Nine Famous Writers Who Acted in a Movie

Truman Capote in Murder by Death

It's breathtaking to think that there was once serious talk of making a film out of Catcher in the Rye – with none less than J.D. Salinger starring as Holden Caulfield. Can you imagine? Of course, this never came to pass. But these nine other writers did succeed at getting in front of a camera and playing a character other than themselves. For this list, I'm excluding luminaries like Maya Angelou, Norman Mailer, and Noël Coward because they had relatively robust acting careers compared to these one-offs. I'm also ignoring those fleeting "author cameos", which are legion.

  1. TRUMAN CAPOTE, Murder by Death (1976). This Neil Simon-penned spoof of Agatha Christie movies, which were all the rage in the 1970s, featured the In Cold Blood writer in his sole character performance as "Lionel Twain". Capote was a genuine celebrity back then, so an acting role was inevitable. I'm surprised he never popped up on The Love Boat.
  2. STEPHEN KING, Creepshow (1982). As of this writing, King has 23 acting credits on IMDb. Nearly all are cameos. But his performance in Creepshow – which he wrote – was a bona fide star turn, a 20 minute one-man show where he played hapless hillbilly Jordy Verrill. Was he good? Well, for what the part required, he wasn't bad.
  3. SALMAN RUSHDIE, Then She Found Me (2007). While his marriage to Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi was collapsing, the British-Indian novelist played an obstetrician named "Dr. Masani" in this Helen Hunt/Bette Midler weepie. I don't know how big Rushdie's role is, but I understand it's more than just a cameo.
  4. WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS, Drugstore Cowboy (1989). The Beat icon enjoyed mainstream hipster fame during the last decade of his life, culminating in a film adaptation of his novel Naked Lunch and a collaboration with Kurt Cobain. Burroughs cameoed in two other 1989 independent films: Bloodhounds of Broadway and Twister (not the tornado movie). But his turn as "Tom the Priest" in Gus van Sant's exceptional Drugstore Cowboy marks his one true foray into screen acting.
  5. KURT VONNEGUT, Jr., Never Down (2007). There is such little information about this no-budget indie that I can't, for the life of me, figure out how the legendary author got roped into it. (The trailer is on YouTube; it looks cheap and awful.) Vonnegut also cameoed, very briefly, in two films based on his work (Mother Night and Breakfast of Champions), but this was a legitimate character part: a guardian angel named "Robert". The scant reviews suggest that it's a small but significant role. Vonnegut died soon after.
  6. ARTHUR MILLER, Eden (2001). One gets the feeling that, in the winter of their years, these celebrated authors took a "what the hell" attitude when asked to act. (Perhaps their many late-career interviews, award ceremonies, and commencement addresses gave them the confidence to perform.) And so it was with Miller, debuting at 85 for Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai. Eden was little seen and even less discussed, despite an eminent cast that included Samantha Morton, Thomas Jane, and Danny Huston. Miller played Huston's father.
  7. ERICH MARIA REMARQUE, A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958). German author Remarque isn't quite the household name that these other fellows are, but surely you've heard of his landmark WWI novel All Quiet on the Western Front. He also wrote the WWII novel that this film was based on. Unlike the typical "Guest at Party" cameos that authors are commonly given, Remarque was cast in a large supporting role as "Professor Pohlmann".
  8. JERZY KOSINSKI, Reds (1981). According to the 1989 behind-the-scenes compendium Retakes by John Eastman, Polish author Kosinski, who wrote the novel Being There, originally desired to star in the film adaptation. The role, of course, went to Peter Sellers. (I cite Eastman's paperback, which I own, as I have found no such information online.) Warren Beatty must have heard about Kosinski's interest in acting, for he gave him a plum role – fourth-billed, above Jack Nicholson – in his Oscar-winning Reds.
  9. MICKEY SPILLANE, The Girl Hunters (1963). Spillane gets extra credit for playing the lead in this B-movie. Not only that, he starred as his most famous creation: detective Mike Hammer. Sounds like a real curio. (For the record, Spillane also provided supporting work in the 1990s straight-to-video cheapies Mommy and Mommy's Day, and even guest-starred on a 1974 episode of Columbo!)