Movie Stars Who Turned Down Legendary Roles

Categories: Film

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We all know about classic stuff like Cary Grant making sure they cast Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady instead of him, and Doris Day not tarnishing her image by doing The Graduate -- a part that would have resulted in her still working today.

But here are some other weird cinematic decisions, courtesy of the fab book Flesh and Fantasy, by Penny Stallings with Howard Mandelbaum:


Rita Hayworth turned down Born Yesterday, choosing to instead hang with Prince Aly Khan. What was she, born yesterday? Judy Holliday got the job and won an Oscar for it.


Monty Clift shied away from Sunset Boulevard because "the script's central relationship between a young opportunist and an aging star" hit too close to home when it came to himself and Libby Holman. William Holden had no such qualms and gladly bagged the part. Meanwhile, Mae West and several other stars refused to play Norma Desmond because of the character's age and has-beeny quality. Ironically, it would have made them non-has-beens.


Monty also "couldn't relate to the role of the dull-witted ex prize fighter" in a little something called On the Waterfront. Marlon Brando could, and won an Oscar for it. So did the film, named best movie of the year.


Claudette Colbert's refusal to work past 5 p.m. cost her State of the Union. A back injury kept her from All About Eve. Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis benefited.


Joan Crawford withdrew from From Here to Eternity, supposedly because of the costumes, though in truth she didn't care to appear in ensemble pieces. Deborah Kerr got to make love on the beach as the film marched into legend as a Hollywood classic.


Cursed with terrible taste, George Raft turned down The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and High Sierra. Bogie was grateful three times over.


Errol Flynn pulled out of Lolita, as it were -- some say because his own Lolita, the 17-year-old Beverly Aadland, didn't get the title role.


Tallulah Bankhead was outraged to be offered the part of Belle Watling, the aging whorehouse madam, rather than the lead of Gone With the Wind. Ona Munson gladly took the role and will be remembered well into the future as a result.


And finally:

Elia Kazan was forced to use Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire when Olivia de Havilland informed him that a lady just didn't say and do those things on-screen. Thank God!

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59 comments
CMG
CMG

Lucas wanted Tom Selleck for Indiana Jones.  Selleck had Magnum P.I. and backed out and Spielberg along with the producers practically twisted his arm to just let Harrison take the role.  George did not want Ford to be his DeNiro to his Scorsese--- he wishes. 

Mickey Rourke made some disastrous choices though the most bizarre was the Robin Williams role in Dead Poets Society.  It is believable he would have been fine in Bad Boys (Him and Nolte rather than Smith and Lawrence), 48 Hrs. (Nolte role), Highlander, Pulp Fiction (Willis role), Platoon (Dafoe role), and Rain Man (Cruise role) but as an inspirational teacher at a prep school?  One of rare times he was right to turn it down.  He also turned down Elliot Ness in The Untocuhables.  He seemed more like an Andy Garcia type anyway but I actually think he would have been a far more believable Irish cop than Sir Sean Connery. 

Supposedly Michael Madsen turned down Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction to be in Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp and remains pissed about it. 

Great GutGast
Great GutGast

Rock Hudson turned down Sayonara AND Ben Hur to remake A Farewell to Arms...the first two films were blockbusters and award winners whilst his choice was a notorious bomb

James
James

Interesting article and [for the most part] very interesting comments.

Just have to correct the article re- Doris Day - while many [including the writer] agree the role of Mrs Robinson [The Graduate] would have been wonderfully done by Miss Day- it is somewhat unfair to state Doris Day would be working today had she took the part.

Doris Day has not made a film since 1968 and it is simply due to other commitments initially (being contracted to a 7 year TV show / 5 seasons).  Since 1973, Doris Day has not worked in the Entertainment field (save for a TV special in 1975 and an animal show in 1985).  This lack of work is entirely due to Miss Day's own choice - one of the best and most iconic stars of her generation with a simplicity and directness and down to earth quality that utterly belied her super-stardom. 

Doris Day has now spent more years following her passion in campaigning for animal rights - more years than she actually spent performing. That she is still regarded so highly and remembered by fans old and new alike; is a testament to her star quality and amazing talents on film and on record. 

The Divine Grace
The Divine Grace

Bette Midler turned down "Sister Act" (which was written for her) "Chicago" (was offered any role she wanted) and "Misery">

Ick
Ick

Holy shit. What a moron. Three smash hits.

