Tuesday, June 3

Original Casting Ideas

I get into actors in their roles.  I am quite taken with who is considered for such and such a role or perhaps who should have been considered.  Often great plans and studies are put into play before someone is cast... always important to find just the right actor.  It's certainly true that insightful casting can bring about more of those dollars into the studio's coffers.  And I have always had such great fun reading who was originally considered for a part or actually signed for it or even who starting filming but dropped out.  Here are some of my favorite casting original ideas or might-have-beens.

Let's start with Grace Kelly.  She had at least three films lined up before she suddenly made a fast exit for Monaco.  She was to have the Lauren Bacall part in Designing Woman where she would have been paired up again with her Rear Window costar James Stewart.  She was almost set for the role of Maggie in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and she was to have played (another role that went to Elizabeth Taylor) in Giant.

Speaking of Giant, Kelly's costars almost were her two-time costar and former lover, William Holden, as Bick Benedict, and Alan Ladd as Jett Rink.  I liked how it worked out but these three excited me as well.

You must remember this:  Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart weren't the first choices for Casablanca.  Rick and Elsa were to have been played by Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan, two popular Warner Bros. stars who would work together in King's Row and Juke Girl.

Bogart owes a lot to so-so actor George Raft who turned down both The Maltese Falcon and High Sierra.  Gee, thanks, George.  Bogart himself might have had roles in Gilda, Judy Garland's A Star Is Born and The Bridge on the River Kwai but things didn't work out.

Claudette Colbert was to have played Margo Channing in All About Eve when she suffered back injuries and pulled out.  Anne Baxter got the plum assignment as the unscrupulous Eve because Jeanne Crain got pregnant.  Pregnancy also robbed Jennifer Jones of the Grace Kelly role in The Country Girl, Vera Miles out of the Kim Novak role in Vertigo and Lucille Ball the Gloria Grahame role in The Greatest Show on Earth.

Turnabout is fair play for Colbert, because Bette Davis turned down the Oscar-winning role in It Happened One Night.  I have to laugh imagining her in Lillian Gish's role playing Burt Lancaster's mother in The Unforgiven and she had previously said no to playing his wife in Come Back, Little Sheba.  She said it was the worst career decision she ever made.  In later years she turned down roles in Lillies of the Field, Cool Hand Luke, A Little Night Music and Driving Miss Daisy.  She actively pursued the Vera Charles role in Lucille Ball's Mame, but didn't get it. 

Judy Garland was fired from making Royal Wedding with Fred Astaire and June Allyson was hired but got pregnant.  Jane Powell owes them both a debt of gratitude.  Poor Judy was also fired from Annie Get Your Gun, to be replaced by Betty Hutton, whom I think was better in the role than Judy ever could have been.  I'm feeling the slings and arrows.  Judy was also fired from Valley of the Dolls as an over-the-hill singer-actress and was replaced by Susan Hayward who did not do her own singing.

Barbara Stanwyck was Warner Bros. first choice to play Mildred Pierce and it infuriated director Michael Curtiz that Joan Crawford would get the role (and win an Oscar for it).  Joan would be replaced in From Here to Eternity because she squabbled over costumes and was replaced by the extraordinary Deborah Kerr.  Lana Turner also quit Anatomy of a Murder over costumes which  Lee Remick didn't mind.

Marlon Brando could have turned down more roles than he accepted.  I squirm when I think of him in the title roles of Lawrence of Arabia and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (as The Kids).  He also turned down Deliverance, The Defiant Ones, Cleopatra, The Conversation, The Arrangement, Equus, The Exorcist, High Noon, The Egyptian, The Great Gatsby, High Noon, Lolita, Dr. Zhivago and many more. 

While Brando did accept The Godfather, of course, he could have had either of his two neighbors, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, playing his son Michael before Al Pacino was signed.  And Pacino was the first choice for the role of the john in Pretty Woman.

Richard Gere, of course, starred in Pretty Woman and also American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman.  But had John Travolta followed through, those roles would have been his.  He was also the one wanted for Forrest Gump.  Oh, ooops, John, ooops.  (By the way, did anyone ever want Richard Gere first?)

Montgomery Clift was signed to star opposite Gloria Swanson in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd.  But he was involved in some sort of oddball relationship with decades-older heiress Libby Holman, and when she read the script, she threatened suicide if he played a part that so echoed her own relationship with him.  William Holden was eternally grateful.

