James Caan in many ways is the very embodiment of masculinity. He was a bit of a heartthrob back when he was in his prime. Even so, he’s a highly perplexing individual whose career as an actor has had more ups and downs than most rollercoasters. It’s clear that he had a shot at superstardom but some of his role selections have clearly derailed him from that path.
We’re going to take an up-close-and-personal look at this enigmatic actor’s Hollywood career and speculate about what might have gone wrong. He clearly possesses a lot of talent. He very easily could have been one of the biggest names to ever come out of Tinseltown but it seems as if he’s never quite been able to secure his footing and stay on top.
Before we start dissecting his career lows – which don’t worry, we’re definitely going to get to in a minute -let’s first see where he came from and how he got his start in show biz in the first place.
The Early Life Of James Caan
Caan was born in the Bronx in 1940. His mother’s name was Sophie and his father was Arthur. Both of his parents were Jewish immigrants from Germany. His dad was a butcher and his mother was a homemaker.
He grew up in Queens with his 2 siblings. After, graduating from high school he moved away from New York to go to college.
Caan was a talented athlete. He played for the Michigan State University football team while he was studying economics. He’d also take up an interest in martial arts around this time and would even earn his black belt in Karate.
For a couple of years, Caan became fascinated with rodeo and became a regular in the local
circuit. He earned himself the nickname of ‘The Jewish Cowboy’.
He’d later return to New York when he made a transfer to Hofstra University. Caan never graduated, but while he was at Hofstra he would become acquainted with Hollywood legends, Francis Ford Coppola and Lainie Kazan, who were also students there.
It was at Hofstra University that Caan realized that he wanted to be an actor. He interviews with Sanford Meisner’s prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse and accepts it. After that, he grants a scholarship to be the understudy of Wynn Handman – an acting teacher that taught many notable actors such as Alec Baldwin, Michael Douglas, Mia Farrow, and Denzel Washington.
Caan Starts Acting And Quickly Climbs The Ranks
It was around this time that he started appearing in a number of off-Broadway productions including La Ronde and Mandingo.
Caan Made his Broadway Debut in Blood, Sweat, and Stanley Poole in 1961.
In 1963, Caan made his debut on screen in the film Irma La Douce where he played a sailor. He followed that up with Red Line 7000 in 1965 and El Dorado in 1967.
But perhaps his first major break came in 1969 in Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Rain People’.
One of his most beloved early roles was in 1971 when he played Brian Piccolo in the heartbreaking TV film Brian’s Song.
In less than a decade, Caan had proven himself as an actor. The stars were beginning to align for him and it looked as if he had a robust and promising career ahead of him. In many ways he did, and the friendships he had forged along the way would prove to be one of his biggest assets.
The Godfather and Onward
Francis Ford Coppola impresses by Caan when the two work together on 1969s The Rain People, so when he was casting his 1972 masterpiece The Godfather, he knew that Caan would mesh with the rest of the cast quite nicely.
He gave him the part of Santino ‘Sonny’ Corleone, a hot-headed gangster who was the son of Mafia don Vito Coleone. To date, this is probably Caan’s most recognizable role.
We probably don’t have to tell you that The Godfather was a success. The film ranks on many critics’ top 100 lists and was a massive financial success at the box office to boot. Caan earned himself a Best Supporting Actor nod for his performance and would reprise the role for the flashback scenes in The Godfather: Part II which was released in 1974.
James Caan In Freebie And The Bean
The mid-70s were good to Caan. In 1974 he starred in the cop drama Freebie and the Bean alongside Alan Arkin, and that same year he’d give another astounding performance in The Gambler.
In 1975 he’d find himself in 3 successful films. He’d team up with Barbra Streisand in Funny lady and would play Jonathon E in the sci-fi futuristic sports flick Rollerball. Finally, he’d star in the action spy thriller The Killer Elite alongside Robert Duvall. After working together, Caan and Duvall would become very close friends.
By the way, if you’re enjoying this video so far, make sure you hit the like button and subscribe to our channel. And make sure you keep watching to find out what James Caan is up to these days. But before we get to that, let’s take a closer look at some of his career lows.
