Henry Fonda (1905-1982)
- Randolph Scott, Belle Starr, 1941. Hank refused to be Gene Tierney-Belle’s Confederate guerillia husband, so Scott moved up and his role taken by Dana Andrews.
- Gary Cooper, Sergeant York, 1941. On the reserve list (with Jimmy Stewart, bien sur) when Warners announced Coop as thewar hero of 1918 - without a finished script, much less a director. After Fleming, Hathaway, Koster, Taurog, Vidor and Wyler passed, Howard Hawks proved quite satisfied with Coop.
- John Sutton, A Yank in the RAF, 1940. One of the Hollywood films preparing Americans for entering WWII, with, therefore, a happy ending patched on instead of Tyrone Power’s heroic death because “audiences would resent his dying… and not getting the girl.”(!) The UK government agreed, not wishing to show US audiences how Americans helping the UK could die. Actually, head Fox Darryl Zanuck (who wrote this story) had already decreed that Fox films would always have happy ends following the public anger over Power’s death in Blood and Sand, 1940.
- Robert Cummings, Saboteur, 1941. Cooper versus Fonda, round two… For what proved his second flop at Universal second, Alfred Hitchcock wanted Fonda, Cooper or Joel McCrea as his hero. Cummings was a disaster. Hitch made sure he had total charge of his work in future. He actually used Cummings again in Dial M For Murder, 1953. And, finally, Fonda as The Wrong Man in 1955.
- Robert Cummings, Kings Row, 1941. Fox tried to buy the scandalous book for Fonda. Warner won the battle. Rex Downing and Philip Reed, were also up for Parris, studying medicine under the doctor in “the town they talk of in whispers,” full of murder, sadism, depravity. And worse that had to be axed from Henry Bellamann’s 1940 novel: sex (premarital), sex (gay), incest, suicide... Peyton Place 16 years before Peyton Place!
- George Montgomery, Ten Gentlemen From West Point, 1941. West Point - The Early Years. (Far from historically accurate). Fonda, Tyrone Power and Randolph Scott were the early birds for the principled Kentuckian frontiersman - highly smitten with Maureen O’Hara
- John Sutherland, Bambi, 1942. Walt Disney did not start using celebrity voices for his toons until the last film he supervised: The Jungle Book, 1966. But had the idea much earlier… Even so, 'tis hard to imagine Hank as a white-tailed deer ! but he was in the mix for the final voice - the young adult Bambi - after the baby, young and adolescent versions) in the classic Disney toon.
- Alexander Knox, Wilson, 1943. Hank and Coop were considered for the White House, but the Canadian Knox was finally elected as 28th US President Woodrow Wilson. (Just no mention of him supporting the Ku Klax Klan). The result was such a major flop that its loving producer Darryl F Zanuck banned everyone talking to to him about his paean to the “pre-FDR.” Cooper never was a POTUS, real or false, in his 119 movies; while Fonda played three, Young Mr Lincoln in 1938, and two fictionals in Fail Safe, 1963, and Meteor, 1979.
- Gregory Peck, The Keys of the Kingdom, 1944. Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick gave up after two years and sold out to Fox when he couldn’t find the perfect (all too perfect) hero, Father Francis Chisholm. Contenders included Fonda, Dana Andrews, Joseph Coptten, Maurice Evans, Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Dean Jagger, Gene Kelly, Franchot Tone, Spencer Tracy, Orson Welles… plus the most unlikely Catholic missionaries of all: Alan Ladd and Edward G Robinson! Auteur Joseph L Mankiewicz signed Peck in July 1943 for his second film - and first Oscar nomination.
- James Stewart, Call Northside 777, 1947. Hank said: No thanks. Jim, his pal said: Yes, please. To being the crusading Chicago Times reporter trying to free an possibly innocent man from jail for killing a cop. Fonda went on to play such a victim, himself, in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man in 1955.
