Michael Caine wrote in his memoirs that when he arrived in Hollywood that decade it seemed as if every second male film star was called George. Stephen Vagg runs his eye over the ten most famous. That’s right – there were at least ten.
1) George Chakiris
Chakiris was a jobbing dancer for many years, popping up in the chorus of several movies including the “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. He looked set to stay a chorus boy until scoring the role of Riff in the London stage production of West Side Story… which led to him being cast as Bernardo in the film version, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Chakiris signed a multi-picture contract with the Mirisch Company but although he appeared in a few hits – Diamond Head, 633 Squadron – most of his films underperformed – Two and Two Make Six, Kings of the Sun, Flight from Ayisha, The High Bright Sun – and by the seventies was guest starring on TV shows. Weirdly, he made barely any musicals after West Side Story – The Young Girls of Rochefort was about it. Chakiris has an interesting filmography, but one senses unfulfilled potential – he possibly would’ve done better in the days when stars were under long term contracts to the one studio.
Watch him dance.
2) George Hamilton
According to John Milius, Hamilton once said everyone thought of him as a third-rate actor when in fact, he was a first-rate conman… and when you look at his career, it’s a perfect description. Hamilton parlayed his good looks and networking skill into an entirely decent career as a third-tier star and then jobbing actor. He became famous in Home from the Hill, then culturally immortal as Dolores Hart’s leading man in Where the Boys Are. The films that followed in the sixties tended to be financially disappointing but were, looking back, consistently interesting – All the Fine Young Cannibals, Light in the Piazza, The Victors, Your Cheating Heart, Viva Max, The Power. To his credit, Hamilton always found some way to reinvent himself: he dated LBJ’s daughter and Imelda Marcos, he became famous for his tan, he moved into producing. Hamilton wasn’t a hugely versatile talent but in the right role he could be gold – mostly comedy (Love at First Bite, Evil Knievel) but also drama (The Godfather Part III needed more of Hamilton).
Watch him deliver a Milius monologue.
3) George Harrison
It’s not often remembered now, but The Beatles were genuine box office draws for a few years off the back of A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, before Magical Mystery Tour came along to prove that everyone has their limitations. George Harrison, oddly, is the one member of the band to NOT have a crack at an acting career, despite clearly having a gift for it – John Lennon had a go in How I Won the War, Paul McCartney in Give My Regards to Broad Street, Ringo Starr most of all in a slew of films including The Magic Christian and Caveman, but Harrison… nope. However, it was Harrison who made the greatest cinematic contribution out of the four by funding HandMade films, whose output includes Life of Brian, Time Bandits, The Missionary, The Long Good Friday, Withnail and I and so on. I guess he was in The Rutles and made a cameo in Shanghai Surprise.
See him act.
4) George Kennedy
A burly, skilled actor capable of conveying both affability and menace, Kennedy was a highly popular character actor in the sixties who unexpectedly leapt to stardom after he won the Best Supporting Actor for Cool Hand Luke. He had a brief spell as a leading man in films like Guns of the Magnificent Seven (playing the role of Chris, created by Yul Brynner), and Zigzag before returning to character roles, notably in the Airport series.
Here he channels Brynner.
5) George Lazenby
The most late sixties and comet-like of the Georges. Lazenby was a former car salesman turned model who through a virtue of looks and pure chutzpah managed to land the role of James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It all went to Lazenby’s head and turned him silly – not only did he turn down the opportunity to play Bond a second time, he blew his stardom chits on an indulgent drama, Universal Soldier, then flittered away his opportunity to establish himself as a leading man by making an obscure Italian thriller (Who Saw Her Die?) and crappy British TV play (The Operation) then sailing around the world for over a year. Lazenby has popped up in the occasional interesting movie since – The Man from Hong Kong, Saint Jack – but generally as a support actor. But since he really had no business being a movie star in the first place, he presumably can’t complain. And at least he was in the best Bond of all time.