Rebie
Rebie

Yeah, but when she was asked to be in Chicago, that version never got made. It was years later that they ended up with Renee and Catherine.

Parka
Parka

I don't know but thank God Marilyn got through it.

Larry
Larry

MJM, question re: Some Like it Hot: didn't they keep Mitzi Gaynor on standby during the whole shoot because Billy Wilder never believed Monroe would be able to get through it?

mjm
mjm

in the '70s, the potential Fosse directed film would have included either Liza or Miss M as Velma Kelly, Goldie Hawn as Roxie, Frank Sinatra as Billy Flynn, and either Pearl Bailey or Mae West as Mama Morton. Fosse then had that heart attack which became the focal point of All That Jazz.

mjm
mjm

Judy Garland, Shelley Winters, and Patricia Neal turned down Mrs. Robinson as well. more notable turn-downs:Bette Davis as Scarlett O'Hara in GWTWMitzi Gaynor and Jayne Mansfield both turned down the role of Sugar Kane in Some Like It Hot (they were originally going to use Bob Hope and Danny Kaye in Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon's roles!)Harry Belafonte as Porgy in Porgy and BessCary Grant and James Cagney as Prof. Harold Hill in The Music ManRita Hayworth, Jean Arthur, and Marilyn Monroe  turned down the role Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday Leo DiCaprio as Dirk Diggler in Boogie NightsWill Smith and Leo DiCaprio as Neo in The MatrixTom Cruise as Ren in FootlooseNatalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Ann-Margret, Leslie Caron, Liza Minnelli, and Tuesday Weld as Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and ClydeSarah Michelle Gellar as Cher in CluelessClark Gable and Joel McCrea as Tarzan in the original Tarzan the Ape Man Frank Sinatra as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale as Jack in Titanic (McConaughey was originally cast as Capt. Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates of the Caribbean flick, but had to bow out because the budget went through the roof in pre-production)Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford turned down Jean Harlow's role in Red DustTheda Bara, Mary Pickford, and Pola Negri turned down Norma DesmondJean Harlow as Ann Darrow in King KongJudy Garland and Ann-Margret as Mama Rose and Gypsy Rose Lee in GypsyJames Dean as Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes MeMolly Ringwald as Vivian in Pretty Woman and Molly in GhostLiza Minnelli as Deborah in Once Upon a Time in America Mel Gibson as Maximus in Gladiator

CMG
CMG

Dean really had no say on the matter.  It was just that he died. He was attached to Somebody Up There Likes Me when he died (he was set to work with lover Pier Angeli but who knows how much her mother would have tried to interfere on those two being in the same film) and a Billy the Kid film, The Left-Handed Gun.  Both roles went to Paul Newman who at the time was really trying to breakthrough from stage to screen but had hard luck with disasters like The Silver Chalice.  You can tell these are early Paul Newman films, the acting is a bit mugging in both, but those films definitely helped him breakthrough as a screen actor. 

Ironic that Newman also tried out for Aaron in East of Eden and there is an adorable screen-test of him and Dean together.  No offense to Richard Davalos, but I would have preferred to see those two. 

Mateo
Mateo

I love reading these!  So interesting!

Pooch
Pooch

Liza Minnelli was offered Bonnie & Clyde??? Weird.

exackerly
exackerly

Bette Davis was never offered the part of Scarlett O'Hara, because Selznick knew Warners would never release her for a movie distributed by MGM. And he needed MGM to get Gable.

mjm
mjm

yep. she was also offered the role of Anne Welles in Valley of the Dolls, but turned it down after Mama Judy was cast as Helen Lawson (Judy later quit after the director gave her crap. She also wasn't fully aware of how much Neely O'Hara was based on her [she didn't read the book], and soon after cut ties w/ Jackie Susann and her "husband")

Vicente Minnelli
Vicente Minnelli

Don't forget Babs also turned down "They Shoot Horses, Don't They ?" , and "Julia", whichLillian Hellman told her she'd be perfect for. Supposedly, Jane Fonda, years later, admitted to Barbra she wouldn't have the same (successful) career, if Barb hadnt turned down all the rollsFonda would get nominated , and win awards for, eventually.

Movielover
Movielover

Vincente!  I thought you were dead!  Sure do love all your work in Hollywood + Liza.