- Lamberto Maggiorani, Ladri di biciclette (UK/US: Bicycle Thieves), Italy, 1948. When legendary producer David O Selznick oafishly suggested Cary Grant for the down on his luck Italian father looking for a job, director Vittorio De Sica (wisely) preferred Fonda. Then, Selznick quit and De Sica made the timeless, neorealism classic his way. With amateurs.
- Robert Ryan, Born To Be Bad, 1950. RKO tried to make Anne Parrish’s novel twice before. With Fonda, Joan Fontaine and John Sutton in 1946 and again with Barbara Bel Geddes two years later (as Bed of Roses) when the RKO boss Howard Hughes was not sufficiently aroused by Bel Geddes. "Too plain."
- Willliam Lundigan, I’d Climb the Highest Mountain, 1950. The Methodist minister and his genteel bride dispatched to serve Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains area, circa 1910, went from Fonda and Jeanne Crain to Lundigan and Susan Hayward. Amen.
- José Ferrer, Miss Sadie Thompson, 1951. He found it easy to refuse Davidson, no longer a clergyman in the santized (and 3D) version of W Somerset Maugham’s Rain.
- Gary Cooper, High Noon, 1951. Carl Forman created Sheriff Will Kane for Fonda - passed over by the suits on being grey-listed for his politics. “Not for me,” said Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Charlton Heston, John Wayne… Gregory Peck found it too similar to his previous Gunfighter(!). And Kirk Douglas came thisclose to playing Sheriff Will Kane with Lola Albright as the missus. Cooper was keener. He even cut his fee to wear the tin star - and win the Oscar on March 19, 1953.
- William Holden, Executive Suite, 1953. When handed the pet project of MGM production chief Dore Schary, producer John Houseman tried hard - but lost Fonda to a Broadway-boundd musical that, well, never arrived. The film had no music just the city sounds of New York. “Church bells, sirens, the roar of traffic, crowd noises, horns, the squeal of tires, faraway screams of brakes,” ordered Schary. "It all worked far better than conventional music.”
- John Wayne, The High and the Mighty, 1953. Producer John Wayne tried Fonda, Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy for the veteran pilot and then said: “Aw hell, I’ll do it myself.” Superbly. A calm pro playing a calm pro - and cutting five of his close-ups in the editing. Everyone else, especially Jan Sterling and Claire Trevor were working for Oscars. Didn’t get ’em.
- James Mason, A Star Is Born, 1954.
- Rock Hudson, Giant, 1955.
- Rock Hudson, Written on the Wind, 1956. Due in a 1949 version with sisters Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine.
- Kerwin Matthews, The Garment Jungle, 1956. “I was the hardest working unknown actor in the world, ” Matthews often boasted. However, “handsome is as handsome does” does not an actor make. He was rarely up to his roles, more acceptable in (Ray Harryhausen) fantasies than this toughly realistic trades union battleground.
- Dean Martin, Rio Bravo, 1958.
Robert Mitchum, The Wonderful Country, 1959. Director Robert Parrish could not interest Fonda or (the just wed) Gregory Peck. Mitchum leapt and his lawyer made it a Mitchum (DRM) production.
- Alain Cuny, La dolce vita, Italy/France, 1959. Italian genius Federico Fellini always planned on having Fonda as the grave, intellectual Steiner during the March 16-August 27 schedule. With more support from... Greer Garson, Barbara Stanwyck, Peter Ustinov. Even after he re-wrote it to assuage her initial anger, Fellini scrapped Luise Rainer’s role of the lonely old nympho, Dolores. Fellini then considered the French Cuny and Italy’s Enrico Maria Salernio. Fellow Italian director Pier Palo Pasolini advised Fellini to take Cuny.