His Career Then Took A Downward Turn
While Caan’s acting career had previously been consistently successful, the rest of the 70s and into the early 80s proved to be less profitable for him. He had a string of films that are generally seen as critical and financial flops. In 1976 he starred in the panned Harry and Walter Go To New York. He followed that up with the mediocre pseudo-western flick Comes A Horseman in 1978 and the Robert Moore romantic comedy Chapter Two, which also failed to impress.
In 1980, His ex-wife, Shella Ryan, slapped him with a $2.5 million suit alleging that he beat her after she told him that she was considering getting remarried. The two had already been divorced for several years at the time. Ryan’s attorney described his client as looking as if she had been involved in a bad traffic accident. The lawsuit was dropped days later but it’s unclear if the matter was settled out of court.
Despite mounting personal problems, Caan did manage to score one hit in these years with the 1981 film Thief, but he’d follow that up with the relatively unimpressive rom-com Kiss Me Goodbye in 1982. Caan hated working on that film. In fact, he’d call director Robert Mulligan one of the most incompetent filmmakers that he has ever worked with.
Temporary Retirement In 1982
Caan temporarily retired in 1982 after suffering from severe depression over his sister’s death. He increasingly became reliant on drugs and alcohol to ease his internal pain. Cocaine became his drug of choice. He refers to himself during this era as a ‘Hollywood Burnout’.
In 1985, he briefly worked on the film The Holcroft Covenant but he ended up walking off the set and was quickly replaced by Michael Craine. It was also in 1985 that Caan was in a pretty severe car accident, and instead of returning to acting he devoted much of his time instead to coaching children’s sports teams.
He had fully intended to stay away from Hollywood. If it were up to him at this point, then he would have retired for good, but quicker than he had expected he found himself to be completely broke. He knew he had to get back to acting.
When he finally came back and started looking for work, he found that it was hard to come by. It seemed as if Hollywood had forgotten all about him.
In 1987, Caan linked back up with Coppola in the dramatic film Gardens of Stone. Things were looking up for Caan once more. In 1988 he starred in the sci-fi hit Alien Nation and in 1990 he co-starred in the Warren Beatty directed comic strip inspired Dick Tracy film.
But perhaps one of his most surprising films of this era was starring as the male lead in the Stephen King adaptation of Misery. Caan played a famous author that was held against his will and tortured by a deranged fan – played by Kathy Bates – after she ‘rescued’ him from a car accident.
His next big hit was Honeymoon in Vegas in 1992 where he once again played a gangster The all-star cast film which featured the like of Nicolas Cage, and Sarah Jessica Parker was a hit and proved to be just the boost that his career needed.
Caan followed that film up with The Program and Flesh and Bone in 1993 Wes Anderson sleeper hit Bottle Rocket and 1996s Schwarzenegger action flick Eraser.
For the next several years, Caan had consistent work. Highlights include Mickey Blue Eyes in 1999, Luckytown and The Way of the Gun in 2000, and Dogville in 2003. Kids might also remember him as Walter in Elf which also hit theaters in 2003.
From 2003 to 2007 he played Ed Deline in the NBC dramedy series Las Vegas, but after he quit that show after the fourth season, he announced that he would be returning to film.
From 2007 To Now
Caan played the United States President in the film remake of Get Smart 2008. In 2009, he had a role in the children’s film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs as Tim Lockwood. He’d reprise that role in the 2013 sequel as well.
From 2012 to 2013 he starred in the Starz Show Magic City as Sy Berman.
After that, he tried out another series Back In The Game which ran for 13 episodes before getting canceled.
James Caan Is Still Working At 80
It seems that once again James Caan is taking whatever work he can just to pay the bills. He hasn’t had a hit in years and his most recent films have all been commercial and critical failures. It seems as if all he has left is his name, and while at one point he may have had a promising career, it would seem that his best days are behind him.
You got to give it to the guy for trying though. At 80, he is still hard at work. To be fair, there isn’t much for an aging actor in Hollywood to do except take whatever comes their way. Maybe someday he will have another Blockbuster hit but for now, he’s stuck with low-budget indie films and guest spots in web series.
Well, that wraps our look at James Caan. It’s amazing how many times this guy has faded into obscurity only to make a successful rebound. He’s tenacious, to say the least, but to most people, he will be remembered best for his role in The Godfather which to date is his highest-grossing and best-reviewed film.
Are you a fan of James Caan or do you rank him pretty low on your list of favorite celebrities? Let us know what you think in the comments section.
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