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James Van Der Beek in Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 is one of the more recent examples of

celebrities playing a fictionalized version of themselves

To be clear, I'm not talking about a cameo appearance where the celebrity is seen for a only few seconds, I'm looking for cases where the celebrity is part of the main cast, a recurring character, or plays an otherwise significant role.


Examples:


My question:

  • Which movie or TV series was the first to feature a celebrity playing a fictionalized version of her/himself?
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Don't forget Arnie playing himself and a typical Arnie-role in one movie, but Ok, his part as himself probably was too short to count here (and it surely wasn't the first instance either). –  Napoleon Wilson Dec 4 '12 at 19:27
    
Red Fox played Red Fox on an episode of Sanford and Son. Fred Sanford won a Red Fox look-alike contest. –  Kevin Howell Dec 4 '12 at 21:21
1  
I assume NPH is too fictionalized? :) –  TylerShads Dec 5 '12 at 19:29

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Baseball players in 1911, 1912, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1920, 1921, 1927, 1942

The Guide to United States Popular Culture (2001) by Ray Broadus Browne and Pat Browne says:

As Linda K. Fuller has noted, "The real story of the success of baseball films is not the batting box, but at the box office. From the beginning, filmmakers were quick to realize the added box-office potential of the day's baseball stars, so it wasn't long before some of the began appearing, usually as themselves, in dramatized films as well as in newsreels." Ever since Hal Chase played himself in a 1911 film [Hal Chase's Home Run], followed the next year by Chief Bender, Jack Coombs, and Rube Olding in The Baseball Bug, others joined the film fun: Christy Mathewson in Love and Baseball (1914), Mike Donlin and John McGraw in Right Off the Bat (1915), Ty Cobb in Somewhere in Georgia (1916), Frank Baker in Home Run Baker's Double (1914), Jack Johnson in As the World Rolls On (1921), and Babe Ruth in Babe Comes Home (1927), as well as a number of shorts produced by Universal Pictures, like Fancy Curves, Just Pals, and Slide, Babe, Slide. Also, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Ralph Houk, White Ford, and other actual players have made film appearances.

100 Things Yankees Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (2012) by David Fischer says:

Ruth also played himself in 1920 in the film Heading Home, and he played a fictionalized version of himself seven years later in the movie The Babe Comes Home, as the character Babe Dugan. In retirement, Ruth played himself in the 1942 movie The Pride of the Yankees, based on Lou Gehrig's life.

But were these parts any more than just a cameo?

At least Hal Chase's role in Hal Chase's Home Run (1911) was more than a cameo:

... in which the leading role is played by the famous First Baseman and Manager of the New York American League Team...

Likewise, Frank "Home Run" Baker played the leading role in Home Run Baker's Double (1914). Here's an account of the 'photoplay', and it certainly sounds like a fictional story of a baseball player, his doppelganger and some crooks.

Love and Baseball (1914), according to the New York Times:

Legendary baseball player Christy Mathewson played "himself" in the Bison two-reeler Love and Baseball.

Here's a 1914 paper's account of the story.

Heading Home (1920) (watch online) stars Babe Ruth as a fictional version of himself. Wikipedia:

It attempts to create a mythology surrounding the life of baseball player Babe Ruth... Ruth stars in the film, playing himself, but the details of his life are completely fictionalized.

And from IMDb:

The "true story" of baseball great Babe Ruth; Ruth plays himself.
...
If this is the "true story" of Babe Ruth, then I am a Llama!

Cowboy gangsters in 1912, 1914, 1918

Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics (2002) by Russ Castronovo and Dana D. Nelson says:

During its first years of statehood, Oklahoma itself temporarily became a center for filming westerns; characteristically, given the wild-and-woolly reputation of the first whites who had come to Indian Territory, the peculiar western subgenre that developer there was the cowboy-gang narrative produced and performed by the ex-gangsters themselves: reformed train robber Al Jennings played himself in The Bank Robbery (1914), and Emmett Dalton (last survivor of the notorious Dalton gang) played himself in The Last Stand of the Dalton Boys (1912) and Beyond the Law (1918).

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Do you have any more info on The Last Stand of the Dalton Boys? I can't really find much. The Bank Robbery seems like a good candidate at first, but it's more like a re-enactment of a real event. I'm sure they took some poetic license, but in essence they play their real selves, doing stuff that actually happened. –  Oliver_C Dec 5 '12 at 10:34
    
It's difficult to find more information on some of those 100-year-old Baseball movies, so I don't know if the players only did cameos or had a larger role. –  Oliver_C Dec 5 '12 at 10:38
    
Hal Chase's role in Hal Chase's Home Run (1911) was more than a cameo :) "... in which the leading role is played by the famous First Baseman and Manager of the New York American Leage Team..." –  Hugo Dec 5 '12 at 11:32
    
Likewise, Frank "Home Run" Baker played the leading role in Home Run Baker's Double (1914). Here's an account of the 'photoplay', and it certainly sounds like a fictional story of a baseball player, his doppelganger and some crooks. –  Hugo Dec 5 '12 at 12:00
    
Heading Home (1920) stars Babe Ruth as a fictional version of himself. Wikipedia: "It attempts to create a mythology surrounding the life of baseball player Babe Ruth... Ruth stars in the film, playing himself, but the details of his life are completely fictionalized." IMDb: "The "true story" of baseball great Babe Ruth; Ruth plays himself." ... "If this is the "true story" of Babe Ruth, then I am a Llama!" Watch online –  Hugo Dec 5 '12 at 12:01

The earliest TV Show would probably be The Jack Benny Program ( from wiki: The television version of The Jack Benny Program ran from October 28, 1950) Jack Benny played himself although it was a caricature much like James Van Der Beek. There may be earlier examples though from movies.

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On television, a couple of early examples (though not necessarily the earliest) might be The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show or The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, although it's debatable if those are really fictional versions of themselves or just characters with the same names. Then there is The Monkees in 1962, which is most certainly them playing themselves.

As far as film goes, others might be able to chime in better, but you might be able to consider Laurel and Hardy as often playing themselves (though it depends on the film, of course).

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Mayim Bialik meets the criteria to a point, but she's certainly not the earliest. After she left Blossom, she got a degree in neuroscience with a specialty in obsessive-compulsive disorder. This tied in well when she played psychiatrist Dr. Bialik on the sitcom 'Til Death, treating Doug, who has a psychiatric problem where he feels he is living within a sitcom. She brings in other child stars into a group therapy setting, including some of her co-stars from Blossom. Her role was sporadic in seasons 3 and 4.

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