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11 Times “Fake Shemps” Replaced Real Actors

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Getty Images

Sometimes, you just can't help it: You need a Fake Shemp.

Sam Raimi, the director of films including Spider-Man and Army of Darkness, coined the term, which refers to the stand-in required to replace an absent actor onscreen. The first Fake Shemp was employed in 1955, when one of the Three Stooges, Shemp Howard, died with the group owing Columbia Pictures four short subjects. To finish them up, Shemp's stand in, Joe Palma, appeared in the films, but with his back to the camera.

Since then, Fake Shemps have appeared repeatedly. While they originally were other actors or stunt performers, the field has expanded to include digital replacements. Here are 11 cases when real actors were replaced by Fake Shemps, with directors crossing their fingers that no one would notice.

1. Bela Lugosi

In the annals of bad cinema, Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) features a legendarily bad double of the iconic Lugosi. The Dracula actor died after only a couple of days of improvisatory filming (Wood hadn’t even come up with a concept for the movie yet). The elderly Hungarian was eventually replaced by a chiropractor, who was taller and looked almost nothing like him. To compensate, Wood had the stand-in hold a cape over his face.

2. The Evil Dead cast

Still from 'Evil Dead' / Crave Online

Raimi formalized the term while filming the first Evil Dead movie in 1979. According to star Bruce Campbell, the movie’s stars weren't always available (it was an extremely low-budget production), and there were frequent special effects shots of characters covered with gore or turned into zombies. Raimi thus enlisted a veritable army of Fake Shemps -- the film’s credits list 18 -- to fill in as both monsters and doubles for his absent stars. Most of Raimi’s films since then have included Shemps in the credits.

3. Gene Hackman

The creation of Superman II was rife with conflict. Director Richard Donner shot most of the movie simultaneously with the first Superman. But he wasn’t allowed to finish the second film, being replaced by British comedy director Richard Lester. Gene Hackman, who played Lex Luthor, refused to have anything to do with Lester’s reshoots. Therefore, he was “Shemped” in a handful of shots by stand-ins and vocal impersonators. Despite all this, the 1980 release has become a fan favorite.

4. Tom Baker

The longest-serving Doctor Who had been gone from the show for only two years when producers decided to make a team-up episode called “The Five Doctors,” featuring all the actors who had played the Gallifreyan up to that point. Unfortunately the very first Doctor, William Hartnell, had been dead for eight years, so the role was recast. (One semi-Fake Shemp already!) But Baker refused to take part, saying he couldn’t return after such a short time away. His appearance in the 1983 episode was thus taken from old footage, shot for an abandoned episode. And when he refused to even show up for a publicity photo, producers put in a call to Madame Tussauds and used their wax dummy instead. 

5. Harrison Ford

When the actor hurt his back while filming 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, director Steven Spielberg didn’t miss a beat. He rearranged the schedule and kept filming, using Ford’s stunt double. The amazing part? Ford’s double, Vic Armstrong, looked so much like him that it’s difficult to tell what scenes he’s in. Spielberg even confused the two on set. According to Ford, “We could go home to the wrong wives and they wouldn't notice!”

6. Crispin Glover

Who doesn’t love George McFly? Marty’s adorably dorky dad in 1985’s Back to the Future was played impeccably at two ages by Glover. But when it came time to negotiate his role in the two sequels, something went awry, and Glover refused to return (he either demanded a preposterous amount of money or was offered insultingly too little, depending on which side you believe). Director Robert Zemekis therefore cast Jeffrey Weissman in the role. Weissman was disguised with prosthetic makeup and sunglasses, turned upside down, and intercut with footage of Glover from the first film. Glover ultimately sued  over the use of his likeness; the Screen Actors Guild barred such moves in future films. 

7. Brandon Lee

Still from 'The Crow' / TV Guide

Until this point, the Fake Shemps we’ve seen have been analog. But with 1994’s The Crow, digital Shemps made an early appearance. Lee was fatally shot while filming a scene, meaning that filmmakers had to scramble to rescue the film. As usual in such cases, a stand-in was used, along with repurposed footage. But a digital “mask” of Lee’s face was also used to disguise his stand-in. And such trickery was only getting started.

