THE BLOG
07/22/2013 11:42 am ET Updated Sep 21, 2013

Frightway to Stardom (Part 1)

Alan Alda battling a satanic pianist! James Arness combating titanic ants! Gene Barry fighting Martian invaders!

These are just a few of the fascinating roles many of Tinseltown's top stars once essayed early in their careers in the horror/sci-fi genre!

Intriguingly, a surprisingly high percentage of Hollywood luminaries started out in such entries. These early appearances in horror and sci-fi films and television programs, although often low-budget in nature, afforded them an excellent opportunity to perfect their craft and display their talent, setting the stage for later success.

Indeed, it can truly be said that this early experience represented a "Frightway to Stardom."

The following are among the many celebs who started out in the niche of horror and sci-fi:

-Alan Alda: The only actor to appear in every single episode of TV's M.A.S.H. (1972-82) portrayed a young journalist involved with a dying satanic pianist (Curt Jurgens, seen as Sebastian, a magician doomed for stealing a sacred Hindu rope trick in 1973's Vault of Horror) who conspired to possess his body in 1971's The Mephisto Waltz.

Ruehl Fact: His dad, actor Robert Alda, whose birth name was Alphonso d'Abruzzo (Alan's actual name, also) created the surname "Alda" from the first two letters (AL) of his first name and the first two letters (DA) of his last name. Fascinatingly, he battled a deranged pianist (Peter Lorre, legendary star of numerous horror entries, such as 1935's Mad Love) in 1946's The Beast with Five Fingers, and contended with a Satanic cult (led by Neil Hamilton, Commissioner James Gordon on TV's Batman) in 1962's The Devil's Hand.

-James Arness: Before landing the role of Marshal Matt Dillon on TV's Gunsmoke(1955-75), he portrayed a menacing alien humanoid-vegetable in The Thing(1951), then, as a government agent, faced off against oversized ants in Them (1954).

Ruehl Fact: His actual surname was Aurness, and he was the brother of actor Peter Graves. When John Wayne was offered the role of Matt Dillon, he declined it, recommending Arness instead.

At 6'7", he is the tallest actor to date to have had a starring TV role, beating out Clint Walker (Cheyenne) at 6'6". However, Ted Cassidy (in a supporting role as Lurch the butler on The Addams Family) topped him at 6'9". And, Richard Kiel (Jaws in the 007 films) beat them all at 7'2".

-Gene Barry: The future star of TV's Bat Masterson (1958-60) and Burke's Law (1963-65) played a physicist trying to destroy Martian invaders in War of the Worlds (1953), and coped with what turned out to be benign aliens wishing to colonize Antarctica in The 27th Day (1957).

Ruehl Fact: Born Eugene Klass, he chose his screen name of Gene Barry out of respect for his idol, actor John Barrymore!

Tribute To Peter Graves("Killers From Space"):
http://www.youtube.com/edit?video_id=cIVtgwNE8iI&ns=1