Some time ago, I published a list about nine non-actor entertainers who were each given exactly one Hollywood starring vehicle. This list expands the idea a little, as I've found a number of additional films – many made outside the studio system – that attempted to give big-screen breaks to various celebrities. So here are nine more famous names with fleeting movie careers.
- JAMES TAYLOR, Two-Lane Blacktop. The sleep-inducing folkie has had a handful of cameos on film and TV, mostly playing "James Taylor", but he was top-billed as "The Driver" in Monte Hellman's deadpan drag-racing movie, a quintessential slice of early '70s cinema. The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson also landed his only acting role as Taylor's sidekick "The Mechanic".
- WILT CHAMBERLAIN, Conan the Destroyer. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar forged a decent second career as an actor beginning with the 1980 hit Airplane! Fellow basketball icon Chamberlain, perhaps jealous of his old rival's screen success, took the first and only gig offered to him: this 1984 sequel to Conan the Barbarian.
- MARIA CALLAS, Medea. To be a bona fide opera star, you not only have to sing well, you have to act well. And Callas, arguably the greatest soprano who ever lived, certainly did her share of acting in opera houses. But she only performed in one motion picture – and she didn't sing in it. That film was 1969's Medea, Pier Paolo Pasolini's faithful adaptation of the Greek tragedy.
- LUCIANO PAVAROTTI, Yes, Giorgio. As renowned a tenor as Callas was a soprano, Pavarotti remains one of the few opera stars to cross over into mainstream popularity – so much that MGM thought it was a good idea to cast him in a romantic drama. This flop from 1982 proved that it was, in fact, a bad idea.
- ANNA PAVLOVA, The Dumb Girl of Portici. While we're discussing the finer arts, here's a real find: Anna Pavlova, perhaps the most famous ballerina of all time, starred in this 1915 silent feature, itself based on a ballet. (Pavlova, then 34, was no longer dancing professionally.) Pioneering filmmaker Lois Weber directed; the film, Pavlova's only onscreen performance, was restored in 2016.
- PJ HARVEY, The Book of Life. Not to be confused with the animated film that served as a precursor to Coco, this Book of Life was an experimental curio from indie darling Hal Hartley. Harvey costarred as "Magdalena"; Hartley regular Martin Donovan starred as "Jesus Christ". The 1998 film took place in 1999.
- MIKE NICHOLS, The Designated Mourner. The EGOT winner really belongs on my list of directors who acted, which I wrote long ago. But I'd overlooked him then. At any rate, Nichols first became famous from his comedy act with Elaine May, so he counts as an entertainer. Although he did a little TV work early in his career, 1997's The Designated Mourner – essentially a filmed Wallace Shawn play – marks Nichols's only big-screen role.
- SUSANNAH HOFFS, The Allnighter. Certain fans of the Bangles were invigorated by the sight of lead singer Hoffs in skimpy underwear in this 1987 comedy. But The Allnighter, directed by Hoffs's own mother Tamar Simon Hoffs, fizzled. Though her leading lady aspirations were cut short, Hoffs fille didn't completely disappear from the movies; she later popped up in two Austin Powers installments, directed by husband Jay Roach, as a member of the fictional band Ming Tea.
- BOB GELDOF, Pink Floyd: The Wall. For this ninth spot, I'd wanted to list David Copperfield in Terror Train because it's funny. But Copperfield's role was small, mostly just performing magic tricks. Anyway, before Geldof's name became synonymous with feeding the world, the Boomtown Rats singer starred as "Pink" in this 1982 rock opera.