Gene Kelly (1912-1996)
- Robert Cummings, Saboteur, 1941. Before off-loading both script and director Alfred Hitchcock - to Frank Lloyd Productions for $20,000 - producer David O Selznick had planned his own version of the espionage thriller. With a Broadway song ’n’ dance man as the hero as a screen debut for Kelly. Yeah well, not every DOS project was Gone With The Wind…
- John Hodiak, Marriage Is A Private Affair, 1943. “WEDLOCK OR PADLOCK?” screamed the ads... What started as a 1941 George Cukor project for Robert Taylor and Myrna Loy at Warners got sold off to MGM where, after numerous re-writes ordered by the Production Code, Fred Zinnemann was set to helm Kelly and Lana Turner. Lana finally made it with Hodiak, for director Robert Z Leonard. Z wuz right.
- Ronald Harris, Jane Eyre, 1942. Burgess Meredith was also tested in February 1942 as John Reed. They luckily lost the cameo that became a cough ’n’ spit bit. Poor Harris was not even credited.
- Tommy Dix, Best Foot Forward, 1942. When MGM bought the rights from Columbia, it also wanted Kelly back from a loan-out. But Columbia czar Harry Cohn’s plan to co-star the best feet of Kelly (the Broadway show’s dance director) and Rita Hayworth was now transferred to Cover Girl. As his Metro debut was delayed, MGM agreed to extend the loan of Kelly and and took Dix from the stage hit among five others: including June Allyson, Stanley Donen, Nancy Walker. Gil Stratton, who was Broadway’s Bud, was rushed into Girl Crazy, with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
- James Craig, The Human Comedy, 1942. In August. Kelly was announced for a straight rôle in William Saroyan script - which he then turned into a best-selling novel.
- George Murphy, Broadway Rhythm, 1943. The original line-up had Kelly and Eleanor Powell as a hot-shot Broadway producer and his leading lady. They somehow became the older Murphy and… the mistress of MGM’s old lion, LB Mayer! Good voice. Decent face. Zero charisma.
- 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 Kelly, Dana Andrews, Joseph Cotten, Maurice Evans, Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Dean Jagger, Franchot Tone, Spencer Tracy, Orson Welles… plus the most unlikely Catholic missionaries of all: Alan Ladd and Edward G Robinson! Auteur Joseph L Mankiewicz secured Peck in July 1943 for his second film - and first Oscar nomination.
- Turhan Bey, Dragon Seed, 1943. A production delay allowed Kelly to complete his MGM loan-out for Columbia’s Cover Girl. When he returned to HQ, Metro loaned him again, this time for a Christmas Holiday at Universal - in a swop to get Bey to take over Kelly’s old Seed role of Lao Et Tan, middle son of the unlikeliest-looking Chinese family ever spawned by Hollywood. Taped eye-lids for Bey, Hudd Hatfield, Katharine Hepburn, Walter Huston, Aline MacMahon, Akim Tamiroff, Henry Travers… Insulting!
- John Hodiak, The Harvey Girls, 1945. The first idea was a drama for Gable and Lana Turner. Then, producer Arthur Freed (like who else) decided it should be a musical - and Gable would be great opposite Judy Garland after her triumph with the song, “Dear Mr. Gable/You Made Me Love You.” Just back from WWII, Gable refused to return to work in a %$#@& musical! He went into the more dramatic Adventure... Kelly was seen but it was Hodiak in a Gable tash.
- Fred Astaire, Easter Parade, 1947. ER at MGM..! Kelly broke an ankle playing football in his garden; ski-ing, according to producer Arthur Freed. Cyd Charisse broke a leg, and Ann Miller danced in an iron back brace! Unable to dance for eight months, Kelly called up Fred, retired since Blues Skies in 1946, and he began a 21 film comeback - with an extremely shy Judy Garland. It was only a “mental retirement,” attested Astaire, a rest from creating amazing dance routines with choreographer Hermes Pan.
- Larry Parks, Jolson Sings Again, 1948. While attending the 1946 premiere of The Jolson Story, Jolson actually overheard someone saying: “Too bad that Jolson isn’t alive to see this picture.” And he had played himself in the long-shots of the Swanee number! This time he was tested (too old) and Kelly was suggested because of the Communist slurs about Parks. With no plans for a third Jolson movie, poor Parks was black-listed - ruined! - by such oafs as Senator Joe McCarthy and numbnuts Ward Bond.
