As difficult as it is to believe, the brain-tease game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, is nearly 25 years old, its source dating back to a Premiere magazine article published about Bacon in 1994. But the game is actually much older than that. Movie buffs have been playing variations of it for decades, the only difference is that it originally had nothing to do with Kevin Bacon. The challenge could utilize the name of any movie star.
Personally, I've always referred to the game as Connections and, at one point in time, invented my own (rather demented) contortion of it, in which the thread connects two actors who have never performed together in a film. Case in point: Eddie Hodges and Ron (formerly Ronny) Howard.
Their only relation is that both are redheads and both played the role of Winthrop Paroo in Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" - Hodges, at age ten, in the original 1957 Broadway production and Howard, at age eight, in the 1962 Warner Bros. film, both versions directed by Morton Da Costa.
And I'm also throwing the wonderful Paul Ford into my bizarre mix. Here goes...
~"The Music Man," starring Robert Preston and Barbara Cook, opened on Broadway on December 19th, 1957 at the Majestic Theater. Meredith Willson had been working on the show for years and discovered Eddie Hodges when he was watching the "Name That Tune" TV show in 1953.
~Hodges was the darling of Broadway when "The Music Man" opened and, in no time flat, he made his movie debut in 1959 as Frank Sinatra's son in Frank Capra's "A Hole in the Head," where he sang "High Hopes" - live on screen - with Sinatra.
A year later, in 1960, Hodges had the title role in Michael Curtiz's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," with a supporting cast of some terrific character actors, headed by Tony Randall and with Archie Moore as Jim. It was an MGM release and, decades earlier, Hodges would have fit quite comfortably into the Metro family as a contract player.
~During the Broadway season of that same year, Hodges appeared as Henry Fonda's son in Ira Levin's 1960 comedy, "Critic's Choice," directed by Otto Preminger. It opened December 14th of that year at the Ethel Barrymore Theater and, although it was not a critical success and played for only 189 performances, Warner Bros. purchased the screen rights and filmed it in 1963 with Bob Hope (in the Fonda role) and Lucille Ball. Another child actor, Ricky Kelman, played the role originated by Hodges.
~Another play opened during the 1960 Broadway season, "Advise and Consent," based on the 1959 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Allen Drury. Loring Mandel did the adaptation, which was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (who helmed the films "The Best Man" and "Patton," among others). The cast of largely character actors included Chester Morris, Ed Begley, Kevin McCarthy, Henry Jones, Barnard Hughes and Richard Kiley. It opened November 17th, 1960 at the Cort Theater, where it played for 212 performances. Again, not a runaway hit, but Otto Preminger in New York at the time (as noted above) saw it and snapped up the film rights.