Tom London made about 2000 films, his first The Great Train Robbery (1903) and his last The Lone Texan (1959).
Dear Matthew Alice: Please settle a bet between my friends and I. Which actor has made the most movies in their career, John Wayne or Clint Eastwood? And which actor or actress has made the most movies of all time? — Stewart, Art, and Gonzolo, Lakeside
Who’s the boob with the money on Eastwood? Well, ya better reach for that wallet, Pilgrim. The Duke’s got him beat by a mile. If Clint’s on-screen career ended today, his total would be 48, beginning with four bit roles in 1955 (Francis in the Navy, Revenge of the Creature, Lady Godiva, and Tarantula). He only made four features (his popular spaghetti Westerns) between 1959 and ’66, when he was playing Rowdy Yates on the weekly TV series Rawhide.
Screen behemoth that Wayne was, his career statistics are occasionally inflated. According to the International Directory of Films and Filmmakers, in 50 years, Big John made 164 screen appearances (not the 200+ you’ll sometimes read), including two made-for-TV dramas and one documentary. He also narrated one documentary but didn’t appear on screen. Wayne actually made one other scripted TV appearance when he introduced the first episode of Gunsmoke. The series was originally a radio show, with the roly-poly William (“10-4”) Conrad as the voice of Marshall Dillon. When CBS decided to make it a TV series, they designed the role with Wayne in mind. But the Duke was too much of a ramblin’ kind of guy to be fenced in by the small screen, so he plugged their plans full of lead. He recommended they take a chance with a little-known (but even taller) actor, James Amess (67”). That figure of 164 includes five early appearances (1926 to 1929) as an uncredited extra, four bit roles under the name “Duke" Morrison, and one film in which he appeared as a corpse. Wayne is generally considered to be the film actor (in the legitimate theatrical film industry) with the most starring roles, 142.
Hard to say who’s absolutely appeared in films more than any other actor or actress, if you include bit parts and roles as an extra. Helen Hayes, best known as a stage star, had the longest film career of any American actress — first film 1910, last film 1988. But in 75 years Lillian Gish made more movies, 103, with a starring or feature role in virtually all of them. She must have spent most of 1913 tied to railroad tracks and running from villains; she made 20 films that year. The Guinness records folks say that Indian comedienne Manorama starred in more than 1000 crank-’em-out-in-Bombay movies between 1958 and 1985. At one point, she claims, she was working on 30 simultaneously.
Among the men, John Carradine claimed 400+ screen appearances. You’ll sometimes see that figure as 500+. A lot, anyway. American actor Tom London made about 2000 films, his first The Great Train Robbery (1903) and his last The Lone Texan (1959). But in fact the most-seen actor, in all ways, is probably the late porn stud John Holmes, with about 200 feature-length films in a career that included (his estimate) 2274 projects. And he certainly wasn’t bothered by those pesky professional details of costume fittings and dialogue.