Hollywood can be an incredibly vindictive place. Stories of the entertainment business chewing up and spitting out bright eyed young talents are as old as the industry itself. The tales of young actors who were brought low by their own egos or addictions could fill libraries.
But there’s another, more insidious form of show business burnout that tends to be less mythologized. With surprising regularity, young stars have their careers intentionally sabotaged for nefarious reasons. Often the motivations are personal; a young actress who rebuffed the romantic advances of a powerful producer can find herself suddenly struggling to land roles. Sometimes the motivations have been political, like during the Red Scare of the 1950s that saw a stunningly large portion of Hollywood blacklisted for over a decade for supposedly harboring Communist sympathies at the height of the Cold War.
This is the darker side of the entertainment industry; the sort of stereotypically soulless maneuvering that has earned Hollywood the scorn of so many people for decades. It’s a very real phenomenon, though recent revelations have at least provided some hope that things might be about to change; that perhaps the power players in Hollywood will no longer be allowed to run roughshod over those who stand up to them.
These are 15 Rising Stars Whose Careers Were Sabotaged.
15 Ashley Judd
Ashley Judd is show business royalty. Daughter of country singer Naomi Judd and sister to singer Wynonna Judd, Ashley would eschew the world of music to become one of the premiere film actresses of the late '90s and early '00s. After a minor role in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Judd was soon headlining films like Kiss The Girls and Along Came A Spider. And yet after earning a Golden Globe nomination for 2004’s De-Lovely, Judd’s career abruptly stalled.
Judd was one of the first actresses to come forward with a tale of harassment by Harvey Weinstein, and while she was too big of a star to have her career completely derailed by the infamous mogul at the time of the misconduct, a fairly minor cold streak was seemingly enough for Weinstein to reduce one of Hollywood’s brightest stars to a supporting player.
14 Vanessa Williams
Vanessa Williams seemed destined for superstardom when she was crowned Miss America in 1983. A beautiful 20 year old who could both act and sing, the possibilities seemed limitless for her. But when Penthouse Magazine published unauthorized nude photos of her, Williams was forced to relinquish her title in disgrace and became an easy punching bag for the more puritanical corners of American culture.
The incident hamstrung Williams’ career for a ludicrous length of time; it would be the early '90s before her music and acting careers got back on track. And while she’s enjoyed a strong career as both a singer and an actor, it’s difficult not to wonder how much farther she could have gone had she not been publicly castigated over such a non-scandal.
13 Rose McGowan
There’s been perhaps no more courageous and indefatigable voice for the movement of women who have been abused by the Hollywood system than Rose McGowan. Once one of Hollywood’s most promising stars, McGowan was a versatile actress who thrived both in films like Scream and Devil In The Flesh, as well as on five seasons on the supernatural TV series Charmed.
After the Grindhouse films, however, McGowan’s career became relegated to low profile TV guest star appearances and some low rent films most people never saw. McGowan alleges this is largely due to the abuse she suffered at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, who she says assaulted her in 1997 and proceeded to ruin her career when she began speaking out about it privately. McGowan has been on a righteous warpath since late 2017, dedicating herself to taking down men like Weinstein.
12 Mira Sorvino
Mira Sorvino was one of the brightest stars of the 1990s. After earning an Academy Award for the 1995 Mighty Aphrodite, she spent the rest of the decade proving she could do virtually anything onscreen, be it in the silly comedy Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion or the Guillermo del Toro horror film Mimic. Sorvino alleges a nauseatingly familiar pattern of behavior directed at her by Harvey Weinstein, whose sexual advances she rebuffed, and who would eventually take that out on her professionally.
While Sorvino’s acting career never really reached the heights it seemed destined for – director Peter Jackson recently confirmed he had her in mind for a part in the Lord of the Rings films but was warned off by Weinstein - she has had a steady enough career in both film and television, and has done important work with Amnesty International and the United Nations in an effort to abolish human trafficking.
