They’re gonna put me in the movies,
They’re gonna make a big star out of me.
We’ll make a film about a man that’s sad and lonely,
And all I gotta do is act naturally.
– Buck Owens, 1963
I’ve been watching a lot of classic films lately, revisiting old favorites that I haven’t seen in a long time, as well as finally watching a few that I hadn’t gotten around to yet. I caught a showing of True Grit on cable the other night; I’d seen it once when I was very young but I had forgotten most of it. The 1969 Western earned John Wayne the only Academy Award of his career. It also marked the first major silver screen appearance by Glen Campbell, who had been hand-picked by The Duke to be his co-star. Although he garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer, I found Campbell’s performance to be unimpressive. In fact, Campbell’s unconvincing portrayal of a Texas Ranger, combined with a very irritating lead female character played by Kim Darby, made it nearly impossible for me to enjoy the picture.
Of course, one tends to cut Campbell some slack when taking into account that he is primarily known as a singer, and not an actor. It made me realize that while many singers have dabbled in acting (and many actors have attempted to become singers), people who actually excel in both fields are few and far between. There is no doubt after watching Pure Country, that George Strait’s decision to to pursue a music career instead of an acting career was a wise one. Ditto for Clint Black, who turned in an embarrassing performance in the 1998 made-for-television film Still Holding On: The Legend Of Cadillac Jack. Randy Travis’ decline on the music charts is partially blamed on the amount of time he spent away from Nashville, trying to break into the movies. Dwight Yoakam, on the other hand, earned critical acclaim for his performances in Sling Blade and South of Heaven, West of Hell, and a handful of other pictures.
Kris Kristofferson is somewhat of an anomaly in this category, since he is a much better actor than singer. With nearly 90 theatrical and television films to his credit, he is probably Nashville’s most prolific ambassador to Hollywood.
Overall, the women of country music seem to have fared better in Hollywood than their male counterparts. Dolly Parton made her film debut in the 1980 comedy 9 to 5. She seemed perfectly at ease on the big screen, though admittedly, the role of Doralee, like most of the other roles that followed it, was not a huge stretch for her. Barbara Mandrell experienced some modest success after being bitten by the acting bug when her music career was winding down. In the 90s she had a recurring role in the daytime drama Sunset Beach and she made several guest appearances on other television shows of the day, such as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Walker, Texas Ranger.
However, with the possible exception of Kristofferson, Reba McEntire is arguably the country singer with the most successful acting career. Her first foray into film was 1990′s Tremors. That was followed by a string of television movies, including a co-starring role with Kenny Rogers in The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw. Eventually she earned critical acclaim on Broadway and then went on to star in her own sitcom for five and a half years.
Still, at the end of the day, all of these people will be remembered for their contributions to music, rather than as great actors. Some day we may see one of Nashville’s finest thanking the Academy as he or she accepts his or her Oscar, but I think that day is still in the distant future.
What country singers do you feel have done a particularly good or bad job moonlighting as actors?