8. Nancy Marchand

Manipulative matriarch Livia Soprano was a highlights of the first two seasons of HBO’s groundbreaking series The Sopranos. But after actress Marchand died in 2000, series creator David Chase was left with with the problem of filming an appropriate exit for the character. His solution -- using old clips of Marchand, as well as digitally pasting her head on a stand-in’s body -- wasn’t particularly well received.

9. Oliver Reed

The burly, brawling Reed died during the filming of director Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000). How did Scott deal with the challenge? Stand in? Check. Digital mask? Check. This time, though, the digital trickery looked reasonably convincing. The price tag for such Shempery -- some $3 million -- probably explains its effectiveness.

10. Heath Ledger

When the 28-year-old Ledger died from a drug overdose in 2008, he was in the middle of filming Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. For Gilliam, who has a legendarily difficult time getting his films financed and finished, it might have seemed like the end. But his daughter Amy, serving as a producer on the film, persuaded him to persevere. Gilliam ended up enlisting Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to play other incarnations of Ledger’s character, adding an even more surrealistic element to the movie.

11. Natalie Portman

The Oscar-winning actress wasn’t available for reshoots for Thor: The Dark World (ostensibly because she was working on another project, but possibly out of embarrassment for being in yet another Thor movie). Star Chris Hemsworth’s wife, Elsa Pataky, stepped into the breach, and appeared as Portman’s double for a kissing scene.

All images courtesy of Getty Images, unless otherwise noted.

Bain News Service - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
10 Pats Born on St. Patrick's Day
A photo from the 1919 wedding of Princess Patricia of Connaught to the Hon. Alexander Ramsay.
A photo from the 1919 wedding of Princess Patricia of Connaught to the Hon. Alexander Ramsay.
Bain News Service - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Need some St. Patrick's Day conversation fodder that doesn't involve leprechauns or four-leaf clovers? Ask your friends to name a "Pat" born on St. Patrick's Day. If they can't, they owe you a drink—then you can wow them with this list of 10.


Princess Patricia was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who gave up all of her royal titles when she married a commoner. She was born at Buckingham Palace on March 17, 1886.


The Dallas star was born on March 17, 1949. And here's a totally random fact about Duffy: His nephew is Barry Zito, former MLB pitcher for the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants.


Pattie Boyd
Larry Ellis, Express/Getty Images

Pattie Boyd is well-known to lovers of classic rock: She has been married three times, including once to George Harrison and once to Eric Clapton, who both wrote a couple of the most romantic songs in rock history in her honor (including The Beatles's "Something" and Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight"). Boyd was a model when she met Harrison on the set of A Hard Day's Night in 1964; the pair were married two years later. They divorced in 1977 and she married Clapton, Harrison's close friend, in 1979. She also had an affair with Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones toward the end of her marriage to The Quiet Beatle.


Belfast-born Pat Rice is a former footballer and coach who spent the bulk of his career with Arsenal F.C. (that's "football club," a.k.a. soccer to us Americans). He joined the Gunners in 1964 as a mere apprentice, turning pro a couple of years later. He became captain in 1977 and left the club for a few years in the early 1980s to go to Watford, but returned after he retired from playing in 1984. In 2012, after nearly 30 years with the organization, he announced his retirement.


Patty Maloney is an actress with dwarfism who stands just three feet, 11 inches tall. She has appeared in many movies and T.V. shows over the years, including operating the Crypt Keeper puppet in Tales from the Crypt. She also played Chewbacca's son Lumpy in The Star Wars Holiday Special.


Michael C. Hall and Mathew St. Patrick in 'Six Feet Under'

Ok, so Mathew St. Patrick is the stage name of the actor, but he was born Patrick Matthews in Philadelphia on March 17, 1968. You probably know him best as David's boyfriend Keith on Six Feet Under.


He may not be a household name, but the recording artists Patrick Adams writes for and helps produce certainly are. Adams has been involved in the careers of Salt-N-Pepa, Sister Sledge, Gladys Knight, Rick James, and Coolio, among others.


It's possible you look at Patrick McDonnell's work every day, depending on which comics your newspaper carries. McDonnell draws a strip called Mutts featuring a dog and a cat named Earl and Mooch, respectively. Charles Schulz called it one of the best comic strips of all time.


