Back when 'Taps' debuted 30 years ago (on December 9, 1981), the venerable George C. Scott got top billing, even though he appears in very little of the film; the actual star of this drama of a group of cadets staging a siege to prevent their military academy from closing down was newly-minted young Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton. In those days, Hutton was expected to go on to a stellar career as a leading man, while few paid much attention to his young co-stars, unknowns like Sean Penn and Tom Cruise. Could anyone have envisioned then how these actors' careers would develop over the next three decades? 'Taps' turned out to be a pivotal movie for many young stars-to-be. Here's a look at what became of several Hollywood heroes who earned their stripes in 'Taps.'
Gallery | 'Taps': Where Are They Now?
Son of actor Jim Hutton, Timothy Hutton knocked one out of the park with his movie debut as tormented teen Conrad Jarrett in 1980's 'Ordinary People.' Shortly after filming began on 'Taps' in early 1981, 20-year-old Hutton became the youngest-ever winner of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for that first film role. His 'Taps' role as Brian Moreland, the cadet who leads the siege, earned him a Golden Globe nomination, but despite several more lead roles over the next decade, he had few hits, other than 'The Falcon and the Snowman,' opposite 'Taps' co-star Sean Penn (who is one day younger than Hutton). He transitioned to character parts and supporting roles in such 1990s films as 'French Kiss,' 'Beautiful Girls,' and 'The General's Daughter.' Still, if Hutton's not the tabloid name he was in the 1980s (when he was married for four years to Debra Winger), he's always been busy; he made six features in 2006 alone. These days, he can be seen in his starring role on the drama series 'Leverage,' which has run for four seasons so far on TNT.
Scion of a Hollywood family (his parents were director Leo Penn and actress Eileen Ryan), the 20-year-old Sean Penn made his film debut in 'Taps' as wary but loyal cadet Alex Dwyer. If 'Taps' put him on the map, his next role, as high school stoner Jeff Spicoli in 1982's 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' made him a star. His 180-degree turn in 1983's 'Bad Boys,' as a morally torn juvenile delinquent, convinced everyone of his versatility and dramatic chops. By the time he reunited with 'Taps' star Timothy Hutton in the 1985 spy drama 'The Falcon and the Snowman,' he was already widely described as the most talented actor of his generation. In the last 26 years, which have included five Oscar nominations and two wins (for 2003's 'Mystic River' and 2008's 'Milk'), that assessment hasn't changed. He's also earned acclaim as a director, most recently, for 'Into the Wild' (2007). Off-screen, Penn has been famous (or infamous) for his two high-profile marriages (to Madonna and to Robin Wright), his temper, his outspoken politics, and his charitable work in disaster-stricken New Orleans and Haiti. This year, he was on-screen in Terence Malick's epic 'Tree of Life.' He'll be seen next year in 'Gangster Squad' as notorious Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen.
At 18, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV had dropped his surname to create a snappier stage name, had moved to Los Angeles, and had even landed a tiny role in a major film, 1981's 'Endless Love,' starring Brooke Shields. And then nothing. He had returned to his family's New Jersey home when word came of an audition for a walk-on role in 'Taps.' He so impressed director Harold Becker that he landed instead the major supporting role of aggressive cadet David Shawn. Another small role followed in Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 film 'The Outsiders' (like 'Taps,' a launch pad for numerous future stars), then the lead in a low-budget teen sex comedy called 'Losin' It,' and finally, his starmaking lead role in 1983's 'Risky Business.' Within a couple more years, 1986's 'Top Gun' firmly established him as one of Hollywood's biggest stars and most reliable box office draws for the next 20 years. Despite having hit upon a reliable action formula, he proved his versatility by playing against type in such movies as 'Born on the Fourth of July,' 'Interview with the Vampire,' 'Magnolia,' and 'Collateral.' His 1990s marriage to Nicole Kidman (who co-starred with him three times) helped make her an A-Lister as well. Only in recent years has his career faltered, with some fans alienated by his whirlwind courtship of much-younger Katie Holmes, his outspoken advocacy of Scientology, and his couch-jumping visit to 'The Oprah Winfrey Show.' Still, he remains a huge international star whose movies do well overseas. He returns to a dependable franchise this month in the fourth 'Mission: Impossible' movie, and he'll show off his musical chops next year in 'Rock of Ages.'
