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Crossover Actors - Athlete Actors, Dancer Actors, Rapper Actors, Singer Actors, Stand-Up Comic Actors

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CROSSOVER ACTORS. Many actors have previously gained fame and notoriety by excelling in other fields of endeavor, usually either sports, or in some form of entertainment before crossing over to the silver screen. Many popular athletes and entertainers generate fans and followings just like movie stars. Because name and face recognition is crucial to the marketing and success of a film, Hollywood often attempts to capitalize on their prior celebrity status by casting them in movie roles hoping to entice their loyal fan base to come and ante up at the box office. Several categories in which these multitalented performers reside are:

Athlete Actors

The hue and cry of sports is charged with conflict and drama, and athletes are often cast in a variety of roles on television and in fiction films. Former Los Angeles Ram Woody Strode portrayed the title role in Sergeant Rutledge , 1961, and was cast as a gladiator in Spartacus , 1961. Many other football heroes, such as O. J. Simpson, Jim Brown, Bernie Casey, and Fred Williamson moved easily from the gridiron to the silver screen. Karate expert and tournament fighter Jim Kelly displayed his “kick butt” talents in Enter the Dragon , 1973, and was cast in the title role of Black Belt Jones , 1974. From basketball, star center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has appeared in many films, including a fight scene with Bruce Lee in the martial arts flick Game of Death , 1979, and as the co-pilot in the comedy spoof Airplane , 1980. Shaquille O’Neal has acted on the big screen and appears on television in numerous commercials and product endorsements. Hoopster Michael Jordan starred opposite the entire Looney Toon gang in the live-action/animated film Space Jam , 2000. Boxing great Joe Lewis was cast as a prizefighter in Spirit of Youth , 1938, and again in The Fight Never Ends , 1949. However, in his own biopic The Joe Lewis Story , 1954, actor Coley Wallace portrayed Lewis. Pugilist Muhammad Ali starred in The Greatest , 1977, the biopic on his life and career. He also played a dramatic role as a Negro politician in Freedom Road , 1979. Other biopics on black athletes include The Jackie Robinson Story , 1950 (baseball), in which Jackie Robinson portrays himself, and The Jesse Owens Story , 1984 (track), starring Dorian Harewood.

Dancer Actors

Dance is a popular form of entertainment that was perfect for film. Capturing the movements from different angles or manipulating the film speed can give dance a whole different look and feel from a live performance. Many of the early images of African Americans on film were of dance numbers from the vaudeville stage. One of the most famous and noteworthy dancers to cross over to the silver screen was Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who not only danced, but also starred in films like Stormy Weather , 1943, and perhaps became mostly known for his film dance numbers with little Shirley Temple. The world-famous Nicholas Brothers, who began dancing as kids, were relegated to just the dance numbers in films like Kid Millions , 1934, Orchestra Wives , 1942, and Stormy Weather , 1943, with very little opportunity to interact with other characters in a dramatic way. In their later years, Fayard Nicholas landed a small dramatic role in the   film The Liberation of L. B. Jones , 1970, and Harold played a bit part in the hit comedy film Let’s Do It Again , 1975. John “Bubbles” Sublett is perhaps best remembered for his portrayal of the hot-tempered gambler Domino Johnson in the hit musical Cabin in the Sky , 1943, but he made earlier film appearances in High Tones , 1929, and Dark Town Follies , 1929, performing with a partner as Buck and Bubbles. Years later, Gregory Hines danced with his brother Maurice in The Cotton Club , 1984, and went on to a stellar acting career in such films as White Nights , 1985, and Tap , 1989. Modern-day tap sensation Savion Glover showed off his fancy footwork in Bamboozled , 2000, and female dancer/choreographer Debbie Allen has enjoyed a long career in film and television that began with The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh , 1979.

Rapper Actors

The 1980s ushered in a new style of music where performers rhythmically spoke the words to songs instead of singing them. A popular and powerful hip-hop culture soon emerged that crossed racial barriers, influenced dress and social attitudes, and made a lot of money for the artists and the entertainment industry. Successful rappers that made the transition to film include Ice Cube, Boyz N the Hood , 1991; Ice T, New Jack City , 1991; Tupac Shakur, Poetic Justice , 1993; Queen Latifah, Bringing Down the House , 2003; Will Smith, I-Robot , 2004; L. L. Cool J, Kingdom Come , 2001; Mos Def, Something the Lord Made , 2004; Ludicris, Crash , 2005.

Singer Actors

Many film genres, specifically musicals, often require the talents of already established vocalists, or singers who can also act. Paul Robeson was well known for his deep, baritone voice long before it was utilized for his classic rendition of “Old Man River” in Showboat , 1936. Big band crooner Herb Jeffries became known as “The Bronze Buckeroo,” a singing cowboy in Harlem on the Prairie , 1938. Lena Horne’s lovely voice and exceptional beauty were prominent in the films Cabin in the Sky , 1943, and Stormy Weather , 1943. Pearl Bailey sang, danced, and “beat out that rhythm on a drum” in Carmen Jones, 1954. Well known jazz vocalist Abby Lincoln left her singing voice at home and only acted in the films Nothing but a Man , 1964, and For Love of Ivy , 1968. Popular singing star Whitney Houston’s powerful voice burst onto the screen in The Bodyguard , 1992, and as The Preacher’s Wife , 1996.

Stand-Up Comic Actors

The dawn of the crossover comedians was ushered in during the 1970s when the brash and controversial stylings of stand-up comic Richard Pryor became a top box-office draw in films like Silver Streak , 1976; Which Way Is Up? 1977; and Stir Crazy , 1980. Comedian Bill Cosby was already popular from the hit 1960s television series I Spy when he teamed up with straight man Sidney Poitier to make the comedy film trilogy Uptown Saturday Night , 1974; Let’s Do It Again , 1975; and Piece of the Action , 1977. The box-office success of these established funnymen opened the door for a flurry of popular comics to follow their path to the big screen. Eddie Murphy transitioned from his featured spot on NBC’s Saturday Night Live , to film roles in 48 HRS , 1982, and the highly successful Beverly Hills Cop trilogy of films. Whoopi Goldberg ‘s comic genius was another beneficiary of this time of funny-filmed entertainment. She first appeared on the big screen in the dramatic film The Color Purple , 1985, and followed with comedies like Jumpin’ Jack Flash , 1986; Fatal Beauty , 1987; and Burglar , 1987. Many of these were mainstream films with the popular black lead intended to help draw the African American audience into the theaters. In the 1990s, a new crop of comedians gained popularity and their film careers continued to grow into the new millennium. They include Martin Lawrence, Talkin’ Dirty After Dark , 1991; Chris Rock, CB4: The Movie , 1993; Joe Torre, Tales From the Hood , 1995; Chris Tucker, Rush Hour , 1998; Eddie Griffin, Foolish , 1999; and Dave Chapelle, Screwed , 2000. Three generations of film stand-up comics were brought together in one film when Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, and Eddie Murphy starred in the comedy/crime/drama Harlem Nights , 1989.

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