Richard Wright, Native Son (1951): Non-judgmentally exploring the life of a violent urban youth, Wright’s 1940 novel was one of black America’s premier literary achievements in the middle of the 20th century. Of course, this was the middle of the 20th century, and despite being a bestseller, no major film studio would touch it. So, Wright took matters into his own hands. He eventually found funding in Argentina, and not only wrote the script but became its star. The problem? The protagonist is 20 years old. Wright was 43.
Mickey Spillane, The Girl Hunters (1963): Not only was Spillane the most hard-boiled—or at least most morally primitive—of the classic pulp writers, he acted, too. The author played “himself” in the circus mystery Ring of Fear, summoned, for some reason, to solve a murder. Nine years later, he returned to the screen, this time embodying his own creation, the brutish Mike Hammer. Alas, he was no Ralph Meeker, the Hammer of Kiss Me Deadly.
Yukio Mishima, Patriotism (1966): In his 1961 short story, Mishima told of a disillusioned lieutenant who commits seppuku—a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. The work had deep personal meaning for him. First, he filmed the story as a short, starring himself. Then, he proved story and film eerily prophetic: He himself committed seppuku, for generally the same reasons as his hero.
James Dickey, Deliverance (1972): Late in John Boorman’s city-boys-undone-by-the-country classic, the film is briefly stolen by the actor playing a small-town sheriff. That actor was the novel’s author, and though he received accolades for his performance, he refused to act again.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Mother Night (1996): The charms of Vonnegut’s novels are almost exclusively literary, and on the occasion of an actually halfway decent film adaptation—based on his early novel about an undercover Nazi—he put in a cameo, as though to sanctify the adaptation. Then again, he also put in time on the disastrous film of Breakfast of Champions.
Stan Lee, The Amazing Spider-Man (2012): Marvel Comics’ most recognizable name narrated the 1980s Hulk cartoon, and even filmed a cameo in the 1989 TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. Since 2000’s X-Men, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find a blockbuster based on his co-creations that doesn’t boast a Hitchcockian Lee walk-on.
Matt Damon delivers in "The Martian"