This evening, while researching something completely unrelated, I discovered an interesting little fact about filmmaker Christopher Guest that I wanted to share. A decade before starring in This Is Spinal Tap, and setting in motion a chain of events that would make him the mockumentary auteur he is today, he starred opposite Charles Bronson in 1974’s revenge porn classic Death Wish… Here, for those of you who might not believe me, is a still from the film.
For what it’s worth, I may have overstated things a bit when I said that Guest “starred” opposite Bronson. While he did have a few lines, it would be an enormous stretch to say that it was a starring role. With that said, though, his character did actually have a name – Patrolman Reilly. And this, I think you’d all agree, is a huge step up from where he was just a year or so beforehand, when he was hired to play the role of “Policeman” in 1972’s The Hot Rock.
And, no, I’m not sure why it was that Guest kept getting cast as a cop at the outset of his career. Maybe it was the pronounced dimple in his chin. Or maybe “young cop” was just the easiest role to land for an aspiring male actor looking to break into the industry at the time, the same way the role of “waitress” was for women. Whatever the reason, I think it’s safe to assume that Guest had a good deal of coaching, as his mother, Jean Pauline Hindes, was a former vice president of casting at CBS.
At any rate, I thought that it was worth a mention that, prior to cutting his teeth at the National Lampoon Radio Hour with the likes of Bill Murray, he was paying his dues as a beat cop in original Death Wish.
Just a few years later, Guest would be well on his way to stardom, developing Spinal Tap as a skit for the failed ABC sketch comedy show, The TV Show… And the rest, as they say, is history. Within a few years he’d be famous and happily married to an actress who got her start as a waitress on Columbo.
One more thing… I also learned that Christopher Guest is incredibly unfunny in person. (He admits as much himself.) In fact, several people have described him as being downright dour. It may not be what you’d expect from a man who made his name in comedy, but I think it makes perfect sense once you take into account the fact that he’s also a baron. (Guest holds the hereditary British title, The 5th Baron Haden-Guest, which he inherited from his father, who was, among other things, a member of the British House of Lords and a diplomat assigned to the United Nations.)