Leslie Howard (1893-1943)
- Colin Clive, Frankenstein, 1930. Before losing the director’s chair, Robert Florey had wanted Howard for Henry Frankenstein. His UK successor, James Whale, selected Clive - “It’s alive! It’s alive!” - and, Boris Karloff, another Brit, as The Monster.
- Ralph Bellamy, Forbidden, 1932. Barbara Stanwyck phoned Columbia's loathed chief, Harry Cohn, on July l7, 193l, to say she wouldn't be reporting to work but going to New York with husband Frank Fay. If Cohn really wanted her, he could up her $30,00 salary by $20,000. King Cohn rasped: “You're off your nut! I'll sue you.” He obtained an injunction preventing her making a Warners film and The Queen backed down, starting work again on September 30. Cohn did not gloat (this once). He paid the extra money - even tried to get Leslie Howard to co-star. But he proved unavailable.
- John Gilbert, Queen Christina, 1933. Having refused Howard and Ronald Colman, Greta Garbo had Laurence Olivier fired after two weeks. “Inadequate.”All part of her plan to give old lover John Gilbert a career boost, since dropping him in 1931 (from her bed- and Susan Lennox). “That was nice of her,” said a Gilbert biographer Eve Golden in 2013. “But it was not doing him any favors. First of all, it was a bad role. The production was a horror, and sending him back to MGM was the worst thing that could have happened.” As for Howard… “Opposite Garbo, I won’t be noticed.”He preferred Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage- and made two more with her.
- Gary Cooper, Design for Living, 1933. Ernst Lubitsch, Ben Hecht, Noel Coward - what a creative line-up. (Well, actually the first two kept just one line from the third one’s play, “For the good of our immortal souls!”). Lubitsch wanted Colman and Leslie Howard (or Douglas Fairbanks Jr), but settled for March and Gary Cooper - using his fluent French in some scenes.
- Errol Flynn, Captain Blood, 1935. After Robert Donat quit (health, contract and personal problems), Leslie was #1 for producer Harry Joe Brown. “He could play a scene in this picture as well as any star and better than most...” If he was interested!
- Fredric March, The Dark Angel, 1935. Merle Oberon decided the re-make of her favourite silent movie would be hers - and convinced her lover, Howard, to join her. Instead, he returned to his wife. Director Sidney Franklin was furious, assuming producer Samuel Goldwyn had negotiated with her simply to win Leslie. “I can understand Oberon with Howard but I can’t very well understand Oberon alone without Howard and with March.” Yeah, April would have been better. Or May, June…
- Dick Powell, Hearts Divided, 1935. Plan A was Leslie Howard and Jean Muir. Marion Davies was Plan B and she insisted that Powell become Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Jerome, who married her Elizabeth Patterson in 1803 - annulled by Napoleon two years later so Jerome could marry Princess Catherine of Wurtemberg and become King of Westphalia. EastEnders is not even close!
- Ronald Colman, A Tale of Two Cities, 1935. For the fourth version of the Charles Dickens classic (the others were dated 1910, 1917, 1921 producer David O Selznick searched for his heroic Sydney Carton among Leslie Howard, Warner Baxter, Clark Gable and Robert Montgomery. Whether they were also due as Carton’s lookalike, Charles Darney, was never confirmed. Colman refused, due said DOS, to“a dread of dual roles” - yet he doubled up the following year in MGM’s Prisoner of Zenda the following year!
- Joel McCrea, These Three, 1936. Director William Wyler admitted to McCrea, that he'd wanted Leslie. “Yes, I know. [Producer Sam] Goldwyn told me. I was at his house for dinner.” Wyler was astonished: “I haven't been invited to his house for dinner."
- Cary Grant, Bringing Up Baby, 1938. The first star to agree to the paleontologist - after Ronald Colman, Fredric March, Ray Milland, Robert Montgomery refused - was refused by The Star: Katharine Hepburn. Well, Howard had sacked her for stealing their Broadwayplay, The Animal Kingdom, in 1931.
- Laurence Olivier, Rebecca, 1939.
- Alan Curtis, New Wine, 1940. A week before shooting started, the suits were still hoping to sign Howard to compose Franz Schubert (1797-1828) in the biopic.
- Rex Harrison, Major Barbara, 1941. George Bernard Shaw had script and cast approval. He'd never liked Leslie as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion, 1938, and was delighted to see him withdraw from Adolphus Cusins. GBS was no happier with his replacement, Andrew Osborne - much happier with Harrison's late arrival. (Rex, of lourse, became the perfect Higgins, on stage and screen, in the 1960s' Pygmalion musical: My Fair Lady).
- Brian Aherne, The Man Who Lost Himself, 1940. Planned for Howard but played by Aherne, our hero John Evans decides to switch IDs when his veritable clone, Malcolm Scott, dies in an accident. Hmm, not bad but the Antoninio-Nicholson take was far better: Professione reporter (The Passenger), 1974.
- Gregory Peck, The Paradine Case, 1947. Reserved for Howard-Hedy Lamarr by Selznick in 1940. Director Alfred Hitchcock wanted Olivier-Garbo. His producer, David O Selznick, was still giving orders though - for the last time. The film completed Hitch's Selznick contract. From here on, Hitch was free...
- Walter Pidgeon, If Winter Comes, 1947. Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick bought the morality tale in 1939 for Howard and Joan Fontaine - or Laurence Olivier and his wife, Vivien Leigh. They all passed. So did DOS, selling his rights in 1940 to UK producer Alexander Korda… who did the same to MGM, which wanted Donat and Greer Garson as the feuding Sabre couple. And settled for Pidgeon and Angela Lansbury… on, for the historic first time, non-flammable film.
- David Niven, Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1948. Eager to repeat the dash of The Scarlet Pimpernel - and to direct - Leslie announced Charlie among the first of his company's projects for Warners release in 1936. He made a couple of simplistic Hollywood comedies, instead. Niven remade Korda and Howard's film as The Elusive Pimpernel, 1950.
- Tyrone Power, The Sun Also Rises, 1956. When Ann Harding was first to buy rights to Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 classic in 1934, there were many thoughts about Leslie Howard as the war-impotent Jake Barnes. Howard was far too old at 41, as was Harding at 33. Darryl Zanuck did no better in ’56 - when Power and Ava Gardner were 42 and 32. Hemingway loathed it. But he adored Ava Gardner. “And the hyena!”
- Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia, 1961.