- Karl Malden, One Eyed Jacks, 1961. Seven years before Italian director Sergio Leone managed it for Once Upon A Time in the West, Marlon Brando toyed with the notion of Hank Fonda as a villain in what became Marlon’s directing debut. Stanley Kubrick quit making the film because he’d wanted Tracy. Fonda had been among the lovers of Brando’s mother - and this abusive sheriff character was called... Dad.
- Clint Eastwood, Per un pugno di dollari/For A Fistful of Dollars, Italy-Germany-Spain, 1964. Italian maestro Sergio Leone’s first choice for Joe - as The Man With No Name was named. Hank’s old-fashioned agent never bothered to get him to read the new-fashioned, revisionist Western script. “He was most annoyed when it proved such a hit,” said Leone, “he changed his agent.” Eli Wallach persuaded Fonda to join Leone’s majestical C'era una volta il Wes/Once Upon A Time in the West, 1968.Because of Fonda’s limited availability, Leone directed him a thied gime during Il mio nome è Nessuno/My Name Is Nobody - the start, the battle, the final duel - while his former assistant, Tonino Valerie, helmed the 1973 Western.
- James Stewart, Two Rode Together, 1961. John Wayne was unavailable and producer Stan Shpetner thoughtlessly suggested Fonda - who had nothing to do with John Ford since the director’s fight with him during Mister Roberts. “Ford would have cast me,” said Fonda, “if we’d still been talking but we weren’t, so he didn’t. He once told me: ‘Who the hell needs you when I’ve got Jimmy Stewart.’ I thought that was mean, not just to me, but to Jim.”
- Arthur Kennedy, Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man, 1962. Fonda was announced in ’61 as the peace-loving father of Ernest’s hero, Nick Adams... “Old men dream dreams. Young men see visions.”
- Joseph Cotton, The Oscar, 1966. For the studio chief of bad boy star Stephen Boyd - opposite (at the time), Rita Hayworth, Jason Robards, Jean Seberg. Only Boyd remained. To the bitter end. To his bitter cost.
- Lee Van Cleef, Per qualche dollario in piu/For A Few Dollars More, Italy-Germany-Spain, 1966. Sergio Leone’s first spaghetti Western had not yet exploded outside Italy and, therefore, old Hank’s old agent remained old-fashioned. Until Leone’s spaghetti epic, C’era una volta il west/Once Upon A Time In the West, 1968.
- Lee Van Cleef, Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo/The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Italy-Spain,1966. Sergio Leone never gave up. Fonda’s price never went down. Even though the role was named Angel Eyes after Fonda’s blue orbs - finally Leoneised in Once Upon A Time in the West, 1968.
Richard Burton, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 1966.
“The only part I wanted and didn’t get to do...”Elegant Fred Zinnemann was ready to helm Fonda and Bette Davis, when she had another run-in with Jack Warner. Edward Albee had penned his play for Fonda but his new agent, John Foreman, threw it out. “This no-balls character is not for my Henry.” Said his Henry: “They [the agency] turned it down without even telling me. To make up for this, CMA got me a picture called Spencer’s Mountain - it set the movie business back 20 years.” As for Burton? “I didn’t think Richard right for the part. Difficult for him to be vulnerable.”
- Sean Connery, Shalako, l968. “Mr. Lloyd, it’s not a very good script is it?” said Hank to UK producer Euan Lloyd over lunch at the star’s New York home. “But I’ll do any film that Eddie Dmytryk wants to direct. But you won’t find me acceptable in Hollywood. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll understand.” No star in the world ever said that to Lloyd, before or after. Sure enough, every Hollywood studio head said: Fonda’s finished! Author Louis L’Amour had seen the latest Bond film and said Sean would look good in the saddle. “Took me six months to get him,” said Lloyd. “He was very angry with everybody in life, wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.” Lloyd went back to his pre-sales customers - “now it’s going to cost three times more [$6m]” - and back to Fonda, “with my head between my legs. ‘I told you,’ he said. ‘Don't worry. We’ve no commitment. Good luck with the film!’ I don't know of any other star in the world who would do that. He was exceptional.” So was Lloyd’s final casting coup. Connery, who had quit 007, and Brigitte Bardot, who’d refused to be a Bond girl without him. Only one item was missing. Chemistry!
