DATELINE: Lost Causes
Barry and Jan-Michael.
With some surprise, we noted that actor Jan-Michael Vincent was dead at 74. He had been a golden boy, playing the Disney star of World’s Greatest Athlete, always the derring-do hero. He was at his pinnacle in 1973 when his adult role with Charles Bronson made people take notice in The Mechanic, wherein he played a bizarre homoerotic hitman.
He died weeks earlier, but no one bothered to release the information about his cremation—and his deterioration to amputee and drunkard. It was not a pretty picture at the end.
Almost a bookend in 1973 was another promising star who burst onto the scene. His name was Barry Brown. If Jan-Michael was golden, then Barry smoldered in swarthier looks. One director who worked with him, Peter Bogdonavich, claimed Barry was the only American actor who actually looked like he had read a book.
Brown had aspirations to edit and to write. His seminal performance was in Daisy Miller, opposite Cybill Shepard. He played Winterbourne, the oblivious intellectual. A year earlier he costarred with Jeff Bridges in Bad Company. He was in that league.
You don’t remember him because he died in 1978 of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head at his home. Who knows what demons drove him?
They were likely similar to the demons that caused Jan-Michael to indulge in a slow self-destruction, inebriated and useless, throwing his career into the garbage pail.
The promising stars of 1973 were polar opposites and similar in so many ways. They never appeared in one scene together, and they could have controlled a generation of buddy films.
We think of them at their acme often. Their great movies are watchable today and brilliant, likely owing to plot, direction, and costars, as well as their own contributions.
We might watch Daisy Miller and The Mechanic on a double-bill to toast these lost boys of the movies. Alas, it was our loss.