Big Screen Living: A look at Wayne Newton’s Film Career

March 30, 2016
Top photo: A press image from the James Bond film Licence to Kill, in which Wayne Newton played the villain Professor Joe Butcher. Right photo: A montage of photos from Vegas Vacation staring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Newton.
Top photo: A press image from the James Bond film Licence to Kill, in which Wayne Newton played the villain Professor Joe Butcher. Right photo: A montage of photos from Vegas Vacation staring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Newton.

In our previous blog post, “A Lifetime on the Small Screen,” we tuned in to Wayne Newton’s amazing TV acting career, one that began in the mid-1960s.

This week, we turn toward a bigger screen, namely his memorable Hollywood movie roles.

In 1969, Newton dived into the heady world of movie making with a starring role in the classic film, 80 Steps to Jonah. Telling the tale of kind-hearted Mark Jonah Winters, a youth that unintentionally goes afoul of the law, is a sentimental favorite of many to this day.

In the production, Newton shared credits with famous stars like Mickey Rooney, Jo Van Fleet, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens and Sal Mineo. Even a wee tyke, Erin Moran of future “Joanie Cunningham” fame, played a notable role. Filled with dramatic moments, comedic levity and songs galore, it’s the kind of movie rarely made in today’s Tinsel Town. Our Museum holds an original 80 Steps to Jonah poster.

You can watch the original trailer on Turner Classic Movies’ webpage.

Following this debut, Newton mostly concentrated on TV work, as well as his incredibly popular musical shows, both in Las Vegas and on tour. But, in 1989, he made a cinematic splash in one of the biggest ways possible — he portrayed a villain at odds with Agent 007, James Bond. As an antagonist in 1989’s Licence to Kill, he worked “against” lead Timothy Dalton as a crooked televangelist with a creative name, Professor Joe Butcher. The role was something he’d long wanted to do.

In 1990, Newton returned to celluloid as the hilariously dangerous music mogul, Julian Grendel, in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Along with lead Andrew Dice Clay, Newton co-starred with Priscilla Presley, Lauren Holly, Ed O’Neill and many more in the campy adventure flick. Newton’s gun-toting, musical take on a famous Terminator line — “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, baby!” — is worth a repeat watch for “Wayniacs” on its own!

Of course, for many Newton’s most famous and memorable role is as himself in 1997’s Vegas Vacation. In the wildly comedic National Lampoon movie, he stars alongside actors veteran Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the iconic Clark and Ellen Griswold. Fans of the film will get a huge kick out of touring our Mansion’s formal living room. This was the actual setting for the unforgettable scene where Newton tried to woo Ellen.

Vegas has continued to be the focus for much of Newton’s cinematic work. Of note, he co-starred starred in 2006’s Smokin’ Aces with Ryan Reynolds, Ben Affleck and Ray Liotta. Also, he dressed in a stylish tuxedo for a quick crowd scene in Oceans Eleven. In addition, he’s been in a handful of smaller films throughout the years; take a gander at IMDB to peruse more of his cinematic life.

Where’s Ferris?

Perhaps by now you’re wondering about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. While Wayne Newton didn’t visually appear in the epic 1986 teen film by John Hughes, his all-time-greatest hit, “Danke Schoen,” certainly became a pop culture watershed when lead actor Matthew Broderick lip-synched to the song on the streets of Chicago.

We didn’t forget! Check back with us soon to learn more about the many soundtracks that Newton has appeared on.