By Darwin Porter
In the most absurd casting idea in the history of Hollywood, the wise-cracking comedian, Groucho Marx, pleaded with David O. Selznick, producer of Gone With the Wind (1939), to cast him as Rhett Butler.
Selznick may have considered it for two seconds before showing Marx to the door. Instead, he toyed with casting Gary Cooper, Ronald Colman, Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, and Fredric March, but the public demanded Clark Gable.
Practically every actress in Hollywood, from Bette Davis to Joan Crawford, even Lana Turner, wanted to play Scarlett O’Hara. At the last minute, a relatively unknown British actress, Vivien Leigh, graced the screen in her Oscar-winning portrayal.
Another great picture from 1939, The Wizard of Oz, might have had Shirley Temple cast as Dorothy, but Fox wouldn’t release her. Louis B. Mayer reluctantly cast “my little hunchback,” Judy Garland, as Dorothy. Deeply insecure, she walked down the yellow brick road into screen immortality.
The entire history of Hollywood would have to be rewritten if the original stars who were cast had actually completed their respective movies. Casablanca (1942) is hailed by some critics as the greatest film ever made. What would it have been like with Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan in the leading roles? Of course, it would be Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman remembering, “We’ll always have Paris.”
Cary Grant rejected Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), which means that every Christmas we get to watch James Stewart, fresh out of the U.S. Army, on our TV screens.
Three great actresses, each in their most memorable roles, competed for the Oscar in 1950: Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson, and Judy Holliday. Each of them almost lost their star parts.
Claudette Colbert signed for All About Eve as Margo Channing but couldn’t perform after injuring her back. In her place, Bette Davis rushed into the role. Before that, studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck had considered Susan Hayward, Marlene Dietrich, and Katharine Hepburn.
The director of Sunset Blvd., Billy Wilder, offered the role of Norma Desmond to Pola Negri, Mae West, and Mary Pickford before awarding it to Swanson. In it, she gave her greatest screen portrayal as the unhinged silent screen diva, Norma Desmond.
Montgomery Clift was originally tapped to play her gigolo, Joe Gillis, but rejected the role. In his place, the part went to William Holden.
Judy Holliday, for her performance as the daffy blonde in Born Yesterday (1950) beat out Swanson and Davis for the Best Actress Oscar. MGM had originally considered Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck, and Rita Hayworth.
From Here to Eternity (1953) is hailed in some quarters as one of the best of all World War II dramas. But it might have had Robert Mitchum and Joan Crawford in bathing suits on the beach at Pearl Harbor playing one of the most torrid love scenes ever. Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr took the roles. They turned each other on, since they launched an off-screen affair, too.
Grace Kelly won the Best Actress Oscar in 1954 for The Country Girl, opposite Bing Crosby. She beat out Judy Garland in her second most memorable role in A Star is Born. For a very brief time, Greta Garbo considered making a comeback in The Country Girl. I
n 1956, four veteran actors— William Holden, Clark Gable, Alan Ladd, and Gary Cooper—competed for the role of Bick Benedict in Edna Ferber’s Giant. Instead, a relative newcomer, Rock Hudson, won the career-making role. Grace Kelly was to be his leading lady, but when she ran away with the Prince of Monaco, the choice role went to Elizabeth Taylor.
Frank Sinatra was originally tapped to play the lead in Carousel (1956), but the role went to Gordon MacCrae. That same year, although Dinah Shore and Marlon Brando were to star in The King and I, the lead roles went to Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner instead.
Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959) is hailed as the greatest of all screen comedies. The original cast had Mitzi Gaynor cast opposite Sinatra and Bob Hope in drag. At the last minute it would be Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dressing up like female musicians.
As originally conceived, Joan Collins was set to star in Cleopatra (1963). Also up for the role were two examples of almost impossible miscasting: Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. Of course, it would be Elizabeth Taylor, falling in love with her co-star Richard Burton, who would bring the ill-fated production to the screen.
In 1964, it was assumed that Julie Andrews would co-star in My Fair Lady in the wake of her triumph on Broadway. But Audrey Hepburn ended up as Eliza Doolittle instead. She was to have co-starred with Cary Grant, but the male lead went to Rex Harrison.
Doris Day turned down the memorable role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967), the role eventually awarded to Anne Bancroft, whose character seduced Dustin Hoffman onscreen.
Two great pictures in 1972 might have had very different casts. The Godfather became Brando’s most memorable role, but Burt Lancaster and Laurence Olivier were among the runners-up.
Henry Fonda and Charlton Heston were once set to co-star in Deliverance in the wilds of northeast Georgia. But at the last minute, the parts went to Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds—his most memorable role.
Talk about bizarre casting: Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, and even Cher were considered to star in the 1976 remake of King Kong, the part ultimately won by Jessica Lange.
In modern times, Tom Cruise was set to star as Jack Dawson in that super box office bonanza, the ill-fated Titanic (1997). But Leonardo DiCaprio won the role instead.
We could go on and on with enough bizarre casting to fill a book, but at least you get the idea of what might have been.
Burt Reynolds, Put the Pedal to the Metal, How a Nude Centerfold Sex Symbol Seduced Hollywood is by celebrity author Darwin Porter and his co-author, Danforth
Prince. Softcover with 680 pages
and 200 photos, it is the never-before-told saga of a tormented, lusty horndog who oozed masculinity.
Be sure to listen to his radio interviews with Anita Finley.
For more information about Porter’s biographies of Hollywood legends, or how you can meet him at Magnolia House in New York City, click on www.BloodMoonProductions.com; check out Blood Moon Productions on Facebook, or contact DanforthPrince@gmail.com.