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Three Generations of Fame
by Cary O'Dell

Recently, there was a news story on showbiz “nepo-babies.”  “Nepo-babies” are those kids of celebs (and often, too, of big business leaders) who seem to have a leg-up when it comes to breaking into film and TV thanks to their famous last name.  Among the names discussed was everyone from Kate Hudson to Chet Hanks to Lily Rose Depp.  The article set off a firestorm of comment online and across Twitter and other platforms.  But I couldn’t help but think, “Sometimes talent runs through generations.” 

Then began I began to think of how, sometimes now, now that that filmmaking is over 100 years old and TV is in its 70’s, how frequently this familial phenomenon is occurring, spanning now to THREE generations of family all working in what has become the “family business”—show biz.  Here are some of them….

The Redgraves:  The grand dynasty and most esteemed example of a three-generation show biz family is probably the Redgraves whose lineage of acting legends began with the great Michael Redgrave and then journeyed down to his three children, Vanessa, Corin, and Lynn.  The children of each of these three have all gone onto some sort of job in entertainment, with the acting bug having bit two of Vanessa’s children, Joely Richardson and the late Natasha Richardson.  (Meanwhile, the son of Natasha and her widower Liam Neeson has started to act some—that makes generation #4!)

The Barrymores

The Barrymores:  If there’s an American equivalent to the Redgraves, it is probably the Barrymores.  Ethel, John and Lionel were all theater and/or screen legends.  Ethel had two children who followed her onto the stage but her brother John Barrymore had far more famous children via various wives.  His offspring included actress Diana Barrymore (who died in 1960) and actor John Drew Barrymore (1932-2004).  John Drew also had multiple wives.  With one, he had a daughter, actress and TV talk show host, Drew Barrymore.

The Fondas

The Fondas:  And, of course, we can’t exclude the all-American Fondas.  Dad Henry was a star from the 1930s all the way up through “On Golden Pond” in 1981.  Beginning in 1960, his daughter Jane Fonda began making films.  She scored her first Oscar in 1971 for “Klute.”  Her brother, Peter, began in films in 1963.  Before her voluntary retirement from acting, Peter’s daughter, Bridget, appeared in films like “Point of No Return,” “Single White Female,” and “Jackie Brown.”  Peter’s son, Justin Fonda, is also an actor as is Jane’s son, Troy Garity.

The Pines

The Pines:  Some may not realize that current action star Chris Pine (of the “Wonder Woman” film franchise and other roles) is a third generation performer as well.  His dad is actor Robert Pine, most famous for his role as Sgt. Getraer on the NBC series “CHiPs.”  Meanwhile, Robert’s mother was Anne Gwynne, an actress, popular pin-up and early “scream queen” of some beloved Universal horror films of the 1940s.

The Nelsons

The Nelsons:  Often overlooked among showbiz dynasties for some reason are the Nelsons.  This family is most famous as the stars of TV’s “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”  That immortal sitcom ran from 1952 to 1966.  It starred not only the patriarch and matriarch of the family, Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Nelson, but also their two handsome sons—David and Ricky.  After the show came to a close—and sometimes during it—the two younger Nelsons struck out on their own, David, in acting and, for Ricky, in music.  Ricky was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, two years after his untimely death in 1985.  Ricky had four children.  The twins Matthew and Gunnar became the popular rock duo Nelson.  His other son, Sam, has dabbled in “the family business” and his daughter, Tracy Nelson, was on TV’s “Square Pegs” and “Father Dowling Mysteries.”

The Carradines

The Carradines:  Another family where the acting bug bit hard is the Carradines.  Father John Carradine was a legendary character actor of film, stage and TV whose on-screen credits number well over 200.  He had five sons, who, at one time or another, all appeared in movies or TV.  Three of them have had highly successful careers:  Robert Carradine, Keith Carradine and the late David Carradine.  Of the Carradine boys’ offspring, at least two have followed their elders into show business, including Ever Carradine, daughter of Robert, and actress Martha Plimpton, the daughter of Keith Carradine.

The Elliots

The Elliots:  Did we forget about this funny family?  The patriarch was Bob Elliot, one half of the legendary radio duo Bob and Ray.  Bob’s son is Chris Elliot, who followed up his famous appearances on David Letterman’s various shows, with appearances in TV shows like “Get a Life” and “Schitt’s Creek” and in big screen vehicles like “Cabin Boy.”  Chris has two daughters carrying on the family tradition.  There’s Bridey and his daughter Abby.  Abby was a member of the cast of “Saturday Night Live” for a time and, more recently, was on the NBC sitcom “Indebted.”

The Reynolds

The Reynolds:  The late Debbie Reynolds—star of films like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “How the West Was Won”—was the mom to the funny and famous Carrie Fisher who appeared in, among other things, a little film titled “Star Wars.”  Carrie’s daughter is Billie Lourd and she’s been seen in everything from “American Horror Story” to the films “Ticket to Paradise” and “Booksmart.”

The Chaplins

The Chaplins:  They don’t come any more famous than Charlie Chaplin, a.k.a. the “Little Tramp.”  Nor, it seems, do they come more prolific in terms of children:  Chaplin would sire 11 kids over the course of his lifetime.  Many of the Chaplin offspring had acting roles in their father’s films with Sydney Chaplin and, especially, Geradline Chaplin before going onto successful acting careers of their own.  Among the grandkids, Geraldine’s daughter Oona Chaplin has had recent high-profile roles in “Avatar,” “Game of Thrones” and other recent film/TV works.

The Cassidys

The Cassidys:  Jack Cassidy was a Tony Award winner and multiple Emmy nominee and a regular on 1960s TV.  He had three sons:  David, who became a mega-star via “The Partridge Family” co-staring his step-mom, Shirley Jones; Shaun, who also became a major teen idol thanks to TV’s “The Hardy Boys” and some best-selling records; and Patrick, who, along with a plethora of TV appearances, has been very active on the stage.  David Cassidy (who passed away in 2017) had two children, both now actors.  They are Beau and Katie.  Katie Cassidy has had roles on the show “Arrow,” among other film and TV credits.


The Hedrens:  Hitchcock’s great leading lady Tippi Hedren (of “The Birds”) is, of course, the mom to Oscar-nominated actress Melanie Griffith.  Griffith was married for a time to “Miami Vice” vet Don Johnson and, together, they had daughter Dakota Johnson.  Johnson is most famous for her role in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” films.

The McQueens

The McQueens:  Steve McQueen, with his first wife, Neile Adams, had a son, Chad McQueen.  Along with following in his dad’s footsteps by racing cars, Chad is also an actor who appeared in the original “Karate Kid.”  His son, Steven R. McQueen, is now also an actor who has been on “Everwood,” “The Vampire Diaries,” and, now, “Chicago Fire.”

The Sutherlands:  Donald Sutherland, of course, is known for a litany for great films and his son Kiefer is known for films like “Lost Boys” as well as TV programs like “24” and “Designated Survivor.”  Kiefer’s daughter, Sarah Sutherland, is acting now too and is best known for her role as Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ daughter on “Veep.”

The Hustons

The Hustons:  And, of course, we can’t forget the Hustons.  Oscar-winning actor Walter Huston beget film director John Huston who beget Oscar-winning daughter Anjelica Huston as well as actor/director Danny Huston.  John’s other son, Tony (an actor/writer) had a son, Jack Huston who is now acting.  His most high-profile role so far has probably been in “Boardwalk Empire.”


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