Is it possible for an actor’s dignity to be all but destroyed in one fell swoop? If you ask me John Phillip Law (who died in 2008 at age 70) managed this when he strapped on huge white swan wings in Roger Vadim‘s Barbarella (1968) as the blind angel Pygar. There’s a shot of him flying into the heavens with his flamingo legs dangling — he looks like a peroxide dodo bird. When I first saw this I muttered, “You poor man…your agent really screwed you.”
Law was quite the hot guy in Hollywood for about five years. A breakout performance as a Russian submarine sailor in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming! got him started. But what man or woman, for that matter, would have been willing to take him half-seriously after Barbarella? The knockout punch was Jack Haley, Jr.‘s excruciatingly bad The Love Machine (1971), in which Law played randy news guy Robin Stone.
Law made 14 more films over the next 30-plus years (including 1995’s Free Willy 2) but once you’ve surrendered your on-screen dignity, there’s no getting it back.
What other actors have committed a similar kind of career hari kari, i.e., one or two bad choices that took them out of the game in record time?
The Barbarella Bluray (out 7.3) brought all this back.