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Joel Grey

  1. Keefe Braselle, The Eddie Cantor Story, 1952.       Headlining the Cantor biopic was supposed to be part of a two-movie deal for Grey at Warner Bros, where he’d made a great debut the previous year as a Dixie military school student in a surprise musical version of Brother Rat, 1937. The  New York Times praised him, (and him, alone)  for galvanized miming.  “He rates  a snappy salute in an entertainment package that deserves nothing more than an overripe raspberry.” Warner never realised what it threw away… 15 years later,  Grey won the rare double of  Tony and Oscar awards for Cabaret.
  2. Norman Wisdom, The Night They Raided Minsky’s, 1967.     Grey was still starring in Broadway’s Cabaret - not far from Alan Alda in The Apple Tree. Director William Friedkin wanted to pair them. “It was a real coup to land these guys… steeped in theatrical tradition, skilled at musical comedy.” Perfect for “the major musical comedy about the last days of burlesque.” Two weeks later, they’d gone - unable to get out of the stage duties. Enter: Jason from Divorce American Style, also produced by Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear… and Wisdom, a stage-screen comic, unknown outside the UK, except for his Broadway stint in Walking Happy.
  3. Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, 1971.     Author Roald Dahl’s original choice to play his eccentric chocolatier was BBC radio Goon Spike Milligan. Next? Spike’s co-Goon Peter Sellers was too expensive. LA’s choice, Grey, was “not physically imposing enough.” Ron Moody would have frightened the horses - and the kids. UK comic Frankie Howerd was into two film farces. Jon Pertwee was wed to Doctor Who. Carry On stars Sidney James and Kenneth Williams were as keen as (a way too old) Fred Astaire. One by one, all six Monty Pythons (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Twerry Jones, Michael Palin) were judged not international enough (and Howerd and Milligan  were?!) Cleese, Idle and Palin were offered the 2005 re-hash; Chapman having died and Gilliam  and Jones turned director. Ironically, after shooting was finished in Munich, Germany, the studio and locations were then taken over for Liza’s Cabaret, 1972, co-starring... Joel Grey.
  4. Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws, 1975.       Dreyfuss turnedit down not thrice, as per legend.  Twice was enough.“I was an idiot!” He toldSpielberg: It’s going to be a bitch to shoot and I’d rather watch this movie than shoot it.”When he felt he’d never work again after The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, 1974, he called Spielberg back “and I begged him” for the role. He becamethe director’s alter-ego, they wrote most of it togetherand went on to make Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977.
  5. Linda Hunt, The Year of Living Dangerously, 1982.     Grey, David Atkins, Bob Balaban and Wallace Shawn auditioned for Billy Kwan. And Chicago critic Roger Ebert said director Peter Weir’s casting of the mercurial, likable, complicated and exotic dwarf character  was the key to how the film worked. He chose Hunt,  “who  enters the role so fully that it never occurs to us that she is not a man. This is what great acting is, a magical transformation of one person into another.” Oscar agreed.
  6. Alvin Myerovich, Dirty Dancing, 1986.    For her largely autobiographical musical, writer-producer Eleanor Bergstein wanted the Schumachers to be playedby her friend, Dr Ruth Westheimer, and Joel Grey - father of the movie’s star Jennifer Grey. However, the diminutive TV sex therapist was not keen on being seen as a purse-snatcher. Grey quit with her.
  7. Morgan Freeman, Bonfire of the Vanities, 1989.    When the name of the Judge was still going to be Myron Kovitsky,  as per the novel, Grey, Alan Arkin and (the over expensive) Walter Matthau were in the frame. When Freeman had a sudden three-week window, Kovitsky became White played by a black - another Brian De Palma joke to bite the dust.

 

 

 





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