Charles Coburn

  1. Monty Woolley, The Man Who Came To Dinner, 1941.      When the comedy tickled director Howard Hawks’ fancy, he wanted Cary Grant as the titular critic Sheridan Whiteside However, public  insisted that  only Woolley could and should play his famous stage role. Orson Welles wanted to direct and play Whiteside. (And he did so in a 1972 TVersion). Bette Davis wanted John Barrymore, but he could no longer remember his lines. Tests of Robert Benchley and Laird Cregar were respectively deemed “too mild-mannered” and “overblown and extravagant,” by producer Hal Wallis. (Probably why Charles Coburn refused to test at all). Director William Keighley also saw Charles Laughton (he made two terrible tests) and  Fredric March. And Grant was still around – “far too young and attractive,” said Wallis.  Anyway, acerbic or no, causing havoc or not, who’d be upset if Cary Grant suddenly came to dinner? Robert Morley, who refused the role on Broadway, played Whiteside in London and all over the UK during 1941-1943.
  2. Edward Arnold, The Devil and Daniel Webster, 1941.       Poor Thomas Mitchell lost control of his horse-drawn carriage and was flung out onto the road during a scene, fracturing his skull and requiring hospitalisation for 17 weeks. Director William Dieterl called up first Coburn, then Arnold to take over the title tole – and he re-shot all the Mitchell footage.
  3. Lionel Barrymore, It’s A Wonderful Life1946. 
  4. C Aubrey Smith, Little Women, 1948.      Set for Laurie’s grandfather in 1946 before producer David O Selznick and his wife, Jennifer Jones, were greatly fatigued, physically and emotionally, from making Duel in  the Sun and passed the project (and director Mervyn LeRoy) to MGM to inaugurate its 25th anniversary agenda.  Grandad was Smith’s 112th and final role.


 Birth year: 1877Death year: 1961Other name: Casting Calls:  4