Ynnocence
Ynnocence

My favorite's the story of the ever-homophobic Jerry Lewis refusing to do Some Like It Hot because of the drag costumes. Jack Lemmon (who subbed, snagged an Oscar nom, and subsequently shot to stardom) supposedly sent him flowers for that - a brilliant combination of expressing gratitude and adding insult to injury.

LIMEN
LIMEN

Your right about Jerry Lewis being a homophobic piece of crap. I never understood why Dean Martin carried Jerry Lewis's sad ass so long. If I recollect it was Lewis that was the "bitter-bitch over the break-up. Dean was always cool about other peoples personal business. I recall one night that Dean got really hairy with the hotel that Sammy Davis was working in. Sammy did the main show, but had to enter through the kitchen entrance.

CMG
CMG

There was that trashy HBO movie on the rat pack that basically portrayed Dean as such.  Sinatra and the Kennedys seemed to take the most vicious hits in the film.  

Movielover
Movielover

I always thought Jerry & Dino had a very gay-seeming chemistry.  Maybe it was all on Jerry's side, but seemed gay to me.  Laurel & Hardy too!  Don't forget Batman and his boy ward, Robin.  Sometimes freaking out about gay is because of fear of being found out.

LIMEN
LIMEN

Dean and my father were childhood buddies in Steubenville, Ohio. I knew Dean in Las Vegas. I don't think Dean and Jerry were butt buddies. My lover's family ran alot of the big joints in Las Vagas. So you can bank on what I'm telling you. When I see Dina in June I'll tell her this story. She'll get a real laugh out of it. But I will tell you a fun story. My lover and I lived just above our friend the casino manager of MGM. One night the RAT-PACKwas all down Tony's place. So we stoped in. And Sammy asked me if I was going to be at the LA Cafe. Frank said aint that a fag bar. And Dean and Sammy said hay man that's not cool. So Frank said what did I think that made gay people gay. And I said all those great gladiator movies. It was all those big thighs. And then Inamed many a name such as Tony Curtus and others. So I said I never recalled Frank being in any of the gladiator movies. And Frank turned and walked over to me and said, 'I never had the legs for it kid." I kid you not!

CMG
CMG

There was a book and a movie that seemed to play off this idea they had romantic contact called Where the Truth Lies.  Firth and Bacon in the Dean and Jerry roles.  A bit too try-hard on the melodrama so I cannot recommend the movie outside of curiosity.  

Movielover
Movielover

Those gals can act!  Doris and Angie seem like sweeties. 

Movielover
Movielover

Fun!  Frank may not have had the legs, but I hear he had such a huge cock that special sailor pants had to be made to hide it in On the Town!

LIMEN
LIMEN

Ynnocence , I think that the NY Times got it's story wrong about Dean and Jerry picking the crabs from each other's crotches! It was the left-over andchovies from Angie Dickinson's you guess from where. She was a real bitch. So was Doris Day. Doris Day's  manager came into the La Cafe alot. So did Liza. But I'll just say that was because that her sister had a band that played there on the week ends.

Ynnocence
Ynnocence

Now that you guys mention it, I do recall reading an anecdote (I think in the NY Times, not that that makes it valid) about Dean and Jerry being so homoerotically close they'd pick out the crabs from each other's crotches. Strange how straight guys sometimes wind up in situations where a lot of queers would never get caught in.

Earl Gadberry
Earl Gadberry

is that why camille paglia liked titanic so much?

MarkyMark
MarkyMark

I bought that book years ago when it was first published in 1978, and read it like the Bible. Of course I was only a toddler of 3 at the time...  It would be fantastic to have an updated version, which could reveal so much, much more info about subjects who have passed away since.

Mateo
Mateo

Debra Winger is infamous for turning down roles.  She said no to the female lead in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', which would have been perfect for her!  She also turned down the Glenn Close role in 'Fatal Attraction', the Julia Roberts role in 'Pretty Woman', and Geena Davis' role in 'A League of Their Own' (a movie she backed out of once she knew Madonna had been cast, because Debra didn't believe in "stunt-casting" ??).  I always loved watching Debra WInger, so it's frustrating to know what opportunities she had.  Even more frustrating considering the clunkers she AGREED to do.

Speaking of Madonna, I think I read somewhere that she turned down a role on 'Dynasty', which isn't all that surprising, I guess.  But there's a parallel universe somewhere where she DID accept.  It would've been hilarious.

