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Thursday, March 25, 2010


The acting business is very competitive. Many assume that once an actor has reached some sort of acclaim or stardom, his scrambling for work is over. Not so. All kinds of tangled bits of politics go into casting films. Sometimes, an actor may pass on a role, leaving it open to someone who previously would never have had the chance. (The former actor normally winds up kicking himself)! Sometimes, an impassioned actress rallies for a part only to be told by the studios that she isn't big enough box-office, right for it, etc, and it is handed to someone else. But, there are merits to the decisions some of the big-wigs make, and though it is a rough biz, the people on top often do make the right decisions, casting the perfect person for the perfect role. Happy accidents and calculated risks... It's all movie history. But, just for fun, let's play a game of imagination called: What if?

Jean the Scene-Stealer:

It seems that some people are chosen for fame, even if they don't want it. Jean Harlow is one of those human phenomenons who was born to be a movie star-- beautiful, talented, charismatic-- despite her own wishes.  She didn't have her eyes on acting when it came after her. Unlike the other young ladies dying to be discovered, this lovely little sexpot from Kansas City became a sensation without even lifting a finger. Her fame was predicted by leading lady of the silents, Clara Bow, herself. When Clara saw the svelte and sexy extra on the set of her film The Saturday Night Kid, she panicked! The bombshell was a definite threat. At first, Clara wanted Jean taken off the film, but she was too kindhearted to ever really punish someone for her own insecurities. She took Jean under her wing and even arranged for her to wear one of the gowns originally designed for herself (together below with Jean Arthur on left).

Jean was eternally grateful. The domino effect continued. Roles that were written for or slated for other actresses landed right in her lap, much to her surprise and much to the other ladies' chagrin. Here are two such scenarios:

When Howard Hughes was filming his epic Hell's Angel's, he ran into a problem. Already over budget and over schedule, sound films took the lead at theaters before his silent film had been completed. As a result, Howard decided to go back and re-shoot all of the previous sequences in sound. The only problem was his leading lady- Greta Nissen-- who spoke in a thick Norwegian accent. Audiences wouldn't accept her, therefore, as a British aristocrat. So, he set about re-casting her. (Poor Greta). For awhile, the top choice was none other than Starlet of the Month, Thelma Todd (above, right), who was being primed for a dramatic career by her lover/friend Roland West. Unfortunately for Thelma, Hal Roach would not let her out of her contract to make the film, afraid that a dramatic role would ruin her comedy image. As a result, the role went to newcomer, Jean Harlow. Many would comment that the new girl couldn't act a lick, but when the camera was on, her... boy oh boy! 

Jean made another "screen-grab" when The Public Enemy was being cast. William Wellman offered the role to Louise Brooks (left), whom he'd worked with on Beggars for Life. Louise was trying to make an American comeback after her forays into the world of German cinema, which at the time labeled her as a washed-up failure. It would take years for her to reclaim her status as an incomparable film star. She may not have had to wait as long if she had snatched up Wellman's offer, but perhaps because she didn't much care for Wellman, who had put her through dangerous, physical trauma while shooting Beggars, she turned the role down. Whoops. Again, it went to Jean, whose sex appeal in the role of Gwen Allen in The Public Enemy solidified her even further into the very appreciative "public" eye.

The Graduate:

Would the classic, The Graduate, have "flunked" at the box-office if it had been made as originally cast??? At first, Robert Redford (right) was slated to play the now iconic role of Benjamin Braddock, because he more closely resembled the golden, American boy from the novel. Young unknown thespian, Dustin Hoffman, was more than a long shot. Short, dark, and awkward, he hardly seemed to fit the mold. In fact, when he finished his audition, which he botched,  he dropped his train fare on the ground, to which a cameraman muttered something to the effect of, "You should pick that up, because you're going to need it." However, despite appearances, director Mike Nichols saw something in the young up-and-comer and cast him in the role that would change his life.

Anne Bancroft, as it turns out, was not a shoe-in for Mrs. Robinson either, the role she will forever be identified with. Down-to-earth beauty, Ava Gardner, (left)was originally approached, but she didn't have enough faith in her talents. Though she did not turn down the role, she seemed to try to talk Nichols out of casting her, casually telling him, "You know, I can't act," a statement that she unfortunately believed. Ava's interpretation certainly would have been interesting to see, but Bancroft won the coveted part and made it her own, injecting it with ferocity and humanity all at once.

Breakfast at Tiffany's:

Would the most important meal of the day have been as easy to swallow if it hadn't been Audrey Hepburn (left) staring into that jeweler's window? Originally, Truman Capote was adamantly against Audrey being the star for the film adaptation of his novel. She was far too graceful and poised to play the character of a frivolous, fun-loving call girl. He imagined none other than Marilyn Monroe (below) as the perfect fit for his delicate and deluded socialite. After all, Marilyn had played a previous character infatuated with diamonds: Lorelei of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It is interesting to note that both women would have brought the same bright-eyed innocence to this role, along with an endearing and fragile vulnerability. However, these qualities would have been conveyed in very different packages and thus would have resulted in very different films.Though Marilyn had already proved that she was capable of deep and profound film work, as seen in her very human portrayal in 1956's Bus Stop, the hand of fate placed Audrey in the lead. Audrey ran away with the picture, and produced one of the most iconic movie heroines of all time.

The Philadelphia Story:

When Katharine Hepburn was labeled "box-office poison," she didn't hang around Hollywood to pout about it. This fighter went back to treading the boards of the stage, winning respect for her role as Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story, which was specifically crafted for her. She proved that she could indeed act, and with her refined and hilarious portrayal she showed everyone that she was one of the finest actresses of her generation, who could not only run the gamut of emotions from A-Z (ahem, Dorothy Parker!), but back again! A cunning business-woman, Kate obtained the rights to the play and sold them to MGM, casting herself in the lead, of course. 

She had her own ideas about the casting of her male counterparts as well, and she requested that Clark Gable step in as C.K. Dexter Haven and that her soon-to-be lover, Spencer Tracy, be given the role of wisecracking writer Macaulay Connor (above, the pals duke it out in San Francisco). It was not to be . Cary Grant was given the role of Dex, after demanding and receiving top billing of course, which Kate graciously acceded, and Jimmy Stewart won Oscar gold for his role as Connor. Kate, for her part, was nominated for her "comeback" role, but she lost to Ginger Rogers for her performance in Kitty Foyle. Queen once more, Kate didn't mind, stating that her work was her true reward. No one would ever doubt her ability again, and until Meryl Streep outdid her, she held the long-running record of the actress to receive the most Academy Award nominations. She still holds the record for most wins: four!

 The fated trio on the set

--Don't worry, more to come!!! These bits of trivia are endless ;)


  1. Such a great post!! I love these bits of trivia and I can't wait to read the rest of the series! I love that Clara Bow took Jean Harlow under her wing rather than get rid of her. How cool! And I think it's fascinating who Katherine Hepburn really wanted for her two leading men. I always love learning new stuff from you!

  2. Sooooo glad Grant got the part of Haven and not 'The King'.

  3. Haha, thanks! Yes, I think things worked out for the best in each case. :D

  4. Ronald Reagen as Rick in Casablanca? I don’t think so. But a possibility if George Raft had not turned down High Sierra and Maltese Falcon. You are so right about Jean. Destiny seemed to be chasing her as she rapidly climbed the ladder of stardom. Although being married to studio executive Paul Bern and a stage mom didn’t hurt either. As usual , well done Meredith