Today, we look to find out the first time a cameo in a film or a TV series served as a callback to an earlier version of the film or series (like the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree, appearing in Samuel L. Jackson’s Shaft, although there, Jackson insisted on him being the NEPHEW of the original Shaft rather than playing the SAME character as Roundtree).
In “When We First Met”, we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of pop culture lore, like the first time that JJ said “Dy-no-MITE” or the first time that Fonzie made the jukebox at Arnold’s turn on and off by hitting it.
Reader Paul P. wrote in to ask:
Potential topic for you in the future, because I have yet to find an answer: what was the first “legacy cameo casting” in genre film/TV? Loosely defined here as “paying tribute to the previous generation in a franchise by giving the oldsters a torch-passing moment.” As best I can tell, Noell Neill and Kirk Alyn in “Superman: The Movie” are the earliest case I can find. I’d love to be proven wrong and have it turn out that the 1940s Batman was in ‘66 or some such. But as far as I can tell, it just wasn’t done prior to Superman ‘78.
I went with “call back” cameo, but you want to go with “legacy casting” cameo, then that’s fine by me!
As you folks likely know by now, hardcore pop culture nostalgia really only became a thing in the 1980s. Hollywood had been remaking movies pretty much as soon as movies were made in the first place, but that sort of nostalgic callback thing that we’re all so used to nowadays didn’t really come around until the late 1970s and then became big in the 1980s and has been an ever-present thing ever since.
So yes, Noel Neill and Kirk Alyn (Superman and Lois Lane from the original Superman serials) playing the parents of young Lois Lane in Superman: The Movie was definitely one of the very first instances of this sort of thing…
Amusingly, Superman: The Movie beat the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers to the cinema by less than a month, and that film, too, had original Invasion of the Body Snatchers star Kevin McCarthy make an early cameo, playing a guy warning them of the invasion…
There is an earlier example and it is a weird one. Character actor Allen Jenkins had a minor role in the 1928 hit play, The Front Page. It was adapted into a film twice (once in 1931 as The Front Page and again with a gender-swap as His Girl Friday in 1940).
Billy Wilder then remade The Front Page in 1974, and Jenkins had a cameo at the end of the film as the telegraph operator who (SPOILERS!) newspaper editor Walter Burns has notify the police to arrest Hildy Johnson for stealing his watch (Johnson, a star reporter, had been trying to quit working for Burns throughout the whole movie and Burns finally seemed to give him his blessing at the end of the movie, even giving him his watch as a wedding present as Johnson and his fiancée leave on a train to get married).
Jenkins filmed his scene 11 days before he died.
My friend Nura pointed out that the 1972 animated film, Journey Back to Oz, featured a number of callbacks to the classic 1939 The Wizard of Oz, including the original Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton, having a cameo as Aunt Em.
So that’s the answer, but if someone can beat 1952 for one of these types of cameos, let me know!
Thanks to Paul for the suggestion! If anyone has a suggestion for a future edition of When We First Met, drop me a line at email@example.com.