Handler dropped out of Juilliard to take the role of cadet Edward West in 'Taps.' Despite his incomplete education, he found success on Broadway, landing lead roles in seven plays before he turned 30. His Broadway career was most notorious, however, for the 1991 'I Hate Hamlet' incident, in which he abruptly quit the comedy before the end of the first act after co-star Nicol Williamson (with whom Handler had been feuding) hit Handler in the back with a sword. While still in his 20s, Handler contracted acute myeloid leukemia. Having survived the generally fatal form of cancer, Handler wrote two best-selling comic memoirs about his recovery, 'Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors' and 'It's Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive.' After his ordeal, the now bald-pated Handler found small-screen fame as Charlotte's husband Harry on 'Sex and the City' and its two movie spinoffs. These days, he can be seen on the Showtime comedy 'Californication,' whose fifth season will air in 2012.
Born in Denmark, Esposito has an Italian father and an African-American mother. Dad was a stagehand; Mom was a cabaret singer who performed with Josephine Baker. So it's no wonder Esposito started acting professionally as a child, but he also studied TV production in college so that he could have a fallback job as a cameraman if acting didn't pan out. Nonetheless, he got his first big break as a young adult in 'Taps' as cadet J.C. Pierce. He went on to play a variety of streetwise characters in films and TV shows before becoming a regular in Spike Lee films, including 'Do The Right Thing' (1989) and 'Malcolm X' (1992). For the last two decades, he's been a regular on cop shows, including lead roles on 'Bakersfield P.D.' and 'Homicide: Life on the Street.' His juiciest role was his recent long-running turn as fast-food restaurateur/druglord Gus Fring on AMC's 'Breaking Bad.' He's currently a regular on ABC's fairy tale series 'Once Upon a Time,' as the Magic Mirror.
Becker, who got his start making commercials, made his feature debut directing 'The Ragman's Daughter,' a drama that showed his eye for young talent, as it marked the debut of actress Victoria Tennant. He started making the thrillers and crime dramas that were to be his signature with 1979's acclaimed 'The Onion Field.' and 1980's 'The Black Marble.' In 1981, 'Taps' was his highest-profile movie yet. Afterwards, he made one more high school movie (1985's 'Vision Quest,' which made a star of Matthew Modine), he returned to crime films, with one of his most celebrated being 1989's 'Sea of Love,' which revived Al Pacino's career after a long slump. 1993's 'Malice,' from an early Aaron Sorkin screenplay, featured a cameo by 'Taps' star George C. Scott. Becker hasn't made a film since the 2001 John Travolta thriller 'Domestic Disturbance,' but he's scheuled to direct 'Recall' next year, a spy drama starring Clive Owen.
George C. Scott
Before playing the beloved General in 'Taps,' former Marine George Campbell Scott had already played some celebrated military roles, from the comical (nuke-loving Gen. Buck Turgidson in 'Dr. Strangelove) to the ultra-serious (the blood-and-guts title role in 1970's 'Patton'). Scott was known for prickliness (he was the first person ever to refuse an Oscar, for his 'Patton' victory) and a violent temper, though other actors praised his generosity as a performer. He preferred stage acting over film, though he was always busy in movies or on TV. His later credits included a celebrated turn as Ebenezer Scrooge in a 1984 TV version of 'A Christmas Carol' and the Lee J. Cobb role in the 1997 TV remake of '12 Angry Men.' His last big-screen role was in Sidney Lumet's 1999 remake of 'Gloria,' opposite Sharon Stone. He died that year at age 71 after 40 years as one of the most powerful presences in movies. TV and film actor Campbell Scott, his son by actress Colleen Dewhurst, carries on the family name.
[Top Photo: Everett Collection]
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