Although many moviegoers thought of Jack Nicholson aa a newcomer when he received an Academy Award nomination for 1969's "Easy Rider," he'd already appeared in episodes of popular TV series ranging from "Dr. Kildare" to "The Andy Griffith Show." And he's far from the only major movie star who apprenticed on the small screen. Click though for 25 cases in point.
Demi Moore — "General Hospital"
Before hitting it big in movies like "St. Elmo's Fire" and "Ghost" as a charter member of the Brat Pack, Demi Moore got her first break on ABC's long-running soap "General Hospital." From 1982 to 1984, she played tenacious investigative reporter Jackie Templeton.
Warren Beatty — "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis"
He never put it on his resume, nor is it his favorite subject (though his pal Jack Nicholson reportedly delights in mentioning it whenever possible), but Warren Beatty played rich high school playboy Milton Armitage on the TV sitcom "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" from 1959 to 1960. Among his co-stars was a pre-"Gilligan's Island" Bob Denver.
Sandra Bullock — "Working Girl"
One of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood, Sandra Bullock first made her mark in the 1989 made-for-TV movie "Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman," which led to a starring role in the short-lived TV version of the movie "Working Girl." "I made a few stinkers," Bullock later admitted. "And I'm never embarrassed about it."
Steve McQueen — "Wanted: Dead or Alive"
Though he'd already appeared in a few low-budget movies—most notably "The Blob"—Steve McQueen got his big break on television, starring as bounty hunter Josh Randall in "Wanted: Dead or Alive" from 1958 to 1961. "It was three hard, mother-grabbin' years," said McQueen of the experience. "But I learned my trade and it gave me discipline."
Halle Berry — "Living Dolls"
In the sitcom "Living Dolls"—a spinoff of "Who's the Boss?"—model-turned-actress Halle Berry played ... a model. The show debuted in the fall of 1989 but lasted only 12 episodes before it was cancelled. Berry had better luck with a recurring role on the prime-time soap opera "Knots Landing."
Sean Penn — "Little House on the Prairie"
Moviegoers remember first encountering Sean Penn as surfer-stoner Jeff Spicoli in the 1982 coming-of-age comedy "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." But Penn's acting debut actually came in 1974, when he had a small role in an episode of "Little House on the Prairie"—directed by his father, Leo Penn.
Goldie Hawn — "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In"
Long one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, Goldie Hawn got her start on the sketch comedy show "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" (1968-1973), where she became a fan favorite for her ditzy high-pitched giggle and painted bikini-clad body. "An editor from a women's magazine came up to me once and said, 'Don't you feel terrible that you're playing a dumb blonde?'" Hawn remembers. "I said, 'I don't understand that question because I'm already liberated. Liberation comes from the inside.'"
Hilary Swank — "Beverly Hills 90210"
Hilary Swank appeared on several TV shows ("Harry and the Hendersons," "Growing Pains," "Evening Shade") before she was cast as a regular on "Beverly Hills 90210" in 1997. Then, after 13 episodes, the show's producers fired her. "They were like, 'Look, it's not working,'" Swank recalled. "And I couldn't move. I was like, 'What's not working? Me? Am I bad?" But it all worked out. A few months later, Swank landed a starring role in "Boys Don't Cry," for which she won the first of two Academy Awards.
James Dean — "General Electric Theater"
James Dean appeared in quite a few TV dramas before his big-screen roles in "East of Eden," "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Giant" (released after his 1955 death at the age of 24) turned him into a cultural icon. Of particular interest is an episode of "General Electric Theater," in which he appeared as a homicidal hepcat threatening a doctor—played by future President of the United States Ronald Reagan.
Leonardo DiCaprio — "Growing Pains"
Many of us remember that Leonardo DiCaprio had a recurring role in the late-'80s sitcom "Growing Pains." But his first TV appearance came a decade earlier, when he showed up on "Romper Room." Unfortunately, five-year-old Leo was reportedly kicked off the show for disruptive behavior.
Jodie Foster — "Mayberry R.F.D."
After her debut in a 1965 Coppertone ad at the age of three, Jodie Foster became one of the busiest child actors on television, making more than 50 small-screen appearances in just a few years. The first, in 1968, was a one-shot stint on "Mayberry R.F.D.," a spinoff of "The Andy Griffith Show," which starred Jodie's real-life brother Buddy Foster.
Ben Affleck — "Wanted: The Perfect Guy"
Ben Affleck describes his television acting gigs as "knock-around parts, one to the next." At 14, he co-starred with Madeline Khan in the 1986 ABC after-school special "Wanted: A Perfect Man." His other early-career highlights include a Burger King commercial and the role of "Dallas" star Patrick Duffy's son in the 1991 made-for-TV movie "Daddy."
Morgan Freeman — "The Electric Company"
When he was young and unknown, Morgan Freeman appeared in all six seasons of the PBS children's television show "The Electric Company" (1971-1977), teaching reading to kids in a variety of roles. Even then, you could sense Freeman's gravitas in such sketch characters as Easy Reader, Mel Mounds and Vincent the Vegetable Vampire.
