The gold standard of celebrity has shifted over time. For Florence Lawrence
, it was merely having her name mentioned in movie reviews. RCAF flyboys painted Deanna Durbin
's likeness on the nose of their planes in World War II. There are of course the traditional awards, the Oscars, Emmys and such. In the latter part of the 20th century, though, the truest measure of being hot in Movieland was to be invited to be the guest host of Saturday Night Live
And there was Michael Sarrazin on April 15, 1978, hosting the ne plus ultra of contemporary fame with jazz wiz Keith Jarrett as musical guest. This was the show's heyday, and the episode featured Ottawa native Dan Aykroyd and his famous impersonation of Jimmy Carter. Gilda Radner played her "Dolce Gilda" bit ("I love to play. Ciao") and as usual appeared on "Weekend Update" as Roseanne Roseannadana ("Never mind").
The week before, the show had been hosted by Michael Palin of Monty Python fame, and a week later by comic legend Steve Martin
. Steve Martin would set records for the number of appearances on SNL
over three decades.
For Sarrazin, whose name is misspelled on the SNL
website, this was his ninety minutes of fame, a step up from Andy Warhol's classic limit of fifteen. After some short films at the National Film Board and parts in solid TV series (The Virginian, Wojeck
), Michael Sarrazin burst onto the Hollywood scene with eight films between 1967 and 1969. Fame was instantaneous, though looking back at his filmography, it's not easy to see what the big deal was. Still, he almost always had the most glamorous of leading ladies. Must have been those eyes.
He began with a small role in Gunfight in Abilene
with Bobby Darin, but was first noticed in support of George C. Scott in The Flim Flam Man
. In 1968's The Sweet Ride
, he played a beach bum at Malibu with a mostly unemployed actress girlfriend, Jacqueline Bisset
. A cautionary tale for would-be Age of Aquarius rebels and ne'er-do-wells, it was produced by a man named Joe Pasternak, who, thirty years earlier, had launched Winnipeg's own Deanna Durbin
in Three Smart Girls
. Sarrazin won a Golden Globe
and Bisset's affections, while Bisset was named Most Promising Newcomer.
In 1969 he had the starring role in the Stephen King thriller Eye of the Cat
("Terror that tears the screams right out of your throat!"). Then came the completely unintelligible In Search of Gregory
, a psychological Italian co-production in which Sarrazin has the pleasure of co-starring with Julie Christie at the height of her considerable fame and beauty in the late 1960s. She plays a woman in love with Gregory, a man she's never met. Sarrazin is a famous athlete she uses to bide her time until she finds Gregory.
Then came the role for which he is perhaps best known, as the gawky out-of-work actor Robert Syverton in They Shoot Horses Don't They?
He is the partner in a1930s dance marathon of a brilliantly bitter and twisted Jane Fonda
. She was nominated for Best Actress. The film received eight other nominations and Gig Young, as the marathon's carney-man emcee ("Youza, Youza Youza") won for Best Supporting Actor. Sarrazin's ultimately tragic character is an actor who seems proud of his most recent credit as a dead French soldier.
At the time it made sense as a dark, Vietnam-era look at the human indignities inflicted on people by society in the Great Depression. Fonda argues with a fellow contestant, a sailor wonderfully played by Red Buttons (just one of those who die by film's end). Her character from dustbowl Texas and says that cows in the slaughterhouse have it better than people. At least they don't know they're going to die and they get fed. Vincent Canby in the Times said:
“The movie is far from being perfect, but it is so disturbing in such important ways that I won't forget it very easily, which is more than can be said of much better, more consistent films.”
Sarrazin's best reviews came for Sometimes a Great Notion
(1971), an adaptation of a Ken Kesey novel directed by Paul Newman
. He's the rebel of the Stamper family, which consists of Newman, Henry Fonda
and Lee Remick, who are trying to keep the family logging business from going under. The Times applauded the ensemble:
“As he showed in Rachel, Rachel
, Mr. Newman knows how to direct actors, and he has obtained lovely performances from Mr. Fonda, Michael Sarrazin and Richard Jaeckel (as two of the younger Stampers), as well as from Lee Remick.
Newman was impressed too because Sarrazin was cast in a small role in The Life of Judge Roy Bean
, again starring Newman, and directed by the great John Huston
. Sarrazin played the husband of Rose Bean, coincidentally played by Jacqueline Bisset
. It was quite a cast, and included Anthony Perkins, Ned Beatty, Stacey Keach, Roddy McDowell and Ava Gardner. Newman plays Bean, a legendary lawman who metes out justice frontier style. He's what they would have called "a hangin' judge."
Sarrazin played a well-received Frankenstein
on TV in 1973 and Barbra Streisand's husband in For Pete's Sake
. He had a nice little turn as the ill-fated golden boy of the Hornby clan in the 1985 Ted Kotcheff - Mordecai Richler charmer Joshua Then and Now
. In fact he made several movies in Canada, including the pretty funny 1993 Quebec comedy ILa Florida
along with Margot Kidder and Remy Girard.
The initial flash never got turned into long-term stardom, but Sarrazin has never wanted for film or TV work. He certainly had a penchant for unusual roles in unusual films. A career that has roles with Streisand, Bisset, Fondas (Henry and Jane) Christie, Scott and Newman is one of legitimate Legend status.