Hitchcock always wanted to work with Holden and the actor almost had roles in Strangers on a Train, The Trouble with Harry and North by Northwest.  He could have had the lead in The Man with the Golden Arm had he wanted it and was close to being in The Guns of Navarone, The Americanization of Emily and Mister Roberts.  His salary was often at the center of casting issue.

Matt Damon could have been the star of the most financially successful film of alltime but he turned down James Cameron for the lead in Avatar and now we know who Sam Worthington is.

Can you imagine anyone playing Indiana Jones?  I can.  That is not to say that Harrison Ford was a flop by any means, but wouldn't Tom Selleck been just as good?  He said no to Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Earlier, you should know, that Ford wasn't the first choice for Han Solo in Star Wars either.  Egads, are your neurons bumping into your protons?  Is your wiring on fire?  Consider Christopher Walken.  George Lucas did.  Honest.  I ain't lyin'.

Michelle Pfeiffer was director Jonathan Demme's first choice to lock horns with Hannibal Lechter in The Silence of the Lambs.  Bet she wishes she said yes.  She was also considered at one point for Bugsy, Betrayed, Basic Instinct, A Few Good Men, Chicago, Bull Durham, The Grifters, Mystic Pizza and Under the Tuscan Sun.

One of my favorite actors of today is Leonardo DiCaprio and I think he has made some great choices in most of his roles.  But it boggles the mind to see what he's turned down: Boogie Nights,
American Psycho, Batman Forever, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Primal Fear, Jarhead, Interview with the Vampire, Cold Mountain, Inglourius Basterds and Alexander the Great.
While he was still acting but at the end of his career, Sean Connery was offered the part of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The decision made Ian McKellan quite famous.  Imagine him in  Jurassic Park, In the Line of Fire, Funny Girl, Amistad, The Birds, Blade Runner, Dressed to Kill and The English Patient.  He said no to all.

Hard to believe that someone turned down Meryl Streep, isn't it?  She wanted musical roles in Sweet Dreams, playing country singer Patsy Cline, and the title role in Evita.  But Jessica Lange and Madonna played them, respectively, and to perfection.  Streep and her pal Goldie Hawn had originally considered doing Thelma and Louise but opted instead for Death Becomes Her.

John Wayne asked for the title role in Patton but was turned down in favor of Robert Mitchum, who said no, but offered that the producers should look into George C. Scott, who accepted.  Scott also won an Oscar for the role but turned it down.

I can get Debbie Reynolds or her pal Jane Powell being considered for the Nellie Forbush role in South Pacific and even Doris Day... all were considered.  But Elizabeth Taylor and Susan Hayward and Audrey Hepburn?  Really?  Always glad that Mitzi Gaynor nabbed it.

It is hard to believe that Day was an original choice to play Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.  As far out as that would have been for Miss Goody Twoshoes, I think it was a magnificent idea.  Too bad she didn't.

Of course, the wildest casting idea ever is Cary Grant and Betty Hutton as Samson and Deliah, the muscle-hunk and the temptress that Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr wisely played with panache.

Requests from Carlo


  1. Hi! Nothing important but I just had to tell you. I just found among my DVDs two jewels, two little works of art: Little Fugitive and The Catered Affair. I'm still enchanted ( is the word correct?) by the actors, by the stories. everything. OK I told you and I feel better. Ciao. Carlo

    1. I always like hearing from you, Carlo. I had never heard of "Little Fugitive," but I looked it up. Sounds interesting. What did you like about it? I did enjoy "The Catered Affair" mainly because of the writing of Paddy Chayesky, a very good American writer. It also provided Bette Davis with an unusual role, don't you think?

    2. The Catered Affair 'is a movie with Bette Davis and that would be enough. But also Ernest Borgnine was very human, more, I dare say, than in Marty. The scene I liked best is when Bette realizes af her failure, of her frustrations and maybe her failure as a wife and she explodes crying
      sinking her head in the bed, while Borgnine looks at her as if it were the first time. And also Rod Taylor, if I'm allowed.
      Little fugitive is a 1953 movie. The extraordinary kid is Richie Andrusco.In my opinion the freshness of the movie is due to the absolutely natural acting of the kid. I think he did not realize that he was playing a role in a film. To me he was absolutely himself: Perhaps he forgot there was a camera which was following him in his adventure in New York. I hope I expressed clearly my thought in my lousy English. Thanks for your kindness. Carlo