Julianne Moore — "As The World Turns"
From 1985 to 1988, Oscar winner Julianne Moore was a regular on the soap opera "As the World Turns," playing the dual roles of Frannie and Sabrina Hughes and earning a Daytime Emmy for her performance. (Steve Bassett, seen here, played Frannie's fiancé Seth Snyder, who had sex with Sabrina thinking she was Frannie. Hey, mistakes happen.) In 2010, Moore returned for a cameo appearance during the long-running show's last season.
Diane Keaton — "Rod Serling's Night Gallery"
Before her breakthrough as Kay Adams, girlfriend and later wife of Al Pacino's Michael Corleone in 1972's "The Godfather," Diane Keaton made guest appearances on not only "Night Gallery" but also "Love, American Style," "Mannix" and "The F.B.I." "I was a very normal, average, ordinary person, and no one looked at me and went, 'Oh, she's got a future,'" Keaton later said. "I think that everything has just been a slow, steady persistence on my part."
Bruce Lee — "The Green Hornet"
The martial arts superstar ("Fists of Fury," "Enter the Dragon") got his big Hollywood break in 1966, when he was cast as the sidekick Kato on "The Green Hornet." (In Hong Kong, where Bruce Lee grew up, the series was called "The Kato Show.") Lee also played Kato in a two-part episode of "Batman." In the original scrip, he was supposed to lose a fight with Batman's sidekick Robin. but Lee objected, saying "I'm not going to do that. There's no way that anyone would believe I go in there and fight Robin and lose."
Robert Redford — "The Twilight Zone"
Future Oscar winner Robert Redford was all over the TV in the early '60s, guest-starring on everything from "Perry Mason" to "The Untouchables" to "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." But his most memorable television role was probably "Mr. Death" in a 1962 episode of "The Twilight Zone."
Tom Hanks — "Bosom Buddies"
Still a struggling stage actor in 1980, Tom Hanks broke through when he landed a starring role on the ABC sitcom "Bosom Buddies." He and Peter Scolari played bachelors forced to disguise themselves as women after finding that the only place they can afford to live is an all-female apartment house. Embarrassing? Not to Hanks. As he said years later, "I can look back and say, 'You know, we really did some great shows.'"
Burt Reynolds — "Gunsmoke"
Like many stars of his generation, Burt Reynolds did his fair share of pre-fame TV work, once saying, "I played heavies in every series in town." But it wasn't until 1962, when he was cast as the "half breed" blacksmith Quint on the long-running series "Gunsmoke," that Reynolds became widely known. He appeared on the show until 1965 and called it "the happiest period of my life and a show I hated leaving."
Clint Eastwood — "Rawhide"
Though he had appeared on "Death Valley Days," Clint Eastwood became a bona fide TV star as Rowdy Yates on "Rawhide" (1959-1966). Still, he was unhappy with the constraints of his character: "In 'Rawhide,' I got awfully tired of playing the conventional white hat—the hero who kisses old ladies and dogs and was kind to everybody." In 1964, Eastwood starred as the decidedly less virtuous Man With No Name in Sergio Leone's seminal Spaghetti Western "A Fistful of Dollars," and that's when his movie career took off.
Jennifer Lawrence — "Monk"
Oscar-winning "Silver Linings Playbook" star Jennifer Lawrence had early gigs on several TV shows, including an episode of "Monk" in which she spent most of her brief on-screen time hidden inside a high school basketball mascot Tiger costume. "I told everybody that I was going to have this great, huge part and everybody watched it," she said later. "Then it turned out I was just the mascot! It was the most humiliating thing in my entire life."
Brad Pitt — "Growing Pains"
Brad Pitt's cowboy six-pack shook the world in 1991's "Thelma and Louise," but he was already emerging as a heartthrob on the 1980s sitcom "Growing Pains." Pitt showed up in two episodes of the series—first in 1987 as a flirtatious teen and then in 1989 as a guitar player. Between his two "Growing Pains" appearances, Pitt scored a recurring role on the hit series "Dallas," playing the sexy cowboy Randy.
Michael Keaton — "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"
In the 1970s, Michael Keaton worked as a stagehand on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," and he also appeared on the show as one of The Flying Zookeenie Brothers. In 2004, after Fred Rogers' death, Keaton hosted a PBS memorial tribute to his former boss. "He was one of the nicest, authentically good people you've ever met," the "Birdman" star said. "Really good dude with kind of a sneaky, sly, great sense of humor."
Sally Field — "Gidget"
Her career reached new heights on "The Flying Nun," which aired from 1967 to 1970. But Sally Field was already a TV star when she landed that role, having played a bubbly, boy-crazy surfer girl in the sitcom "Gidget," beginning in 1965 when she was just 17. "It was such bliss," says the two-time Oscar winner. "I was in heaven, learning as much as I could learn."
Jack Nicholson — "The Andy Griffith Show"
Before "Easy Rider," before "Chinatown," before "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Jack Nicholson showed up in not one but two episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show." The first was a bit part in an episode titled "Opie Finds a Baby." His second appearance, in "Aunt Bee, the Juror," was more prominent. Nicholson played an accused thief on trial in bucolic Mayberry, where only one juror believed he was innocent—Aunt Bee. Nicholson has not acted on television since.
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