The Five Stages of an Actor’s Career

Cary Grant? Mary Astor? Hugh O’Brian? Danny Doakes? Herschel Bernardi? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I read an article last year about celebrity lookalikes that discussed the different stages of a Hollywood career. I remember a few of the stages:

Get me John/Jane Smith.
Get me someone who looks like John/Jane Smith.
Who is John/Jane Smith.

How old is this joke? Do you know the name of the first actor or actress who was mentioned in this humorous sequence?

Dear Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI was printed in the syndicated Hollywood gossip column of Mike Connolly in September 1960. This clever template describing the trajectory of recognition for a celebrity was sent to the columnist by the actor Hugh O’Brian and his name was featured repeatedly: 1

Hugh O’Brian gave me the following points—as The Five Most Important Stages in the Life of an Actor:

(1) “Who is Hugh O’Brian?”
(2) “Get me Hugh O’Brian as the star of our next picture!”
(3) “Get me somebody who’s a Hugh O’Brian type.”
(4) “Get me a young Hugh O’Brian.”
(5) “Who WAS Hugh O’Brian?”

O’Brian had a long and successful career in the movies and on stage though he never achieved the iconic status of superstars like Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne. His most famous role was the lawman title-character in a top-rated television series set in the frontier West called “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” which was first broadcast in the 1950s and 1960s. O’Brian was conscious that fame was sometimes short-lived, and he helped to popularize the adage outlining the five stages. It is also possible that he coined it. Special thanks to correspondent Andrew Steinberg who located this key citation.

In December 1960 another version of the template was printed by a columnist named Kay Loring in the Chicago Tribune. This instance was sent to Loring by a humorist named Quin Ryan: 2

The five stages in the life of a Hollywood star:

Who is Danny Doakes?
Get me Danny Doakes!
Get me a Danny Doakes’ type!
Get me a young Danny Doakes!
Who is Danny Doakes?

The “Danny Doakes” mentioned here was not an obscure actor; instead, Danny Doakes was a variant of Joe Doakes which was a term used to designate an everyman. Joe Doakes, Joe Bloggs, Joe Blow, and the term John/Jane Smith are similar expressions that function as generic referents.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Five Stages of an Actor’s Career


  1. 1960 September 23, Pasadena Independent, Let’s Make Love But Money Too by Mike Connolly, Quote Page 15, Column 7 and 8, Pasadena, California. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1960 December 13, Chicago Tribune, Front Views & Profiles by Kay Loring, Quips from the Mailbag, [Letter from Quin Ryan], Page B9, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)

“How Old Cary Grant?” “Old Cary Grant Fine, How You?”

Cary Grant? Gar Wood? Mark Clark? Tom Ferris?

Dear Quote Investigator: I love the movies from the golden age of Hollywood. I think the stars were more glamorous in the past, and the stories about the stars were wittier. The quotation I would like you to investigate was reportedly written by Cary Grant for a telegram that he sent.

Telegram delivery was halted in the 1980s, so some of your blog readers may not know much about them. They were text messages that were sent long-distance via radio or wire and then delivered using messengers. They were expensive in the 1930s and 1940s, and to save money telegram messages were often very short. Words such as “is” and “are” were often deleted from messages to obtain greater brevity.

A classic anecdote begins with a journalist who is working on a story about Cary Grant with a tight deadline. He needs to gather some background information, so he sends a telegram to the publicist of Cary Grant asking about the age of the star:


But Cary Grant intercepts the message and decides to send his own reply:


I love this story, but I know that Hollywood studios during the golden age sometimes concocted fun stories about stars and planted them in newspapers. Could you investigate whether this quotation is genuine?

Quote Investigator: Cary Grant directly denied the story in a newspaper interview in 1978. This humorous yarn has been told with at least three different people in the leading role. Cary Grant was the third, and the tale with him was probably apocryphal. The first anecdote was about a speedboat racer named Gar Wood, and it was probably genuine. The second tale was about General Mark Clark, and it was questionable.

The earliest known citation for this tale appeared on September 22, 1957 in the “Minneapolis Sunday Tribune”. A perfectionist managing editor sent a telegram to his reporter requesting a relatively trivial piece of information. The reporter was covering a speedboat regatta. The acronym F.C.O.N corresponded to Favorite Crusty Old Newspaperman. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

Some years ago, our F.C.O.N. was covering a Florida speedboat race in which the famous Gar Wood was participating. Our boy had already filed his story, but late at night, he got a telegram from his editor that read: “How old Gar Wood?”
The reporter wired back: “Old Gar Wood fine. How you?”

Although the topic of the telegram was Gar Wood he was neither the recipient nor the sender of the telegram. The journalist who crafted the comical response was named Tom Ferris as indicated further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “How Old Cary Grant?” “Old Cary Grant Fine, How You?”


  1. 1957 September 22, Minneapolis Sunday Tribune (Minneapolis Tribune), Section: Upper Midwest and Peach Sports, Almanac: Wire You So Anxious to Know?, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com)