When I started this little project—which hoped to gather a number of juxtaposed images showing various celebrities' first and last filmed acting performances—I thought it would be easy. I was
wrong. While it's easier for some of the most iconic names since so much research exists regarding their early years, I encountered time-sucking troubles, and not only when it came to old-timers (whose first films, as you might expect, were often lost silents).
Along with that challenge, I found that many stars' first appearances were as uncredited extras (therefore hard to ID) in obscure movies (therefore hard to find in any form), and that those whose early-years films I found easily might well have ended their careers in similarly obscure straight-to-video releases or in episodic TV, much of which is not floating around on the Internet.
But I pushed ahead and cooked up 25.
I wanted the group to be fairly random, and I think it is. It's less about icons and more about just seeing the changes of life and of career. It's fascinating to me how difficult it is—in all but a few cases—to guess what heights a career may have hit when only viewing its genesis and its conclusion.
Greta Garbo (1905—1990)
How Not to Dress (advertising film, 1920) & Two-Faced Woman (1941)
Garbo's first film was for a department store, made to instruct viewers on how not to dress. Ironically, she would become a style icon before her final film, a comedy, led to embarrassing reviews and a not-quite-intentional retirement.
Van Johnson (1916—2008)
Too Many Girls (1940) & Three Days to a Kill (1992)
From an uncredited spot in the chorus of a Lucy & Desi musical, Johnson ended his time on screen as a crusty commander in a Fred Williamson action groaner alongside Chuck Connors. That was also the final performance for Connors. Those two had more in common than just their final movie!
Lizabeth Scott (1922—)
You Came Along (1945) & Pulp (1972)
Thanks to her close association with producer Hal Wallis, this sultry answer to Lauren Bacall was the star of the very first film she did. She sued Confidential Magazine for outing her and by 1972 was making her final appearance, opposite Michael Caine, in a film about an old-time movie star (Mickey Rooney) who hires a pulp-fiction writer to do his memoirs. In that role, Scott's character is told, "I'll bet that was a fairy tale romance," to which she says, "On the contrary, the prince was very hetero."
Ray Milland (1905—1986)
The Flying Scotsman (1929) & Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death (1984)
His first role was a lead in a British part-silent/part-talkie, starring as a fireman aboard a train who falls for the engineer's daughter, running afoul of the fireman he replaced. His last was as the Home Secretary in a made-for-TV Sherlock Holmes installment starring fellow old-timers Peter Cushing and Sir John Mills.
Dorothy Stratten (1960—1980)
Autumn Born (1979) & They All Laughed (1981)
One of the most infamous (for reasons beyond her control) Playboy bunnies of all time kicked things off with a seedy nudie flick and kicked off right after filming her lover Peter Bogdanovich's screwball comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and John Ritter.