H2O4Chocolate
H2O4Chocolate

 Debra Winger HATED Richard Gere! There's no way she would have worked with him again after "An Officer and A Gentleman".

Movielover
Movielover

Madge might have had a difficult time keeping up with women who were actually beautiful and could act.  She more needs a show case that is tailored to not show what she lacks. 

exackerly
exackerly

Don't you mean women who were beautiful OR could act? This is Dynasty we're talking about here...

mikeinbrooklyn
mikeinbrooklyn

Interesting.  Dynasty came out in 1981.  Madonna's first album was in 1984.  how could she turn down something that early in her career?  Are you sure about this tidbit?

Mateo
Mateo

I believe they were thinking of creating a role just for her.  This would've been in '86 or '87.  I probably read this in 'Encyclopedia Madonnica' by Matthew Rettenmund. 

mjm
mjm

George Peppard was originally cast as Blake Carrington and Aaron Spelling initially wanted either Priscilla Presley or Raquel Welch as Alexis and Morgan Fairchild as Krystle.

Mateo
Mateo

Ahh man, I would've loved Morgan Fairchild as Krystle.  Also, I know that Sophia Loren was considered for Alexis, too!

Viv
Viv

Madonna turned down the role of Blake Carrington?

Monsieurpatric
Monsieurpatric

Elvis Presley said No to Barbra Streisand for A Star Is Born.

Roy
Roy

Yes, that was the smartest decision the Colonel ever made.

Movielover
Movielover

Babs' Star is Born was the Star is Corn.  Danger in remaking something that was excellent in the first place.  The all time worst remake must be The Women.  That remake was such a stinker and the original was superb.  Whatever possessed them?

Devore
Devore

You'd think Joan would have been cast in the Donna Reed role (ie, the whore).

CMG
CMG

Zinnemann wanted against type role for everybody in the film (though Frank supposedly really identified with Maggio).  I think Donna Reed looked the right age to be with Monty but I think the hardness of the character as being an older whore would have been an interesting choice.  

nostradavid
nostradavid

Joan Crawford would have been terrible casting for From Here To Eternity.

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

George Raft turned down many roles with what he considered "too many words" -- for the simple reason that he couldn't read.

Movielover
Movielover

I really don't get George Raft at all.  In person he probably was "good looking" but moviestar-wise, he's not that hot and usually plays the same jerk in every role, probably because he was cast to play himself over and over.  And anyway!  He gave Tallulah VD that caused her to have to have a his-to-rectumy (I can never spell that lady word) because she didn't know until it was too late to just treat it (lady parts are so complicated!).  I think he was gangster-connected and that's why he got cast in movies.  Somebody made them cast him!

DickC
DickC

.................George Raft always reminded me of John Ireland.....or was it John Ireland always reminds of George Raft...............in any case......two of the worse actors ever to grace the screen.........Never a changed expression between them.........

LIMEN
LIMEN

Movielover. You say that you think George Raft had gangster-connections. He and Jimmy Durante helped welcome guests at Benjamin "Bugzy" Siegel's Las Vegas hotel, when Bugzy open it. Back then all of Hollywood came to get down and dirty!

Larry
Larry

Marlon Brando turned down Lawrence of Arabia in order to do the disastrous remake of Mutiny on the Bounty.  So did Albert Finney, but he did Tom Jones instead.  Barbra Streisand turned down Klute and Cabaret.  Sandra Bullock turned down Million Dollar Baby in order to do Miss Congeniality 2: Crowned and Dangerous.  John Travolta turned down An Officer and a Gentleman, Prince of the City, and Fort Apache, the Bronx.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg for Travolta; it seems he has the most fabulous list of turn-downs of anyone working today,but I'm blanking on the others.

CMG
CMG

You see now I am upset Sandy turned down the role.  Much more easier to stomach her in the role than Swank and probably more deserved than her winning for The Blind Side which if she had won one previously probably would have had her just gotten the nomination than the win.  That way the world could have avoided the phrase two-time Oscar winning Hillary Swank. 

Now Liza's legs in Cabaret would have been terribly missed.  I cannot see Babs as a Fosse woman. 

Movielover
Movielover

I know Babs can be her own worst enemy.  How could she have turned down Cabaret?  And even Klute - they were masterpieces and she must have know who was directing them, etc., but...she did ok anyway!

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