Here’s the end of OHMSS (SPOILERS)
6) George Maharis
Not particularly well remembered today, for a time Maharis was quite famous off the back of his starring role in the Route 66 TV series. Maharis quit the show citing overwork, but it was commonly felt he was bunging it on in order to break his contract and pursue a movie career. He had the lead in a few films – Quick Before It Melts, The Satan Bug, Sylvia, A Covenant with Death – but never broke through and was soon back guest starring on TV series. He later posed nude for Playgirl.
7) George Montgomery
Montgomery was the most established of the sixties film stars called George – he’d been around since the thirties, developing a name in particular as a handsome leading man in the Clarke Gable mould for stars like Ginger Rogers (Roxie Hart) and Betty Grable (Coney Island). Montgomery was unhappy being so pigeonholed and shifted into B movie action stuff, mostly Westerns and war movies for producers like Sam Katzman. He was still going strong in the sixties, being one of the first Hollywood names to make movies in the Philippines, many of which he also directed, such as The Steel Claw and From Hell to Borneo. His housekeeper became obsessed with him and tried to kill him in 1963 – something I mention for sheer gossip. Montgomery started making furniture for fun and became so successful at it, it turned into a lucrative career. He died rich, happy, best friends with Ronald Reagan, and still under-appreciated as an actor.
8) George Peppard
Peppard trained at the Actors Studio, making his feature debut in The Strange One, the first movie for a number of other eventually-famous actors. He leapt to fame in Home from the Hill, consolidating his status with the male lead in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. For a time there, it seemed Peppard might become a major star – he had the looks, talent and effectively anchored blockbusters like How the West Was Won, The Victors, Operation Crossbow, and The Blue Max. However, he developed a drinking problem, could be temperamental – for instance, walking off the set of Sands of the Kalahari – and was perhaps not the best judge of material, turning down a part in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter because it meant he would play a homosexual and signing to a multi-picture contract with Universal that led to a run of career-cooling films: Rough Night in Jericho, What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?, P.J., House of Cards, Pendulum. The seventies were rough, but he had a magnificent third act, finding cultural immortality (and financial security) in The A Team and rediscovering his love of theatre.
9) George C. Scott
One of the all-time great actors in American history, Scott had so much talent and presence that he was in heavy demand almost from the moment he started acting. Sterling turns in The Hustler, The List of Adrian Messenger and Dr Strangelove made him a major actor of the sixties, despite a serious drinking problem and some very unpleasant personal characteristics, notably a fondness for hitting women. Scott was well known when The Great Escape was being cast but wasn’t really considered star material until Patton. That, The Hospital and The New Centurions turned him briefly into a genuine box office draw, a status he failed to maintain after films like Day of the Dolphin, Rage, The Savage is Loose and Movie Movie. However, he remained in work for his whole career, even if really he should have served prison time for some of the things he did.
10) George Segal
Segal has been “kind of” a star for over fifty years now. He wasn’t that well known when The Great Escape was being made, presumably why Tarantino kept him off the list of Georges, but he had his first starring role in 1965’s King Rat. It helped establish Segal as a leading man and he turned up in a number of fascinating films over the next few years – Lost Command (in brown face), The St Valentine’s Day Massacre, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Bridge at Remagen, Loving, Where’s Poppa? – without ever quite becoming a star. After The Owl and the Pussycat and A Touch of Class, it seemed that he finally cracked the A list (Fun with Dick and Jane, The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox) but he had some bad luck as the decade went on – he missed out on Silver Streak which had been written for him, he turned down 10, he developed a drug habit. Just as he was drifting off into character actor land he had a huge TV success with Just Shoot Me and is still performing to large audiences in The Goldbergs… yet somehow still seems to operate under the radar. Segal’s co star in California Split, Elliot Gould, has (deservedly) become a major cult figure – it would be nice to see Segal get some of that attention.