- John Garfield, We Were Strangers, 1948. Forever trying to go straight, song ’n’ dance man Kelly was apparently set for John Huston’s rought sketch (the original title) about the 1933 Cuban revolution. Until Garfield became available. Hollywood Rerport lambasted the endeavour as “the heaviest dish of Red theory ever served to an audience outside the Soviet Union.” Web critic Andrew Schoneberg found it amazing that Huston and other principals were not blacklisted afterwards. “Garfield was… but not as a result of this particular film.”
- William Holden, Sunset Blvd,1949. MGM refused to a loan deal for Kelly and so director Billy Wilder then looked at an unknown called Brando, Montgomery Clift, Fred McMurray before voting Holden.A perfect choiceas a string of flops ruinedhisGolden Boy fame of ten years earlier. Like Gloria Swanson’s gigolo Joe Gillis, Holden had hit zero - and the bottle.
- Howard Keel, Lovely To Look At, 1952. The B Team (Marge and Gower Champion, Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Red Skelton) was as delightful to know as the A team would have been: Judy Garland, Betty Garrett, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra. Cheaper, too.
- Stewart Granger, Scaramouche, 1952. Smitten by his successful Three Musketeers in 1948, MGM considered Kelly in a…. Sabatini musical. Then, somebody saw sense. Granger had given in and signed a seven-year MGM contract... as long as he could re-make the 1923 swashbuckler. Waitaminute, waitagodmanminute - hold da music!
- Gower Champion, Give A Girl A Break, 1953. First planned in 1951 as a typical MGMusical - Fred, Gene, Judy, Ann Miller - the project was reduced to B status (old sets, no soundtrack album!), to hopefully inaugurate the next generation of song and dancers: Debbie Reynolds, Marge and Gower Champion, etc. With old time choreography by Kelly and (director) Stanley Donen. (Bob Fosse did his own).
- Gordon MacRae, Carousel, 1956. One-take Frank Sinatra quit as Billy because each scene had to be shot twice (once in 35mm, once in 55mm). Kelly replaced him but did not have the right voice for the Rodgers-Hammerstein score and hey, hey, Oklahoma! had been such a smash, best to reunite MacRae and Shirley Jones, right? Right!
- Tyrone Power, Witness For The Prosecution, 1957. Passed. Well, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton had the peachier parts. Also in the Billy Wilder mix: Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, William Holden, Jack Lemmon, even Roger Moore… This was Ty Power’s final movie. He died on his next project, Solomon and Sheba, in 1958.
- Marlon Brando, Guys and Dolls, 1956.
The reason Kelly quit MGM... There was talk of Bing Crosby, Kirk Douglas, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Kelly Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum... even Bob Hope, but producer Samuel Goldwyn wanted a great musical star as Sky Masterston. Kelly was eager. Nick Schenck, MGM's corporate chief, would not loan him, despite Kelly and his agent, the mighty Lew Wasserman, flying to New York to beg Schenck to reconsider... OK, Sam would go for a great actor. Brando refused until Joe Mankiewcz cabled: UNDERSTAND YOU'RE APPREHENSIVE BECAUSE YOU'VE NEVER DONE MUSICAL COMEDY. YOU HAVE NOTHING REPEAT NOTHING TO WO.RRY ABOUT... NEITHER HAVE I. LOVE, JOE. Once he bagged Brando, MGM made it up with Goldwyn and distributed the musical … And Kelly left MGM, two years before his pact ended.
- John Rait, The Pajama Game, 1956. Frederick Brisson, Robert E Griffith and Hal Prince bought the 7 Cents novelfor a stage musical about a pajama factory strike. They immediately started courting Kelly, Cary Grant and Van Johnson - surely one would agree to Broadway and Hollywood! No ? OK, they’ll discover a new star. And did. Rait was just not A-calibre.
- Frank Sinatra, Pal Joey, 1957. Columbia's much loathed chieftain Harry Cohn hoped to repeat the Cover Girl team: Hayworth and Kelly. MGM wanted too much money for his second loan-out in 17 years. Sinatra's company made a highly sanitised version of Kelly's original Broadway triumph... but Frank delivers a classic rendering of 'The Lady Is A Tramp.'
- Tony Randall, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1960. Set for a musical version planned in 1952 alongside Danny Kaye as the other con man
- Robert Preston, The Music Man, 1962. Knowing an actor-proof piece when he saw one, Kelly tried to buy the rights for himself. So did Bing Crosby. Would have been a bigger hit with either one.