- Warren Oates, The Hired Hand, 1971. Fretting about his memory, Hank paid his son Peter $2.50 an hour to run lines with him. “After about the fourth or fifth session, I realised he could memorise the phone book.” Even so, he passed on the project. Peter also directed and Hank thought the result “a little classic, a beautiful, beautiful film.”
- Ralph Waite, The Waltons, TV,1971-1981.First triumph of the new Lorimar combine started as a Yuletide special - The Homecoming: A Christmas Story - set in rural Virginia during the Depression. It did well on CBS and Lorimar suggested a series. “Way too soft,” said CBS icon Fred Silverman, “it’ll never get a number, [Pause].But if you can get Henry Fonda to play the father, maybe.”Then another CBS legend, Bill Paley, said: “We’ve taken a lot out of this business - let’s put something back in.” And it ran for ten years.
- James Coburn, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, 1972.
- Burt Reynolds, Deliverance, 1971. Yeah, great script, but mighty dangerous river… Brando, Fonda, Lee Marvin, James Stewart refused to be Lewis on hearing bad reports about the dangerous Chattooga River in Burt’s home state of Georgia… doubling for author James Dickey’s Cahulawassee River. As Marvin told hs pal, the UK director John Boorman: “We’re too old!”
- Vincent Gardenia, Death Wish, 1973. Sidney Lumet was the original director - and he lined up Jack Lemmon as the New York architect turned revenge killer Paul Kersey and Fonda (a Lumet regular) as the police detective hunting the vigilante doing the NYPD’s job. When Lumet switched to Serpico, his stars ran. Anyway, “it’s too violent” - said the killer from Once Upon A Time In America!
- Peter Finch, Network, 1976.
After tenuous thoughts about real TV News anchors (John Chancellor and the venerable Walter Cronkite), the film’s Oscar-winning writer Paddy Chayefsky suggested either one of the old pals, Henry Fonda and James Stewart, for his “mad prophet of the airwaves,” Howard Beale - “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Fonda judged the amazingly prophetic view of TV “too hysterical” and Jimmy balked at the bad language. Finchey won the first posthumous acting Oscar. (Ironically, the second was also for an Aussie, Heath Ledger, for The Dark Knight... 33 years later).
- Burt Lancaster, Atlantic City, 1979.Among Paris auteur Louis Malle’s choices(James Mason, Robert Mitchum, Laurence Olivier) for the aging numbers runner (“a cellmate of Bugsy Siegel”) involved with an oyster-bar waitress and an ex-Betty Grable lookalike. Made after the chagrinof losing his 20-year-old dream project, Victory, Malle’s little gem won fiveOscar nominations in 1982.
- EG Marshall, Superman II, 1980.
- Rebecca DeMornay, The Runaway Train, 1984. Due in 1970 as Akira Kurosawa’s first US film, the project was canceled due to heavy snowstorms (and budget hassles) in the upstate New York. Cannon’s much ridiculed Go-Go Boys, Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, wisely invited Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky aboard - and really shook up the 1986 Cannes festival. Kurosawa had wanted Fonda as the railwayman aboard a fast moving train without a driver – and Peter Falk as an escaped convict. In the other AK’s version, the railwayman was an unrecognisable De Mornay substituting Karen Allen.
- Robert Urich, Lonesome Dove, TV, 1989. A script for director Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 dream of getting John Wayne, James Stewart and Hank together in one last Western as Woodrow Call, Gus McCrae, Jake Spoon - led to Larry McMurtry’s supreme novel, the Pulitzer Prize, seven-Emmy award-winning mini-series, one sequel and two prequels. Duke and the guys were warned off by a jealous John Ford.