Career Assessment is a weekly look back at the hot, young things of yore. A tribute to both those who survived and enjoyed a fruitful career and to the others that flamed out just too soon.

Don Ameche


Character: Art Selwyn, one of the three senior citizens who find the magical swimming pool.

Before: After an attempt to study law and an unsuccessful stint in the then-popular vaudeville circuit, Ameche broke into film with 1935’s long forgotten Clive of India. Ameche worked at a furious pace, performing in over 20 films before the decade’s end; during the same period, he performed on Broadway and something called “radio.” At one point, his star was so bright that telephones were colloquially referred to as “Ameches,” after he portrayed Alexander Graham Bell on film. He noticeably slowed down later in life, with over 10 years away from the silver screen before resurfacing in 1983’s Trading Places.

After: The actor stayed typically busy after Cocoon, appearing in the North American woodland ape comedy/John Lithgow vehicle Harry and the Hendersons, a David Mamet drama and the sequel, Cocoon: The Return.

Career High: While having a common household appliance nicknamed after you is pretty cool, his performance in 1943’s supernatural comedy, Heaven Can Wait will remain as one of his most lasting contributions to cinema.

Career Low: His last film, a romantic comedy starring Ray Liotta and Whoopi Goldberg as lovers struggling against racial divides. Corrina, Corrina, thanks for introducing that mental image.

Where Are They Now? Ameche passed away from prostate cancer in 1993.

Grade: B+

Wilford Brimley


Character: Ben Luckett, another of the old folks who stumbles onto the a fountain of youth.

Before: Wilford Brimley, once a bodyguard of Howard Hughes and a ranch hand, found work in Hollywood as an extra and stuntman in westerns like True Grit and Bandolero!, so you know he probably had that sweet mustache back then. He became pals with Robert Duvall, which led to the pursuit of an acting career, appearing in such films as The China Syndrome, Brubaker and Tender Mercies.

After: Like most of his Cocoon co-stars, Brimley returned for Cocoon: The Return as well as roles like the TV movie Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, My Fellow Americans and The Firm. He also tried to convince us that Quaker Oats is tasty in a series of commercials.

Career High: The Thing, for contributing to John Carpenter’s creative apex.

Career Low: Conversely, Hard Target signaled the end of John Woo as we knew him, and everyone involved is an accomplice, including Brimley. But especially America.

Where Are They Now? These days, Wilfred Brimley is best known for his sweet mustache and appearing on commercials for Liberty Medical, where he tells us about home testing kits for “diabeetus.”

Grade: C

Hume Cronyn


Character: Joe Finley is one of the old folks who stumbles upon the swimming pool, giving him and his friends a youthful vigor unlike anything they’ve experienced for years. Joe particularly enjoys the boost to his libido.

Cronyn was already 74 years old when he made Cocoon. He worked on several Alfred Hitchcock films such as Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Lifeboat (1944) and appeared in dozens more include The Parallax View,The World According to Garp and Brewster’s Millions.

After: Cronyn continued to work, starring in both the Cocoon sequel and *batteries not included with wife Jessica Tandy. Towards the end of his career he did a lot of television work and appeared briefly as a judge in the John Grisham-adaptation The Pelican Brief in 1993.

Career High: Cronyn was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1944 for the film The Seventh Cross.

Career Low: Despite his political ambiguity, Cronyn was blacklisted in Hollywood for a time for hiring people with Communist Party affiliations.

Where Are They Now?
Cronyn passed away at the age of 91 in 2003 after a bout of prostate cancer.

Grade: B

Jack Gilford


Character: Bernie Lefkowitz lives with the other seniors but he doesn’t like the pool or the aliens. So he sabotages it for everyone.

Before: Gilford was a recognizable figure both in film and television long before Cocoon became a hit. His first film appearance was in 1944’s Hey, Rookie and he took on a series of television roles beginning in 1949. Shortly thereafter Gilford had the misfortune of stepping on the wrong Hollywood toes — he was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era which temporarily derailed his career until the early ’60s.

After: Compared to his career before Cocoon, Gilford clearly took some time to relax. Almost all of his later projects were television roles, frequently small cameos in notable comedies like “George Burns Comedy Week” and “The Golden Girls.” He also rehashed his role in Cocoon: The Return, which would be his last film.

