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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cast Aways: Part VIII

Fred and Ginger reunite for their second cinematic collaboration, 
The Gay Divorcee.

The visual splendor of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in motion continues to fascinate and hypnotize even the most novice of film fans. The synchronicity of their partnership and the unexpected chemistry of their personae makes them inseparable in the history of cinema. What they had was magical. This is evidenced in the fact that Fred first danced on film with Joan Crawford in Dancing Lady for MGM, and that partnership did not lead to future pairings. Perhaps more than any other onscreen couple, Astaire and Rogers portrayed true movie romance head to toe. This makes one wonder what the world of filmdom would have been without them. Not only could a glitch in their seemingly divine partnership have negatively affected the rest of their careers, preventing them from building the reputations that achieved them other, separate acting opportunities (his Easter Parade, her Kitty Foyle par exemple), but there too would have been a gaping hole in cinema where its heart should be. Had fate not intervened, history could have danced along at a clumsier pace. Originally, Dorothy Jordan (right) was slated to dance the infamous "Carioca" with Fred in his first RKO film, Flying Down to Rio. Fortunately for Ginger, Dorothy had opted to marry producer Merian C. Cooper instead. In turn, studio head Merian, who luckily had seen a screen test of Ginger, saw enough potential in her to give her the small role in the musical-- a genre for which the action man had little interest. The rest is history. While one can't argue the talents of Dorothy, it also can't be argued that America's embrace of the art of dance would have been greatly affected had she gone toe to toe, or rather forehead to forehead, with Freddy instead of Ginger that first fateful dance.

Though Ginger (left) was lucky in landing what turned out to be a ten picture gig with Fred, there were a few acting opportunities that she passed up. It was Barbara Stanwyck who would later joke that she was always given the roles Ginger vetoed, but it was more obviously Olivia de Havilland who seemed to have the luck of the draw with Ginger's discards. It turns out that Ginger, one of the top female stars of her day, was offered both To Each His Own and The Snake Pit before Olivia snatched them up. One wonders why Ginger would pass on two such meaty roles-- one, the tale of a woman forced to give up her child and watch him be raised by another family, and the other the raw and shocking study of one woman's life in a mental institution. Perhaps Ginger was a little more worried about protecting her glamorous image than Olivia, who had no qualms about hurling herself into any role, no matter the subject matter. Well, almost anyway. Olivia allegedly turned down Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire because she found the character too... unladylike. While Olivia may have flinched at playing a lady of the night, she did not balk at portraying emotionally and mentally conflicted women from other varied walks of life. After O de H won the Oscar for To Each His Own and snagged another nomination for The Snake Pit, Ginger admittedly kicked herself with her taps. But, all is fair in film and war, and in the end, Ginger knew which roles she was best suited for. Besides, she already had her own Oscar to keep her company.

Olivia De Havilland combats a nervous breakdown and a strait jacket
 in The Snake Pit.
Before Alfred Hitchcock invented Grace Kelly, Cecil B. DeMille had done the same for Gloria Swanson. Gloria had gone from one of the many Sennett "bathing beauties" to one of the most famous and envied women in the world due to her work with Cecil, who had helped to mold her erotic and powerful image in films like Male and Female and Why Change Your Wife?. But Gloria eventually made her exit from Paramount Pictures to go rogue, leaving behind her maker and an unfulfilled career together. Cecil didn't pine, (as Hitch would later do for Ingrid Bergman when she abdicated her throne as his muse to marry Roberto Rosselini), but he still missed working with his little fella and often tried to elicit her freelancing services. He even offered her the "role of a lifetime" as Mary Magdalene in his epic The King of Kings. Initially, Gloria turned the chance down, having just suffered through a nervous breakdown coming on the heels of her disastrous divorce from the blackmailing Herbert K. Somborn and subsequent marriage to the royal Henri de la Falaise. Exhausted, Gloria needed time off... Or so she thought. She grew tired of being tired, and later inquired about the role, raising Cecil's hopes-- only to turn it down a second time to play a very different prostitute in Sadie Thompson. As a result, Cecil cast Jacqueline Logan (right) in the role of the scandalous and saved MM. It is the role for which she is most often remembered.

