Frances Dee

  1. Virginia Bruce, Sky Bride, 1931.  When the damsel called Ruth was  built up, poor Dee was dropped down to a walk-on as Brucesoared where most players  fell in Paramount’s tribute (scripted byJoseph L Mankiewicz among others) to “those courageous adventurers in the clouds… the barn storming stunt fliers… true pioneers of aviation.”One of them, Leo Nomis, was killed during a spin around flying stunt in the movie.
  2. Elissa Landi, The Sign of the Cross, 1932.     Director Cecil B DeMille must have ket tue cat out of the bag…  Both Frances Dee and Syvia Sidney craved the role of the slave girl, Mercia.  When played by Landi, she was a part of what cine-historians cite as Hollywood’s first lesbian scene, with Joyzelle Joynor dancing seductively around her.
  3. Helen Gahagan, She, 1934. RKO wanted Mr and Mrs Joel McCrea and settled for Randolph Scott and Helen… A huge flop, it was her first and last film. Mrs Melvyn Douglas turned to politics, serving two terms in House of Representatives. Her 1950 bid for the Senate was crushed by a nefarious campaign by her opponent, Richard Nixon. Or as Helen was first to call him… Tricky Dicky.
  4. Patricia Ellis, Hold ‘Em Yale, 1934.  The choice for the top-billed, sploit heiress Clarice Van Cleve was said to be a “toss up” between Dee and Bette Davies. The suits must have tossed another coin because Ellis won her – and Buster Crabbe.
  5. June Lang, Nancy Steele Is Missing, 1936.   Exploiting the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in a convoluted manner, the drama had Nancy meeting her kidnapper 20 years later and believing him to be her father. (I did say convoluted!). Among the potential Nancies were: Dee, Francis Farmer, Jean Parker and Jane Wyatt.
  6. Vivien Leigh, Gone With The Wind, 1938.
  7. Olivia De Havilland, Gone With The Wind, 1938.
  8. Joan Bennett, The Man in the Iron Mask, 1939.    Variety reported that Dee and Sigrid Gurie were tested for the Alexandre Dumas heroine,  Maria Theresa, opposite the titular Louis Heyward – in a change of pace for Frankenstein  director James Whale. (Ironically,  his cast included the debut of Peter Cushing – Hammer’s Professor Frankenstein six times during 1956-1973). 
  9. Laraine Day, My Son, My Son! 1939. Day had to replace Dee as Maeve O’Riorden when Frances collapsed on the et of King Vidor’s tale on the Howard Spring novel.
  10. Ginger Rogers, Tales of Manhattan, 1941.    Or Tails, at first, as the anthology tales were – flimsily – linked by a tail coat passed from one to another. For the second stanza, Dee and her husband  Joel McCrea became Rogers and Henry Fonda. In all, six vignettes (WC Fields’ was cut until DVDays) by 20 writers (only a  dozen credited) from 40 bought stories. 

  11. Joan Fontaine, Suspicion, 1941.  RKO had the Before the Fact book since 1935. Somewhere amid the ever changing titles – Last Lover, Love in Irons, Men  Make Poor Husbands (too comedic), Search for Tomorrow,Suspicious Lady, Tom & Jerry Go Bowling (I jest) (I think)  –  it was  once due to star  Laurence Olivier as the, maybe, killer of Frances Dee – before Alfred Hitchcock moved in with Cary Grant-Rosalind Russell.  Dee’s husband for 57 years – to the very day – Joel McCrea starred in Hitchcock’s Foreign  Correspondent,1940… when Cary Grant was tied up elsewhere.  
  12. Betty Field, The Southerner, 1945.     Dee and husband Joel McCrea saw few prospects in a film about poor farmers. Even if the great Frenchman, Jean Renoir, was directing!  Worth about $100m, the McCreas made four lightweight movies before he  died on their 57th wedding anniversary.
  13. Shirley Booth, The Whales of August, 1986.  Both Frances Dee and her husband Joel McCrea – and his wife, Frances Dee – wed for  57 years – were sought for roles opposite fellow old-timers Bette Davis and Lilian Gish (at 94) in David Berry’s screen version of his play.
  14. Gloria Stuart, Titanic, 1997.


 Birth year: 1907Death year: 2004Other name: Casting Calls:  14