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)