11 Thora Birch
Thora Birch seemed like she was on a glide path to superstardom at the turn of the century. After a successful run as a child actor in films like Patriot Games and Hocus Pocus, Birch transitioned into more adult fare with panache, giving arresting performances in films like the Academy Awards darling American Beauty and the cult classic Ghost World. And yet by the end of the 2000s, Birch had been relegated to the bargain bin of direct-to-video horror films.
By most accounts, this was largely down to Birch’s father, Jack, who also served as her de facto manager. Jack Birch, a former adult film star, had a history of bizarre onset behavior, ranging from demanding he be allowed to direct a sex scene featuring Thora to threatening to attack one of her co-stars for reasons no one could quite articulate - the latter of which got Birch fired from a Broadway run just before production.
After a solid if unremarkable career as a comedian and supporting television actress – most notable in the sitcom The Parkers – Mo’Nique had what should have been a breakout performance in the 2009 film Precious. Directed by Lee Daniels, Precious was an awards season darling, most notable for Mo’Nique’s performance as an abusive inner city mother Gabourey Sidibe’s titular character. Mo’Nique won a bevy of awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She seemed primed to be a Hollywood stalwart for years to come.
But that never materialized. She had a well-reviewed turn in the HBO film Bessie, but her big screen presence has been almost non-existent since her Oscar win. Mo’Nique claims there’s a good reason for that – Daniels, as well as Precious producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, were displeased that she declined to promote the film when it was theaters and have been actively blackballing her for years.
Kesha seemed like an overnight sensation. After featuring on rapper Flo Rida’s single “Right Round,” her own debut album Animal, topped the charts off the strength of megahits like “Tik Tok” and “We R Who We R.” Her sophomore album, Warrior, was equally successful. But by 2013, Kesha had largely disappeared; the rare case of an amazingly pop star vanishing in their prime.
Kesha was embroiled in a heated legal dispute with her former producer, Dr. Luke, whom she alleged has been physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive toward her. A powerful radio hitmaker, Dr. Luke effectively stalled Kesha career's in the interim, countersuing her for breach of contract and defamation of character.
Kesha returned in 2017 with her acclaimed third album, Rainbow, a rare case of a career that overcame such malicious sabotage.
8 Vanessa Marquez
Vanessa Marquez had a small but prominent role on the early seasons of NBC’s ratings behemoth medical drama, ER. While the show always showcased its more famous leads like Noah Wyle and Julianna Margulies, it also featured a stable of minor characters as its nursing and administrative staff, many of whom stayed on the show for much longer stints than the stars. Marquez was among the original batch of nurses, but was abruptly dismissed at the conclusion of the show’s third season, effectively ending her acting career.
Marquez recently made headlines when she said she was dismissed for pushing back against lewd and sexist comments by the show’s cast and crew, and even suggested series star George Clooney had a hand in her dismissal – a claim he denies. Marquez may not have been destined for Oscar nominations, but she certainly lost years of onscreen work for pushing back against systemic inappropriate behavior.
7 Annabella Sciorra
Annabella Sciora came to prominence in the late '80s, featuring in films like True Love, Cadillac Man, and Internal Affairs. She gained notoriety for her performance in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, and had a fruitful film career throughout the '90s. In 2001, she won an Emmy for her role as Gloria Trillo on The Sopranos, a role that should have elevated her to a new level of prominence.
That never happened. Sciorra would be relegated to anonymous film roles and TV guest spots going forward. Sciorra alleges she was assaulted by powerful Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in the late '90s, a crime that affected both her professional and personal lives in profound ways that she never fully recovered from. Hopefully she can at least take some small solace in the reckoning currently taking place around Weinstein and his disgusting ilk.
6 Sondra Locke
Actress and director Sondra Locke was Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood’s partner both on and off screen throughout the '70s and '80s. When their relationship ended acrimoniously in 1989, Eastwood settled a palimony dispute by securing a $1.5 million development deal for Locke with Warner Bros., with the stated intention that Locke would have the opportunity to develop projects to direct for the studio.
