From ‘El Dorado’ to ‘Elf’ — the very best of the late, great ‘Godfather’ star
He was tough, he was sexy, and he was one of the most charismatic movies stars of the 1970s — he was James Caan, your go-to guy when you wanted someone who could be flinty yet charming, smooth yet volatile.
A Bronx-born, Queens-raised actor who claimed he was the “only New York Jewish cowboy,” the former Michigan State football player got bit by the acting bug when he transferred to Hofstra University, and was already making the bit-player rounds on TV shows (Dr. Kildare, Combat!, Route 66, The Alfred Hitchcock Show) in the early ’60s.
After director Howard Hawks cast him in two movies — Red Line 7000 (1965) and El Dorado (1966) — Caan started to attract attention as the next big up-and-comer. It wasn’t until the one-two punch of a TV movie about a gridiron hero and Paramount picture based on a bestseller about gangsters, respectively, that he became a bona fide star.
Even when he showed up in his later years, usually as a crusty old guy for added color or the human embodiment of AARP-age machismo, Caan was still the kind of performer who stopped you dead in your tracks.