 Singer/Guitarist Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins performs onstage during Live Earth New York at Giants Stadium on July 7, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey
Evan Agostini, Getty Images

Yes, you know him better as just plain old Billy Corgan: he's the face of the Smashing Pumpkins, engages in public feuds with Courtney Love, and maybe once dated Jessica Simpson. He made his debut on March 17, 1967.


Patricia Ford is a retired model probably best known for her Playboy photoshoots in the 1990s.

Disney Enterprises, Inc.
9 Things You Might Not Know About National Treasure
Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Released in 2004 to mixed critical reviews but a positive audience response, director Jon Turteltaub’s National Treasure has grown into a perfect rainy-day film. Stumble upon it on a streaming service or a cable channel and the fable about historian-slash-codebreaker Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) excavating the truth about a reputed treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence will suck you in. Check out some facts about the movie’s development, its approach to historical accuracy, and why we haven't seen a third film.


Originally planned for a summer 2000 release, National Treasure—based on a concept by Disney marketing head Oren Aviv and DreamWorks television executive Charles Segars—had a Byzantine plot that kept it in a prolonged pre-production period. Nine writers were hired between 1999 and 2003 in an attempt to streamline the story, which sees code-breaker Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) pursuing the stash of riches squirreled away by Benjamin Franklin and his Freemason cohorts. Filming finally began in summer 2003 when Marianne and Cormac Wibberley got the script finalized. Turteltaub, who spent three years in development before finally starting production, told Variety that “getting Cage was worth [the wait].”


Nicolas Cage and Justin Bartha in 'National Treasure' (2004)
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Fact and fiction blur considerably in National Treasure, which uses history as a jumping-off point for some major jumps in logic. While it’s not likely the Declaration of Independence has a secret treasure map written on it, Franklin and other Founding Fathers were actually Freemasons. Of the 55 men who signed the document, nine or more belonged to the society.


It can be tricky to secure permission to film on government property, which is why producers of National Treasure probably considered themselves fortunate when they discovered that Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm fame had built a perfect replica of Independence Hall on his land in Buena Park, California back in the 1960s. The production used it for a scene requiring Cage to run on the Hall's roof, a stunt that was not likely to have been approved by caretakers of the real thing.


One of Cage’s cryptic clues in the film is reading a time of 2:22 on the clock depicted on the image of Independence Hall on the $100 bill. Bills in circulation at that time really did have an illustration that pointed to that exact hour and minute, although it was changed to 10:30 for the 2009 redesign. There’s no given reason for why those times were picked by the Treasury Department, leaving conspiracy theorists plenty to chew on.


Speaking with The Washington Post in 2012, guards and escorts for the National Archives reported that the National Treasure films have led visitors to ask questions that could only have been motivated by seeing the series. One common query: whether or not there really is a secret map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. “I call it ‘that’ movie,” guard Robert Pringle told the paper. “We get a lot of questions about the filming.”


Both Cage and director Jon Turteltaub attended Beverly Hills High School in the late 1970s and shared a drama class together. While promoting a later film collaboration, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Cage revealed that Turteltaub had actually beat him out for the lead in a stage production of Our Town. Cage was relegated to two lines of dialogue in a bit part.


Nicolas Cage and Diane Kruger in 'National Treasure' (2004)
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

On a press tour for the film, Cage told reporters that he and co-star Diane Kruger bonded by going out at night and singing karaoke. “We’d go and karaoke from time to time and sort of blow it out and be completely ridiculous, which helped, I think,” he said. “I think it was some Rage Against the Machine, AC/DC and some Sex Pistols.”


Popular films often have the residual effect of drawing interest to the real-life locations or subject matter incorporated into their plots. Mackinac Island, site of the 1982 romance Somewhere in Time, has become a perennial tourist spot. The same influence was true of National Treasure and its 2007 sequel, both of which apparently contributed to an uptick in attendance at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.


It’s been over a decade since National Treasure: Book of Secrets hit theaters, but Cage is still optimistic fans of the series could see another installment. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 2016, the actor said a third film was in development, with the convoluted writing process slowing things down.

“I do know that those scripts are very difficult to write, because there has to be some credibility in terms of the facts and fact-checking, because it was relying on historical events,” Cage said. “And then you have to make it entertaining. I know that it’s been a challenge to get the script where it needs to be. That’s as much as I’ve heard. But they’re still working on it.”