That was, however, an elaborate sham, as Warner Bros. rejected the over 30 proposals she made to them in the early '90s. She sued Eastwood for damages, alleging the deal effectively ruined her career. She won the court case – and an undisclosed financial settlement from Eastwood – but her film career was, for all intents and purposes, ended by a vindictive lover higher up the Hollywood food chain.
5 Tara Subkoff
Tara Subkoff was a rising star in the '90s. She starred in a handful of films, such as the thriller When The Bough Breaks, the Jack Nicholson romantic comedy As Good As It Gets, and the Jennifer Lopez starring horror film The Cell. She earned strong reviews for her starring role in the 1997 drama All Over Me, and seemed destined for a long, successful Hollywood career.
But then, like so many, she met Harvey Weinstein. After rebuffing Weinstein’s sexual advances in the late '90s, Subkoff claims it became essentially impossible for her to secure acting roles, as the odious producer had her effectively blacklisted. Subkoff would go on to start an avant garde fashion line, participated in conceptual art campaigns, and even tried her hand at directing.
4 Lysette Anthony
Lysette Anthony was a promising young actress in the '80s, appearing in films like the science fantasy Krull, the Sherlock Holmes spoof Without A Clue, and the Jimmy Smits/Ellen Barkin starring comedy Switch. She’s also been a fixture of music videos for such prominent artists as Depeche Mode, Bryan Adams, and the amazingly named Simian Mobile Disco.
However, Anthony was yet another victim of Harvey Weinstein. The British actress alleges the producer assaulted her in the late '80s, and that her career in films stateside never took hold after that. Anthony has continued to work consistently, mostly in British television and theater, but it’s hard not to wonder what path her career may have taken had she not suffered the way she did.
3 Lionel Stander
Lionel Stander was a Hollywood staple of the '30s and '40s, a reliable character actor who worked in film and radio alongside such show business luminaries as Gary Cooper and Bob Hope. His gravely voice made him a favorite radio performer, providing many of the voices on the Woody Woodpecker radio show in the '40s.
Stander was one of dozens of victims of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the infamous congressional body that persecuted anyone suspected of harboring Communist sympathies at the height of the Cold War. Stander’s run-in with HUAC resulted in him being blacklisted from American show business for the better part of three decades.
He would eventually return to American productions late in life – including a much loved voiceover turn as Kup in The Transformers: The Movie in 1986 – but Stander lost years of his career for the most odious of political reasons.
2 Richard Castellano
Richard Castellano was a standout in Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia masterpiece, The Godfather. As the portly veteran mobster Peter Clemenza, he is the owner of one of the greatest lines in film history: “Leave the gun; take the cannoli.” Castellano claims to have partly ad-libbed that line, which would ironically foreshadow the abrupt stalling of his career.
Castellano was not included in The Godfather Part II – Bruno Kirby played a younger Clemenza in flashbacks - reportedly because he and Coppola clashed over the direction of the character, to the point where Castellano reportedly wanted say over some of his own dialogue. Castellano disputed this claim, but the damage to his career was done anyway, and he never landed another major film role, toiling in minor television roles before his death in 1988.
1 Lee Grant
Lee Grant took the long way round to Hollywood royalty status. After an incredibly promising start to her career – she earned an Oscar nomination for her first ever film role in Detective Story opposite Kirk Douglas – she ended up blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for refusing to testify against her husband.
After spending a decade unable to secure acting work, she slowly rebuilt her career in the '60s, starring in the television show Peyton Place and eventually returned to prestige films like In The Heat Of The Night, Valley Of The Dolls, and Shampoo, the latter of which earned her an Oscar. She would also go on to have a successful directing career, largely in TV movies.
She may not be quite as beloved as she should be, but Lee Grant beat incredible odds to reclaim a prominent place in show business.
Do you know of other stars whose careers were sabotaged? Sound off in the comments!