Fred Astaire (1899-1987)
- Barry Mackay, Evergreen, 1933. Jessie Matthews wanted Fred opposite her dual role. RKO would not allow it! When the film was a hit (her biggest), they asked her to be Ginger Rogers' successor in Damsel In Distress... and she would not allow it!
- James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1941. Fred passed and, anyway, Jimmy was the choice of the actual role - Broadway icon George M Cohan. Cagney trained with Cohan’s own choreographer - and won the first Best Actor Oscar given for a musical performance.
- Joseph Cotten, Journey Into Fear, 1941. Universal planned the WWII thriller for Michèle Morgan and Astaire(!), Fred MacMurray or Robert Montgomery as the Nazi-hunted US businessman. At RKO, Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten rewrote it for themselves, several back-room staff at Mercury Productions (including Welles’ secretary. Herb Drake) and Orson’s lover, Dolores Del Rio. He also produced and possibly directed some scenes. Rapidly. Before shooting off to Brazil to shoot It’s All True, while still editing The Magnificent Ambersons. He lost control of them all - the affair and his career, included. Soon as the film opened, Dolores was gone. It was that bad - even at a low 68 minutes. “I designed the film but can’t properly be called the director,” said Welles, adding that the ledge climax was directed by… “whoever was closest to the camera.”
- John Payne, Springtime in the Rockies, 1941. Fred and Ging… no, Fred and Rudy Vallee had the leads before Payne and Cesar Romero. We know this from a December 20, 1941 story outline, found in the 20th Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library.
- Mickey Rooney, Girl Crazy, 1943. The August 1939 plan of Fred and Eleanor Powell churned into the final MGM teaming of Rooney and Judy Garland. Original director Busby Berkeley was fired for not getting on with Judy. He remained credited for the I Got Rhythm routine.
- Ray Milland, Lady in the Dark, 1943. Dreaming of re-uniting Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers after a five year break, Paramount bought the Broadway show for a then record $283,000. Director Mitchell Leisen lost him, won her. Milland and Rogers just did not do it. The magic returnbed, when Fred and Ginger did, for their and tenth and final teaming: The Berkelys of Broadway, 1948.
- Burgess Meredith, The Story of GI Joe, 1945. The story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Ernie Pyle needed, said Pyle, an anaemic actor of about 122 lbs. The movie remains more famous for Robert Mitchum's audition. Director William Wellman: “What do you do for a living?” Bob: “That, Dad, is a matter of opinion.”
- Cary Grant, Night and Day, 1946. Fred refused his pal Cole Porter's request to play him in the fictional biopic. Thereafter, Porter answered the query, “Who should be you?” with “Why Cary Grant, of course.” Warners agreed after the flop of Rhapsody In Blue with the unknown Robert Alda (Alan's father) as George Gershwin. And Grant agreed to be the gay composer he knew from his Broadway days for $100,000 and a cut.
- Dan Dailey, Mother Wore Tights, 1946. Fox and director Walter Lang wanted Astaire or James Cagney for song-and-dancer Frank Burt. Betty Grable wanted John Payne - and got Dailey. She was not annoyed, she made four films each with them.
- Robert Montgomery, June Bride, 1947. Sadly no great chemistry - absolutely zero! - between Montgomery and his magazine editor Bette Davis. But just imagine for one second the original notion - Fred and Bette sharing a screen! Thisn was Debbie Reynolds’ screen debut. She had no dialogue until the next one, The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady, her singing was dubbed in Three Little Words, 1949, and after stealing several musicals, she hit star status when Singin’ in the Rain, 1951.
- Dan Dailey, My Blue Heaven, 1949. Fox tried hard to get to Fred or James Cagney as a song ’n’dance team with Betty Grable. Betty, they didn’t mind, but not the fact that the couple couldn’t have kids.
- Gene Kelly, An American In Paris, 1950. Surprise, surprise - shock even! Astaire was MGM’s first choice for the Allan Jay Lerner script - until the suits realised Kelly was more into ballet than Fred. And made it all his own
- Bob Fosse, Give A Girl A Break, 1953. First planned in 1951 as a typical MGMusical - Fred, Gene, Judy, Ann Miller - the project was lowered to B status (old sets, no soundtrack album), hopefully innaugurating the next generation of song and dancers: Debbie Reynolds, Marge and Gower Champion, etc. Kelly and (director) Stanley Donen handled the choreography - Fosse did status (old sets, no soundtrack album!), inaugurating the next generation of song and dancers.
- Danny Kaye, White Christmas, 1953. Blame it on the script. Not a patch on his previous Irving Berlin-Bing Crosby musicals in the 40s - like Holiday Inn, 1942, when Crosby first sang “White Christmas” and Astaire’s weight dropped from 140 to 126lbs after rthe fastest dance in movies,“Say It With Firecrackers.” His first replacement, Donald O'Connor, also fell out - with a bad back.
- Dan Dailey, Pepe, 1960. Plan A, circa 1958, was Fred and Judy helping to bolster the titular Cantinflas, the Mexican comic from Around The World In 80 Days. Finally, Fred was not even one of the 80 Days-style guest stars. Garland was heard but not seen when singing ‘Faraway Part of Town’ on the radio.
- Sammy Davis Jr. Porgy and Bess, 1959. Columbia’s hated czar, Harry Cohn, wanted to do it in black-face. Fred as Sportin' Life opposite Al Jolson's Porgy and Rita Hayworth’s Bess! Said the Gershwin brothers:“Get outa here!”
- Robert Preston, TheMusicMan, 1962. Mentioned in early talks as Broadway’s Preston, after 30-plus films,was said to be no great shakes in movies. Gene Kelly tried to buy it for himself.
- JackieGleason, Papa’s Delicate Condition, 1963. Fred’s MGM contract was over.He’dtalked retirement again (he’d quit in 1946-1948) until Paramount offered a two-movie deal. He did Funny Face and was back in a semi-retired mode when Papa rolled.
- Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins, 1963. OK, Bert the chimney sweep had to sing and dance it up. But he also had to be at home with a Cockney accent. Only a few US stars could manage that. Sadly, Van Dyke was not among them. Nor were Fred, Cary Grant or Danny Kaye. Of the others in the mix, Jim Dale and Ron Moody would have been less execrable. Van Dyke blamed everything on his accent coach, J Pat O’Malley (a frequent Disney toon voice). “His British accent was even worse,” complained Van Dyke. Yet he still booked O’Malley as his father in a 1964 chapter of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
- Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, 1971. The legend insists that Fred was in Wonka frame. News to director Mel Stuart and his producer, David L Wolper… Way too old at 72, said Stuart when he finally heard about Astaire’s interest in the eccentric chocolatier.