• Golden Globe Awards

Tomorrow’s Stars Yesterday: James Caan, 1966

Between 1948 and 1983 Golden Globes were awarded in a special category of “New Star of the Year” conceived to recognize young actors making a mark in their early roles. In this series, the HFPA’s Phil Berk highlights those that would follow their auspicious starts with distinguished careers.
Both Robert Redford and James Caan were New Star of the Year Golden Globe nominees in 1966. The former would eventually go on to be a Cecil B. deMille honoree. The latter did not achieve that honor but would nevertheless become an iconic American actor.
Caan was always serious about becoming an actor, and after being bitten by the bug while at Hofstra University he applied to and was accepted by New York’s famed Neighborhood Playhouse where he studied with Sanford Meisner. 
It didn’t take long for him to find work off-Broadway and on television, making guest appearances in a number of successful shows including Dr. Kildareand Ben Casey. He did this for five years earning the respect of, among others, Olivia de Havilland whom he victimized in Lady in a Cage.  
It was Howard Hawks, one of Hollywood’s most versatile directors, who gave him his big break first as the star of Red Line 7000 and then in support of John Wayne and Robert Mitchum in Eldorado. Realizing he had a future in Hollywood he chose his roles wisely, first the lead in Robert Altman’s first movie Countdown and then opposite Simone Signoret in Curtis Harrington’s Games. It was however his performance as a brain-damaged former football player in Francis Coppola’s Rain People – he and Coppola had attended Hofstra at the same time and became acquainted there – that made people take notice. 
As a result, he was given the lead in Rabbit Run, based on John Updike’s acclaimed novel; he wooed Candice Bergen in Herbert Ross’ T.R. Baskin, both prestige pictures, but then suddenly he hit the big time playing Brian Piccolo in Brian’s Song, which became TV’s highest-rated movie of the week, and then Sonny Corleone in Francis Coppola’s The Godfather, which won the Oscar as Best Picture. When the movie became the biggest box office blockbuster since Gone With the Wind he was an unchallenged superstar, choosing roles carefully making sure he was in it for the long run.
After earning nominations as Best Supporting Actor from both the HFPA and the Academy for The Godfather, he might have chosen a more commercial project but instead, he made Slither, an offbeat comedy that had some adherents but tanked at the box office. A better choice was Cinderella LibertyMarsha Mason had the attention-getting role. Still, it was a Golden Globe nominee as Best Picture and Marsha won the Best Actress Golden Globe. 
And he did the same when he, once again, chose an off-beat project working with English auteur Karel Reisz on The Gambler, but this time it was a gamble that paid off and for a second time he was nominated for a Golden Globe, but this time as Best Actor in a Drama. After that there were two misfires Freebie and the Beanand Gone with the West, the latter of which was never even released. But then to the rescue came Barbra Streisand who thought of him as the perfect Billy Rose in Funny Lady, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, his first as Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.
His next, Norman Jewison’s Rollerball was a crowd pleaser and Sam Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite critics favorite, but then Mark Rydell’s over-budgeted and misbegotten farce Harry and Walter Go to New York had people shaking their heads. But he persevered, even traveling to France to work with Claude Lelouch on Another Man Another Chance but to little avail.
He had Jane Fonda as his leading lady in Alan J. Pacula’s Comes a Horseman which brought a fistful of awards to former stuntman Richard Farnsworth but not much recognition for its stars.
How many bombs can you have in a row? According to Omar Sharif, five and you’re out, but not James Caan. He was born under a lucky sign and he still had a long way to go. Chapter TwoHide in Plain Sight, 
a troubled shoot made with Coppola’s help which warned him off ever doing it again.
Next up would be Michael Mann. Their collaboration, Thief, though not successful at the time of its release, is now considered a classic and is arguably Caan’s best role. He followed that with Robert Mulligan’s Kiss Me GoodbyeSally Field, then Francis Coppola’s Gardens of Stone, both disappointments.
But then Warren Beatty did him two favors. He gave him a role in his well-received Dick Tracy, and then he turned down the lead in Misery, which Caan ran with and which was his first big hit in twenty years. Even though it was newcomer Kathy Bates who walked away with the acting honors. But make no mistake, he was the star, and the public loved it. To this day he is still working.
His legacy is now carried on by his son Scott who has inherited his talent and charm and can currently be seen in the hit TV series Hawaii Five-O.
James Caan, for thirty years a top star. His classic movies: The Godfather, Thief, and.