For several people in front of the camera — and one notable behind-the-camera presence — the new comic-book movie "Iron Man" marks another chance to make their mark in the family business.
Playing Iron Man himself (and out-of-costume alter ego Tony Stark), Robert Downey Jr. is the son of underground filmmaker Robert Downey. (Junior made his movie debut at 5, playing a puppy in "Pound.")
Jeff Bridges, as Stark's business associate Obadiah Stane, also made his screen debut before he was 10, turning up on a couple of episodes of dad Lloyd Bridges' TV show "Sea Hunt." (Jeff's Emmy-winning brother Beau also is in the family business, as you may recall — their one-and-only movie together, 1989's "The Fabulous Baker Boys," memorably showcases the talents of both fabulous Bridges boys.)
Gwyneth Paltrow, as Tony Stark's faithful assistant Pepper Pots, also is a second-generation showbiz kid, as the daughter of Tony-winning actress Blythe Danner and the late TV producer-director Bruce Paltrow ("St. Elsewhere," "The White Shadow"). And Terrence Howard, who plays Stark's Air Force pal "Rhodey" Rhodes, developed an affection for acting thanks to his grandmother, stage actress Minnie Gentry.
But perhaps the most illustrious ancestor in the "Iron Man" cast and crew belongs to veteran production designer J. Michael Riva, whose eclectic credits range from "Spider-Man 3" to "A Few Good Men," "The Color Purple" to "Ordinary People," "Lethal Weapon" to "The Goonies." Riva's mother, Maria, is an author and actress. But it's Riva's grandmother who's the real star in the family: legendary screen siren Marlene Dietrich, whose '30s movie titles — "The Blue Angel," "Blonde Venus," "The Devil Is a Woman," "Desire" — conjure her legendary allure. (And in the '50s, when Dietrich's Hollywood career cooled, she became a legendary Las Vegas headliner too.)
If you're not a credits junkie (like me), you might not recognize Riva's name. But I like to imagine that he got at least some of his imagination and flair from watching some of the visually stunning movies his grandma made with director Josef Von Sternberg; even after all these decades, they're almost as dazzling as Dietrich herself.
No bets on whether we'll still be watching "Iron Man" 75 years from now — but at least it gets the 2008 summer movie season off to a bang-up start.