to take in, particularly when Ivy (Barrymore) seduces a friend’s dad on a grand piano. In the rain. While wearing a skintight red dress. Barrymore was in her bad-girl phase then, but have hope, Lindsay! Look how that all turned out.

Bonus: Sara Gilbert as a mousy, shy, quiet teenager. I rather prefer the Darlene Conner type, overall.