Groucho Marx: As the Marx Brothers’ film career waned, Groucho unexpectedly segued into a second act as the ad-libbing host of You Bet Your Life. He only returned to cinema for bit parts, including Skidoo, Otto Preminger’s insane 1968 mockery of an LSD counterculture comedy, in which he played a mobster king named God. Groucho’s timing is depressingly off, but he does cap off the film (and his film career) smoking pot with Austin Pendleton in a sailboat. (In the ’80s, Yippie co-founder Paul Krassner alleged in High Times that Groucho dropped acid with him as prep.)
Lillian Gish: The career of the First Lady of American Cinema started as muse to D.W. Griffith, then wound up spanning 75 years. She was largely AWOL during the ’70s before popping up in Robert Altman’s A Wedding (1978). In her 90s, there came a brief Gish-a-thon: The dog movie Hambone and Hollie (1984), Sweet Liberty (1986) and, finally, opposite the comparatively young Bette Davis, in The Whales of August (1987).
Lena Horne: A performer since her teens, this raging beauty aimed to be the first black movie superstar. But despite two high profile roles—in Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather (both in 1943)—she rarely achieved more than one-off musical numbers, losing out big roles to the likes of Dorothy Dandridge. Her home was the stage, and she was enough of a legend to return to film as Glinda the Good Witch in 1978’s The Wiz.
James Cagney: For some, retirement is death, as Woody Allen’s character says in To Rome With Love. Cagney seemed OK with it: After going out in a frenzy with 1961’s One, Two, Three, he spent two whole decades away before being talked into a one-off in Milos Forman’s Ragtime.
Jean-Louis Trintignant: One of France’s most prolific actors, Trintignant ( Z, The Conformist, much else) slowed down only in his autumn years. He’d been off screens entirely since 2003’s Janis et John before Michael Haneke enlisted him, at 80, to look haggard and old in his 2012 Palme d’Or-winner, Love.
Woody Allen: Has it really been since 2006’s Scoop that we’ve been without one of the most recognizable comic presences? With To Rome With Love, we welcome back Woody Allen, actor.