An actor lands a film role. That’s where it all begins, right? Not for Originally Starring. For us that’s the end. We want to know what happened before that (and make some Photoshop magic along the way). For instance, Betty Hutton stars in Annie Get Your Gun. Great. But did you know that long before she arrived on the scene Judy Garland was cast, already pre-recorded half a dozen songs for the film, and was in the middle of filming? So what happened? Funny you should ask…
Annie Get Your Gun
For a movie that ended up winning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe it sure started out badly—as bad as you can imagine. Star Howard Keel broke his leg on the second day of shooting no thanks to director Busby Berkeley’s incompetence. Now with his energies focused entirely upon the fragile Judy Garland the situation got even worse. Buzz bullied & berated Judy. She retaliated by showing up late (if at all), doing more drugs than ever, and repeatedly trying to get Berkeley fired. She eventually did get her wish: Chuck Walters took over the disastrous production. But alas, Garland, lost & listless, was replaced too, by Betty Hutton. Hutton didn’t fare so well either. In a 2000 interview Hutton said her fellow cast was hostile towards her, and that she wasn’t even invited to its premiere in New York City!
The Deer Hunter
Let’s hear from Michael Smith, president of the Roy Scheider fan club and an extra in Jaws 2: “Roy Scheider signed a three-picture deal with Universal after Jaws. His first role was to reunite with William Friedkin to do Sorcerer (1977). His second role was to be Michael in The Deer Hunter (1978). Two weeks into production, Roy got the finished script and disagreed with the ending. Roy reasoned that this guy would not go half way around the world to find his friend, only to have him kill himself. Well, the good old ‘creative differences’ had reared their ugly head, and Roy walked.” Robert De Niro liked the script just fine.
The book Dracula Starring Lon Chaney – An Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters has a fascinating account of the ill-fated courtship between producer Carl Laemmle Jr. and horror icon Lon Chaney. Both he and his father (Universal Studios founder) Carl Sr. coveted Chaney for the role, going so far as to order a screenplay written specifically with Chaney in mind—despite him not being under contract to Universal. Chaney himself actively lobbied for the part (knowing switching studios to get the sought-after role would be highly advantageous) by proactively doing two separate make-up tests as Dracula. But it was not to be. Shocking news shut down pre-production: Apparently Chaney had been battling cancer for years, and ultimately succumbed to it on August 26, 1930.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
As he worked on the screenplay John Hughes said that he had Matthew Broderick (“clever, smart, and charming”) in mind for the titular character. But there was due diligence on the studio’s part to consider other bright young talent for the role of Ferris Bueller, including Rob Lowe, John Cusack, Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr. and Michael J. Fox. Also included in that dreamy 80s Teen Beat lineup was Johnny Depp. While being interviewed on “Inside the Actors Studio” Depp said that he was offered the part of Ferris but was unavailable for it—graciously adding that Broderick did a great job.
In 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito starred as Twins. It was such a hit that they were reportedly going to reteam for another mismatched-duo film, Suburban Commando (1991 – which would end up starring Hulk Hogan and Christopher Lloyd). They passed on that opportunity opting instead to work together again in Junior (1994). Film site NotStarring.com reports that Junior’s pregnant male protagonist role of Dr. Alex Hesse was written for Hulk Hogan, but that he was about to win the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) title and didn’t want this film to make that title a joke.
The Man Who Fell To Earth
Nicolas Roeg has quite the penchant for casting musicians as his leads. The first film he directed was Performance (1970), which stars Mick Jagger. In 1980 Roeg made Bad Timing starring Art Garfunkel. Four years before that Roeg was prepared to cast Peter O’Toole as the lead in The Man Who Fell to Earth. It is unclear whether Roeg offered him the part (with O’Toole turning it down) or even if it was submitted to O’Toole at all since at that time he was in ill health from alcoholism. In any event Roeg’s mind was made up after television watching one night. He came across the BBC documentary David Bowie: Cracked Actor and was mesmerized. Roeg thought that Bowie had an ethereal quality, perfect to play the space alien aka Thomas Jerome Newton.
Polish-born actress Pola Negri made many hugely popular films in Germany—so many, in fact, that Hollywood feared that Berlin would become the film capital of the world. In order to turn the tide Hollywood basically bought out Negri, convincing her to come to America in 1922. A bevy of European actors followed quickly in trailblazer Negri’s footsteps, including Swedish sensation Greta Garbo. The two became Silent film goddesses, and before long both were looking to conquer the talkies. Negri’s first choice was to portray German spy Mata Hari. She was delighted to learn that a biopic was in production. The bad news was the lead was already cast: Greta Garbo! Relegated to also-ran status, Negri settled for A Woman Commands as her first sound film.
From Robert De Niro: Portrait of a Legend by John Parker: Paramount, who had initially taken an interest in [director] Martin Brest’s production, wanted to put another major-league star alongside De Niro. Interestingly, they argued that De Niro was not a strong enough draw to carry a $30 million picture on his own. Their production executives suggested that the Charles Grodin character [Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas] should be changed to a woman, and that Cher should be offered the part, thus providing the opportunity to interject some sexual overtones into what was really a film about male bonding. Brest was not amused by the idea, and rejected it.
Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen all were writers for Sid Caesar’s classic television shows. Gelbart envisioned a reunion of sorts while developing his screenplay. In a televised interview with Gelbart he states “I wrote Oh, God! initially with the idea of directing it, with Mel Brooks playing God and Woody Allen playing what would become the John Denver role [grocery store manager Jerry Landers]. Mel Brooks was very willing to play God—that’s second nature to Mel!—but Woody was not interested, he was doing another movie which he felt was dealing with the Almighty [Stardust Memories].” While the planned unification did not work out in toto, Reiner was tapped to direct.
The Public Enemy
Hard to imagine anyone else but Jimmy Cagney smooshing a grapefruit into Mae Clarke’s puss, but according to multiple sources that wasn’t how it was originally meant to be. Dashing Edward Woods was hired by Warner Bros to portray the Tom Powers character, with James Cagney as his best bud, Matt Doyle. While in rehearsals director William Wellman got a glimpse of Cagney’s charisma and star power and decided to reverse their roles. Supposedly, the studio assured Woods it would atone for the switch by giving him plum assignments in the future. Though he was given top billing in the end credits their promise never came to pass; Woods was soon a forgotten actor.