When we talk about great Texas actors, certain names come to mind. Matthew McConaughey. Renée Zellweger. Jamie Foxx. Our state has bred scores of performers who have collectively produced billions in box office revenue and won every award you can name. Yet only one of them has ever inspired the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, official arbiters of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, to plant its first-ever star right here in Texas: the Chevy Suburban.
In December 2019, the Suburban was presented with an Award of Excellence star on Hollywood Boulevard, for its many contributions to film. On June 21, that star came home to Arlington, finding a permanent place of honor between AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Field—not far from the General Motors Arlington assembly plant, where the Suburban has been bred for fame, fortune, and ferrying groceries ever since 1999.
The star will serve as a lasting monument to the SUV’s more than 1,750 movie and television appearances (and counting), an incredible run that began when it was just a fresh-faced, round-bodied newcomer in 1952. The Suburban has a career that makes, for example, Tommy Lee Jones’s 84 acting credits look a little paltry in comparison, to say nothing of his towing capacity.
Of course, some may quibble, in their suspiciously Tommy Lee Jones–esque snarl, with the idea of any vehicle being called a movie star. After all, thousands upon thousands of cars, trucks, vans, and motorcycles have crossed the silver screen, and most of them have faded into obscurity without so much as a gig teaching improv. Besides, if you’re going to give a Hollywood star to a vehicle, shouldn’t it be something with a little more pizzazz? The Batmobile? The Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit? Even that busted-out Chrysler LeBaron from Planes, Trains and Automobiles had more personality.
But stardom isn’t always about standing out. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce president Rana Ghadban praises the Chevy Suburban as a “character actor” who can “fit into any type of role with ease.” The Suburban does reliable, unshowy work, lending a lived-in heft and authority that naturally elevates its surroundings—like a Barry Corbin or a Stacy Keach.
And as with most character actors, it’s appeared in a lot of cop shows. In fact, looking through the thousands of credits that have been obsessively cataloged on the Internet Movie Cars Database, you can see that the Suburban has been repeatedly typecast over the years, transporting police officers, FBI agents, and assorted government officials as part of some anonymous convoy.
Admittedly, there have been just a handful of leading roles for the Suburban. Jeff Bridges drove a 1978 rust-and-tan number throughout Crazy Heart. In Twister, Cary Elwes outran tornadoes in a 1989 dually-conversion, while Pierce Brosnan drove his 1987 workhorse across a dang river in Dante’s Peak. On TV, The Walking Dead gang tooled around the farm for a while in a battered 1990 Suburban, using its formidable grill to knock over zombies. And the SUV that Tony thoughtlessly fills with cigar smoke at the start of every episode of The Sopranos? That’s a Suburban K-1500 LT, renowned for its ability to sail through the Lincoln Tunnel without ever hitting traffic.
Still, as with most character actors, it’s not the size of the roles but their breadth. And the Chevy Suburban has been working steadily since John Wayne strolled by one in Big Jim McLain. In fact, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce estimates that the Suburban has appeared in at least one TV series each year since 1956, and at least one film a year since 1960. The Suburban has made cameos in huge blockbusters like Back to the Future, Independence Day, and The Dark Knight, popped up on classic series like The Andy Griffith Show and Breaking Bad, and lent its considerable frame to Oscar bait like JFK and Nashville. But it’s never gotten a big head about it. The Suburban has also paid its dues in glorified background parts, particularly during the ’60s and ’70s, when it took on a lot of unglamorous ambulance work.
It’s the rare class of actor that can boast that sort of versatility and longevity. It’s pretty much just the Suburban and Angela Lansbury—and no offense to Dame Lansbury, but I’d like to see her pull off a car chase on CSI.
I know some of you may also take issue with calling the Chevy Suburban a “Texas star” when it was born in California. It’s true that, before settling in Arlington, the Suburban spent the first six decades of its life being assembled everywhere from Michigan to Brazil.
But as the saying goes, Texas is a state of mind, and the Suburban has come to embody it with its combination of roomy comfort and off-road ruggedness. Besides, we call Ethan Hawke a Texas star, and that guy spent most of his life in New York. Let’s just take the award.