The other day we shared a post showcasing pairs of famous people who possessed the same name. Today, a variation on a theme, only with one of each pair chiefly famous for sharing the name of his famous father. Many people find being a “Junior” a crippling burden, and performers are no exception. Accordingly, I’ve ranked them in rough order of how well they have escaped their father’s shadows. For once, I’ve adhered pretty strictly to the concept, omitting for example Mickey Rooney, who was really Joe Yule Jr but had his name changed; and William Collier Jr, who’d been adopted by his famous father. I’ve also left out guys who weren’t just juniors but the latest in a long line of ancestors with the same name, e.g. Tyrone Power or Buster Keaton (who was the sixth Joseph Keaton in his family).This is strictly about guys who labored at the Herculean task of making a name for themselves while plainly wearing their father’s names with a “Junior” as a caboose to remind us. Here are some genuine Juniors who had some very large shoes to fill — and a couple of them managed to do it! .
Here’s a very rare case of the son outshining his father so much that the fame reflected backward. Sammy Davis Sr. probably would have remained an obscure vaudeville hoofer if not for his remarkable son. Read more about them here.
Both Robards, father and son, were successful character actors of stage and screen. Later in his career the son dropped the “Junior” from his name, hence I bet a lot of people don’t even know about the dad, whose career was at its greatest height during the silent years. Ultimately, Junior was the bigger star, and for a longer period. Learn more about the pair here.
Like Robards, the actor who played Snyder on One Day at a Time and the Vlasic Pickles Stork dropped the “Junior” from his name after a while. The father was a song and dance man in vaudeville and night clubs prior to ascending to the arena where he made his biggest mark, Broadway, where he was in the original productions of Panama Hattie (1940-1942), Star and Garter (1942-1943), and Call Me Madam (1950-1952), among other shows.
Fairbanks pere et fils are an interesting case, a real example of “handing off the baton”. Douglas Fairbanks Jr was not as big a star as his famous father (who could be?) but nonetheless he acheived the remarkable feat of becoming a top star in his own right, and with a distinct personality. The uninitiated may have a tendency to merge the two men together but there are numerous differences between the two personalities. The father was one of the screen’s great acrobats and physical dynamos and his body of work was almost all silent. The son, while also dashing and sporting a similar mustache, had a way with drawing room dialogue, quite a different sort of thing.
Will Rogers, Jr.
This one is a little unfair. Will Rogers Jr very successfully distinguished himself from his famous rope-spinning, wisecracking father. Will Jr. was a U.S. Congressman and newspaper publisher, a soldier and much else. But on a few occasions he did more to copy his father than any of the others: by PLAYING him in movies, including Look for the Silver Lining (1949), The Story of Will Rogers (1952), and The Eddie Cantor Story (1953).
Hank Williams Jr.
It’s tempting to rank Hank Jr even higher on this list; only the fact that country music amounts to a pop culture niche market makes me put him this far down. Hank Williams, Sr. was pretty much the Father of Country Music — it would be hard to exaggerate the esteem in which he is held. Hank Jr imitated his dad for a number of years, and certainly made hay off the name. But, then he made an astounding, unexpected turn and launched himself in a wildly different direction, becoming a country rock bad boy with a sound that was entirely his own (in fact it’s hard to find a resemblance to the songs of his father). I won’t pretend to approve of his politics, but hat’s off to him for managing to be his own man with a name like Hank Williams Jr, because that, sir, is a feat of strength.
There’s many who might object to putting this horror icon so low on the list, and others who might object to including him at all (given that his real name was Creighton!) Here was a rare case of a guy changing his name to that of his father in order to boost his career and the gambit worked! I hope we can all agree that he was no Lon Chaney, Sr. as an artist but he is much beloved among classic horror fans and from his time to ours, a major Hollywood figure.
Max Baer Jr
The father was world heavyweight champion; the son played Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies!
Freddie Prinze, Jr.
Freddie Prinze Jr. has made a name for himself in such popular films as I Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) and its sequel, She’s All That (1999), and the Scooby Doo movies. Only us of a certain age remain fans of his dad, the groundbreaking Latino stand-up comedian and star of Chico and the Man.
This is a very interesting case of the son eclipsing the father in fame, despite the fact that the father was by far the more significant figure. Alan Hale Jr’s role as the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island brought him into every living room daily in syndication (at least in any house with children). And he is famously the spitting image of his dad. But the father, while not a name above the title, was a key member of the Warner Brothers stock company, and a highly respected actor in a way the son could never hope to be. More on the pair here.
Morton Downey Jr.
The younger Morton Downey was of couse a monster who pioneered the culture of hatred and ugliness in mass media that helped bring us the Trump years. His father had been an Irish tenor billed as “The Irish Nightingale”, a recording artist and frontman for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra on radio.
Harry Carey, Jr.
