Instead of acting classes and schools, wannabe actors have transitioned from the world of athletics. Buster Crabbe (Olympic swimmer) Johnny Weissmuller (Olympic swimmer), Sonja Henie (Olympic skater), Woody Strode (football, martial arts) and Esther Williams (swimming) come to mind from Hollywood’s Golden Era. Catch them on the late show.
Then came Chuck Connors (baseball, basketball), Mike Connors (basketball), Jim Brown (football), Rafer Johnson (Olympic decathlon), Bernie Casey (football), Rosie Grier (football), Bruce Lee (martial arts), Mike Henry (football) and Fred Williamson (football) in the 1960s.
In the 1970s, it was O.J. Simpson (football), Fred Dryer (football), Merlin Olsen (football), Don Meredith (football), Bruce Jenner (Olympic decathlon), Arnold Swartzenegger (bodybuilder) Joe Kapp (football), Lou Ferrigno (bodybuilder), Bo Svenson (martial arts, yachting), Ken Norton (boxing) and Bob Seagren (track & field).
In the 1980s, Bubba Smith (football), Dick Butkus (football), Alex Karras (football), Carl Weathers (football), Lyle Alzado (football), John Matuszak (football), Bob Uecker (baseball), Ed Marinaro, Terry Bradshaw (football), Randall Tex Cobb (boxing), Mark Harmon (football), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (basketball), Jean Claude Van Damme (martial arts), Chuck Norris (martial arts), and Jackie Chan (martial arts).
The 1990s brought us Brian Bozworth (football) Terry Crews (football), Howie Long (football), Hulk Hogan (wrestling), and Dean Cain (football).
More recently, it’s Steve Austin (wrestling), Dwayne Johnson (wrestling), John Cena, (wrestling), Vinnie Jones (soccer), Jason Statham (martial arts), Gina Carano (mixed martial arts), and Steve Adkins (martial arts).
Joe Namath, C.C. & Company
I did not mention Joe Namath, so I will now. Two things I detest about Namath: his galaxy-sized ego; and those annoying Medicare supplemental insurance commercials. Who is more annoying – Namath or Jimmy Walker?
I saw a pretty dreadful movie on Prime, C.C. & Company, a motorcycle flick starring Namath and Ann-Margret from 1970. I recall when this film was first released. Time has not sweetened it, but it was never intended as art. As a low budget film, this one is still average. Written and co-produced by Ann-Marget’s husband, actor Roger Smith.
Namath is part of a motorcycle gang led by perennial villain William Smith. Members of the gang, including Namath stop for a stranded Ann-Margret in her limo. Namath saves her from sexual assault by his colleagues, much to their dismay.
Namath takes a shine to her and vice versa, naturally. Namath’s Ryder clashes with Smith’s character for control of the gang and agrees to participate in motorcycle race, which he wins. The real prize is Ann-Margret, and Ryder has to battle for her.
This film is so generic and poorly produced that without the two stars it would have disappeared on the drive-in circuit. Ann-Margret does her sex-kitten thing and William Smith does an endless variation of his muscle-bound bad guy. Namath is not awful, he has some relaxed screen-charm with his limited acting range. His big shot was the quickly canceled Waverly Wonders (1978) sitcom. It was terrible and deserved the prompt axing.
Mostly thereafter, Namath had few television and film roles, usually cheesy stuff like Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Namath had hosted his own talk show in New York during his playing days and guest hosted The Tonight show numerous times. He had an easy going personality and could be affable, much like Burt Reynolds. He appeared as himself on numerous shows.
Namath also worked the theater circuit around the country and joined The Caine Mutiny on Broadway in 1983. So, he gained some legit acting credentials and did the hard work in plays on the road. Unfortunately, that never gained him a foothold as a serious actor. His early theatrical films: Norwood, C.C. & Company and The Last Rebel were not great choices for an acting career with any legs. Character roles might have been better, but it didn’t help O.J. Simpson’s career.
Namath needed a niche, rather headlong some nondescript films. It’s easy to second-guess, but being a TV pitchman is a job, and for Namath, he’s pitched popcorn poppers, shaving cream and tons of other products.