Rob Edelman: How The Mighty Have Fallen

Dec 3, 2018

Kevin Spacey and Bill Cosby are two award-caliber actors whose sexual shenanigans have transcended their talents and wrecked their careers. And at a time in which an individual can brag about his sexual exploits and become President of the United States, it is not surprising that mere actors will earn headlines for their off-camera conduct.

Kevin Spacey is of course a man of multi-talents. He has won numerous acting prizes, starting with his two Academy Awards, for THE USUAL SUSPECTS and AMERICAN BEAUTY. He was Artistic Director of The Old Vic Theatre in London. He has offered impressions of everyone from Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino to Judi Dench and Katharine Hepburn. With Al Gore, he co-hosted a Nobel Peace Prize concert. He hosted and performed on a Tony Awards TV special. And on HOUSE OF CARDS, the TV mini-series, there he was playing a conniving congressman who becomes the U.S. president. Spacey’s career of course came to a screeching halt in 2017 when he was accused of making a sexual advance to a 14-year-old actor. Other similar headlines followed and, not too long after Spacey’s downfall, his latest film, BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB, was released theatrically. Fifteen minutes into the film, there he was onscreen playing an egotistical but ill-fated hustler. 

Upon first seeing Kevin Spacey in BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB, all I could think of were his headlines rather than his character or his acting. 

BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB earned just 126 dollars on the first day of its U.S. theatrical release. That’s right: 126 dollars! Why did it do so poorly at the box office? Was it because it is a genuinely bad film, or was it because of the mere presence of Kevin Spacey? Who knows? However, I will say that Kevin Spacey always has been a pleasure to watch as an actor. But now, that pleasure is gone.

In his demise, much has been written about Bill Cosby’s groundbreaking presence as Cliff Huxtable on THE COSBY SHOW. But this was not his first foray into television. Between 1965 and 1968, Cosby starred with Robert Culp in I SPY, a landmark action-adventure show that is mostly ignored today. But I SPY is well-worth recalling. Here, Cosby and Culp played a pair of U.S. agents posing as a tennis pro and his coach as they travel across the globe. It also was the first American dramatic series to feature a black actor in a lead role. Some NBC affiliates, notably those in the American South, chose not to broadcast I SPY because it featured two characters, one Caucasian and the other African-American, as equals.

Both Cosby and Culp deservedly earned Emmy Award nominations and wins and, after the show’s finale, the two remained good friends. “Even to this day,” Cosby declared in 2010, right after Culp’s death, his wife Camille “would just walk away when Bob and I got together. We almost had our own language and our own way of connecting, sometimes without saying anything.”

Well, there is a sad finale to Bill Cosby. As we all know, dozens of women have accused him of sex-related lawbreaking. He was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault and, in September, 2018, the 80-something began a three-to-ten-year prison sentence. So for good reason, Bill Cosby is described in Wikipedia as “...an American stand-up comedian, actor, musician, author, and convicted sex offender....”

Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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