I had intended to write something completely different here, but when I sat down ye olde computer machine “The Wizard of Oz” came on TBS. I tried to stay focused, but I kept having to stop what I was doing to sing along. This is hardly unusual, I usually listen to oldies and sing along while I write, but there’s just something about Oz. I have all the books (yes, there’s more than one), I have books about the books, and the movie turns me into a wide-eyed child every time. It’s like comfort food for my soul.
Eventually I stopped fighting it and let my mind wander a bit. As I watched Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man sing and dance their way down the yellow brick road I found myself wondering “Whatever happened to the triple threat?” For those of you who don’t know, a triple threat is a performer who can act, sing and dance. Back in the day, stars were expected to do all three. Look at Judy Garland or Fred Astaire, they were all over the place. They put out albums that had nothing to do with their movies. And then there’s Elvis. He was in 33 films because he wanted to be an actor and his fans wanted to see more of him. These days if an actor puts out an album it’s a novelty. Heck, an actor performing on their own movie’s soundtrack is just an interesting piece of movie trivia. It used to be a given. Likewise, if a musician wants to act they have to work their asses off to be taken seriously. It can be done, for example Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Lopez, and the Ices, both Cube and T, but each of them had to wait years before people began to think of them as “real” actors. And now that they are real actors, if they were to record an album the general reaction is “Wait, you still do that? I thought you were an actor now.”
I have been racking my brain and polling my family and only two genuine modern-day triple threats come to mind, and by this I mean performers who have been known for all three since the beginning of their careers. Will Smith is one. He started “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” while “Parents Just Don’t Understand” was still on MTV and he kept making records while making bigger and bigger movies. Steve Martin is the other, and he’s more like a quintuple threat. He can sing and dance (who could forget “King Tut?”) act, write and he plays a mean banjo. Oh wait – there’s three. Martin Short is fantabulous and a hugely talented triple threat.
The trend of uni-performers is changing. Musicals are more and more popular on both stage and screen, and we are finding out that many of our favorite actors can do more than just talk. With the success of “The Producers,” “Chicago” and “Hairspray” I hope the trend continues.
Now here’s what I wonder. Why did this happen? Is it because we expect less of our movie stars? Or do we expect more? Audiences have become more sophisticated and we demand fairly high caliber entertainment. Have we made it too difficult to focus on more than one aspect of performance? And if this is true, where the hell did “Jackass” come from? I welcome your thoughts.