Harry Carey Sr was a major star of the silent period, and a supporting player in talkies, significantly in John Ford pictures. Through Ford, Harry Carey Jr also became a star, mostly of westerns. Ford put him in a gazillion movies, and as a result he acquired an iconic status that got him cast in scores of later westerns (and pictures in other genres) by lots of other well known directors well into the 1990s. Consequently he is now better known and remembered than his father despite (I’ll go ahead and say it) not being nearly as good an actor.
Desi Arnaz Jr
Desi has the double burden of being the child of TWO geniuses, and while not as talented as his sister Lucy (who thankfully didn’t try being Lucille Ball Jr), he did inherit their charm if not their chops. Naturally Desi Arnaz the elder was a boundary breaker in a way the son can’t hope to capture. I know Desi Jr chiefly from his acting roles, starting out on his mom’s various shows, and later in some truly delightful ’70s cheese. Yes, he’s the Zeppo of the Arnaz family, but you’re talking to a guy who loves Zeppo.
Frank Sinatra, Jr.
Frank Sinatra Jr is the gold standard (gilt standard?) for coasting on your old man’s coat-tails. He pretty much is the heart and soul of this post. I watched him in an old Love Boat episode the other day, and it was like, “yep”. He sounds like his father when he sings. He sings his father’s kind of music. He looks like his father, who was a pretty ugly man, but without the charisma. And he couldn’t act. He just went around dining out on being Frank Sinatra, Jr. He reminds me of Sylvester the Cat, Jr. from the Warner Brothers cartoons. A miniature version of the father, dressed in the same clothes. (Sylvester doesn’t wear clothes, but you know what I mean). Still, he has his fans, and thousands of people enjoyed attending his concerts as a kind of substitute for the real thing.
John Barrymore, Jr.
Only lack of fame and success motivates me to put this one so low on the list. In terms of talent he probably deserves to go at least a couple of notches higher. Today, John Barrymore Jr. is pretty much only remembered as the linking generation between John Barrymore, one of the greatest stage and screen star of all time, and the still popular Drew Barrymore. But he carved out a pretty decent little body of work, close to 50 film and TV credits over a 25 year period (roughly 1950-75). Like many of the lesser members of his famous clan he is more talked about in reference to his pecadilloes than his acting, but he was most definitely in the family business, if only a minor figure within it. After his first years in the biz he changed his professional handle to “John Drew Barrymore”. .
Charles Chaplin, Jr.
TECHNICALLY, the famous movie comedian Charlie Chaplin was a Junior, and his father, Charles Chaplin Sr was even a well known comedian in his own time and place. But the famous Charlie made his way without the albatross of a “Junior” hanging around his neck. No such luck for his oldest son. I can’t imagine anything more paralyzing than being named Charles Chaplin Jr. The next two siblings in the large Chaplin brood, Sydney Chaplin, and their half sister Geraldine Chaplin went on to distinguished and voluminous acting careers. Charles Jr. not so much. He did a little theatre and amassed a whopping 16 screen credits, starting with a turn as a clown in his father’s Limelight (1952). I am very interested to see that he tried his hand as a comedian on The Ken Murray Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. But mostly it was roles in B movies like High School Confidential (1958), The Beat Generation (1959), Girls Town (1959), and Sex Kittens Go To College (1960), the last two with the fellow we treat of below. He died at age 42.
Harold Lloyd, Jr.
To his credit, Harold Lloyd Jr carved out a very different sort of career from his famous father, making no attempt to be a comedian. He has a dozen screen credits between 1950 and 1965, mostly in Grade Z low budget exploitation and horror features like The Flaming Urge (1953), Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958), and the aforementioned Sex Kittens Go to College (1960). With his father’s fortune to fall back on, he didn’t need to work that hard and is better remembed for the whispered gossip about him, his alcholism and homosexuality and the fact the was into rough trade. The son character in Carl Reiner’s The Comic seems to be loosely based on him. He was only 40 when he died in 1971, three months after his father.
Fred Karno, Jr
The name Fred Karno has been obscure in our century but in the late 19th and early 20th, it was huge — one of the most important men in British show business, and the man who gave Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel their starts. He built a huge international empire. His son Fred Karno Jr was a member of his company, but couldn’t seem to grow outside the nest. For a while he played bit parts in Hal Roach comedies and after Karno Sr’s death he revived some of his famous sketches for a while, but he wasn’t able to do what under some circumstances might have been a possibility — keep the Karno empire going.
Richard Pryor Jr.
Richard Pryor Jr. was born in 1960, before his famous father’s rise to fame as a stand-up comedian and Hollywood movie star. Hence he was raised in modest circumstances by relatives in his father’s hometown of Peoria, Illinois. When he came of age he did a little production work on films like The Color Purple, but it wasn’t until 2012, when he was 52, that he began appearing as a supporting player in movies himself. He published his memoir in 2019.