Gloria Swanson slips into another prostitute role in Sadie Thompson
 and cozies up to Lionel Barrymore.

Ava Gardner, an actress of the old school Hollywood style (see left), was intrigued about working with edgy new star Paul Newman when news of the Tennessee Williams adaptation Sweet Bird of Youth came to her attention. Ava always had little respect for her own acting gifts, so to work with someone who was being lauded as a great talent both flattered and intimidated her. Of course, as a sensual woman, she no doubt was equally attracted to the idea of working with Paul, whose pale blue eyes certainly must have reminded her of ex-hubby Frank Sinatra's steely and intense gaze. However, the pairing was not to be. Ava found the role of Alexandra Del Lago-- an aging, drunken actress-- a bit too close to home. The superb Geraldine Page swooped in instead and flew away with the movie. Nonetheless, Paul and Ava were teamed up in a later picture, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, directed by Ava's old pal John Huston. Unfortunately, the off screen chemistry was not as hot as Ava had hoped, although this had much to do with Paul's marriage to soul mate Joanne Woodward. Because Ava's reception from Paul was so chilly, the woman who could have any man she wanted was a bit miffed. She would refer to Paul as one of her most "unfavorite actors." Yet, her brief three-days of work on the film, playing "the world's most beautiful woman," of course, was still enjoyable, and while she may not have warmed to her co-star, she as always enjoyed joking and laughing with the rest of the film crew-- Huston included.


Geraldine Page reaps the benefits of Ava's uncertainty with Paul Newman
 in Sweet Bird of Youth.

When Paul was coming up in Hollywood, one of his greatest competitors for roles was James Dean. Both young, good-looking men proved that they had more going on than their pretty faces, but because James burst onto the scene to acclaim before Paul in East of Eden, his popularity allowed him to have first choice of roles. (Ironically, Paul would be up for the role of Aron Trask, brother to Jimmy's Cal, in Eden, but would lose the role to Richard Davalos). However, Dean's sudden death not only left a hole in the hearts of his fans, but it also, in bittersweet fashion, allowed Paul to step in and stake his own claim as a young heartthrob in Hollywood. Originally, the role of Rocky in Somebody Up There Likes Me was to go to James, which would certainly have been super awkward since the film would co-star ex-paramour Pier Angeli (they sit together in better days, right). When Jimmy shockingly died, Paul inherited the role of his former friend and made it his own. His performance would help to further establish his stellar reputation as a promising and gifted newcomer, and his continued devotion to his work and craft would earn him a place in Hollywood lore as one of our most diversified, defiant, and damn-goodlooking stars.

Paul takes his place in the (acting) ring in Somebody Up
 There Likes Me.


  1. I love the photo of Ava. My goodness she was gorgeous

  2. I can't remember what interview with Olivia de Havilland I saw, but she says the role of Blanch being unlady like wasn't the reason she turned down the role. ...And now it's going to bug me where I saw it; I do remember reading that in her own words.

    Also have you seen the screen test of East of Eden with Paul Newman and James Dean?

    Lastly, but not least of all, you have a fascinating blog. :)

  3. > Bill: I know, Bill. Right?! It's not human!
    > Stef: Thanks so much! Yes, I have seen the screen test. It is amazing! Thanks for the info about Olivia. If you remember the interview, let me know. I would love to watch it and know her reasoning behind the decision. For now, I will just add in an "allegedly," hahaha. Thx again. I appreciate it :)

  4. This wasn't the article I was thinking of when I mentioned De Havilland turning down Streetcar, but I did however find this one, referenced by Wikipedia, which mentions it in the first paragraph. It discusses a little-known connection between her and the Cold War; an interesting read and something I definitely didn't know about.