Career High: Gilford’s “Cracker Jack” man was a beloved television icon for 12 years and to this day may be the actor’s most well known work. On the artistic side of things, nods for both Tony Awards and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar came his way.

Career Low: Being a popular comedian and quite the thespian to boot, Gilford’s unfortunate blacklisting could have been the end of his career. Instead he came back by working hard and jumping from comedy revues to film to television, taking commercial roles as well as dramatic turns. Not bad for a “career low.”

Where Are They Now?
Gilford passed in 1990 at the age of 82 after a bout with stomach cancer. His last roles included an appearance in “Head of the Class” and “B.L. Stryker.”

Grade: B+

Maureen Stapleton


Character: Mary Luckett finds out about the secret pool the hard way when husband Ben Luckett comes home hot and randy from a secret swim. Soon, she too is out there soaking up the benefits of this impromptu Fountain of Youth.

Before: Before starring in Cocoon at the age of 60, Stapleton spent most of her early career on the stage until her film debut in 1958 in Lonelyhearts. That role netted her an Oscar nomination as did appearances in the films Airport, Interiors and Reds.

After: After Cocoon, Stapleton made appearances in the sequel, as well as a handful of other films. However, most of her late career work was one-off television spots.

Career High: Stapleton won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1981 for her role as Emma Goldman in Reds.

Career Low: Constant mix-ups with Jean Stapleton (no relation) who played Edith Bunker on All in the Family.

Where Are They Now? Stapleton passed away at the age of 80 in 2003 from lung disease. She suffered from anxiety and alcoholism for most of her life.

Grade: B+

Jessica Tandy


Character: Alma Finley, wife of Joe Finley.

Before: Tandy’s first starring film role was in 1944’s The Seventh Cross, acting alongside Spencer Tracy and second husband Hume Cronyn. Not bad for a start, and a slew of films like Forever Amber, The Light in the Forest and The Birds firmly established her as a film actress. Simultaneously, she developed an acclaimed career on the stage, most notably as Blanche Dubois in the original Broadway run of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

After: While most of the actors and actresses in Cocoon were chosen for being relatively past their acting prime (hunk o’ love Steve Guttenberg aside), Tandy continued strong with a late career revival including the Morgan Freeman-baiting Driving Miss Daisy (for which she won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Bafta) and Southern tomboy/lesbian melodrama Fried Green Tomatoes.

Career High: Winning a Tony Award for the original performance of a legendary role in legendary run of a legendary play by a world acclaimed must be nice. You could have asked her about that for her portrayal of Blanche Dubois in 1948.

Career Low: Her next film role after Cocoon? *batteries not included, in which tiny space toys (pretty much, anyway) foil evil real estate developers. Funny how there doesn’t seem to be such as a benevolent real estate developer in film.

Where Are They Now? Tandy passed away after a long battle with ovarian cancer in 1994.

Grade: B+

Gwen Verdon


Character: Bess McCarthy, paramour to Don Ameche’s Art Selwyn.

Before: Gwen Verdon is best known as a Broadway dancer and actress in musicals like Can-Can, Damn Yankees and Chicago. She worked closely with choreographer/director/husband Bob Fosse on lots of productions.

After: Along with Cocoon: The Return, Verdon had recurring TV roles on “Webster” and “Magnum P.I.” and appeared in episodes of “Homicide: Life on the Street”, “Walker, Texas Ranger” and, um, “The Cosby Mysteries.”

Career High: Her Tony-winning performance in Can-Can ain’t too shabby. Neither is her late-period turn as Roxy Hart in the original 1975 production of Chicago.

Career Low: Considering she used to be a marquee name, it must be incredibly humbling to have to settle for a role as “Old Person” on an episode of “Touched by an Angel” or as “Geriatric” on an episode of “Dream On.”

Where Are They Now? In 2000 Verdon died of a heart attack in her sleep at age 75. Broadway marquee lights dimmed as a tribute.

Grade: C

by Danny Djeljosevic, David Harris, Nathan Kamal, Michael Merline
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