John A. Willis, who died in 2010 at the age of 94, was a film and theater editor, perhaps most popular for his annual publications, Theatre World and Screen World. Screen World was something akin to IMDB before IMDB, as it documented, maintained statistics on and included photographs from almost every film produced and/or released in the United States, as well as obituaries, Academy Award nominees and winners.
Each year, in his Screen World, Willis would also compie a list of the 12 Most Promising Actors of that year, and such lists carried a lot of weight because Willis is considered a legendary film historian.
For the year 1991, let’s see how he fared:
Brad Pitt: He couldn’t have been more right than in selecting Brad Pitt, who broke out with a tiny role in Thelma and Louise that year. Of course, Brad Pitt is now one of the five most famous actors in the world, and his latest, World War Z, was the number two film of the weekend, raking in $66 million stateside despite a troubled production and tepid reviews. That can attributed largely to the star power of Brad Pitt (and zombies, of course. People love zombies).
Marisa Tomei — Another home run here for Willis, who made this prediction before Tomei won an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny (before 1991, Tomei was perhaps most famous for a 21-episode stint on “A Different World.”) Tomei would struggle for much of the middle of her career, but she rebounded, adding two more Oscar nominations to her CV, and she’s doing quite well in mostly independent features these days.
Anthony LaPaglia — LaPaglia has managed to string together a very solid, if unexceptional career, though he’s perhaps most famous these days for his seven year stint on the CBS procedural, Without a Trace, for which he won a Golden Globe. He’s still fairly serviceable, however, as a low-rent Ray Liotta.
John Leguizamo — Leguizamo is still a very active and well known actor, perhaps best known for his roles in Moulin Rouge, Romie + Juliet, and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. He has become mostly a character actor these days, as well as providing voice work to the Ice Age franchise. He’s also well known for his work in theater.
Tyra Ferrell — Anointed to the list thanks to roles in Boyz n the Hood and Jungle Fever, Ferrell’s career sputtered after parts in White Men Can’t Jump and Poetic Justice. Her acting career came to an end eventually in 2004.
Juliette Lewis: Lewis’ Oscar-nominated turn in Cape Fear would land her on Willis’ list in 1991, and Lewis managed to keep a very high profile and active film career going for well over a decade, although she has of late stumbled into white trash supporting roles, though she is very good at them. She’s also a little nuts, and can be seen later this year in the Oscar grab, August: Osage County.
Stephen Collins — Not a name you’d immediately recognize, but you’d know his face, especially from 11 years on 7th Heaven as Reverend Eric Camden. He’s managed to keep steady work throughout his career, and in fact, has a role in the new Lifetime series, “Devious Maids,” which debuted this weekend.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. — You could probably predict greatness for Cuba Gooding, Jr. in 1991, based on his role in Boyz n the Hood, though few probably could’ve predicted that after reaching great heights in the mid-1990s with movies like As Good as It Gets and Jerry Maguire, which fetched Gooding an Oscar, that he’d fall so very low, essentially becoming the King of Redbox movies. He has nine movies out in 2013; you probably won’t see more than one of them.
Frank Whaley — Coming off of The Doors and Career Opportunities in 1991, Whaley seemed liked a no-brainer, but after his phenomenal turn in Swimming with Sharks, Whaley’s feature film career fizzled, though he’s still very much an active member of the acting community, and in fact, landed a roles as a series regular on “Ray Donovan,” which premieres on Showtime next week.
John Cameron Mitchell — He never did have much of an acting career, but he is known for directing Hedwig the Angry Inch, as well as Shortbus. Of late, he had a recurring role on “Girls” and will directed an episode of “Nurse Jackie” this year.
Adrienne Shelly — A gifted actress, writer, and director, Shelly’s career sadly was cut short just as she was breaking through. She was brutally murdered in 2006, shortly before the release of one of my favorite all time films, Waitress.
Robin Givens — In the late 1980s, Givens was star of the sitcom “Head of the Class,” which she parlayed into a briefly successful feature film career (Boomerang). Although she still gets very regular work (mostly in television), she is best known now as the ex-wife of boxer Mike Tyson.