Burt Lancaster (1913-1994)
- Dane Clark, Moonrise, 1947. As the Theodore Strauss book changed directorial hands, Lancaster was momentarily in the frame for Danny… after John Garfield and Alan Ladd.
- Victor Mature, Samson and Deliah, 1948. Epic-maker CB DeMille decided Lancaster, suffering a bad back, was too inexperienced for the long-haired Samson. He also looked at Steve Reeves, Henry Wilcoxon (Mark Antony in CB’s 1934 Cleopatra)… and even Dr Billy Graham, the newest evangelist on the Bible thumping circuit at age 30. Mature would run, scared, from, the wind-machine... and the midgets. CB told him, characteristically, in front of his unit: “In all my 35 years of picture-making experience, Mr Mature, I have not until now met a man who was 100% yellow.”
- Joseph Cotten, Under Capricorn, 1948. “If I’d been thinking clearly”, Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut, “I’d never have tackled a costume picture.” His first UK film in a decade was a disaster.… Having lost Cotten for two previous films - and won him for his favourite, Shadow Of A Doubt - Hitch regretted using him here, instead of his first choice, far more suitable as Ingrid Bergman’s Mellors. Hitch and Burt – now that’s a shaker!
- Gregory Peck, 12 O’Clock High, 1949. John Wayne also refused what became Peck’s finest hour (more so than To Kill A Mockingbird) in one of the earliest, post-WWII dramas to portray the psychological, indeed catatonic toil suffered by men in war - flying daytime bombing sorties over Germany.
- James Stewart, Broken Arrow, 1949. Lancaster’s Norma Productions bought the rights to Elliott Arnold’s Blood Brother, about how Thomas Jeffords became Cochise’s friend and led General Howard to his camp to make peace. Fox took over the rights even though Darryl Zanuck felt Jeffords was “too noble and untainted, so uncompromisingly lofty in his ideals.” Perfect, therefore, for Stewart.
- Steve Cochran, Tomorrow Is Another Day, 1950. Or, Spring Kill, when Lancaster was first announced as a lead… with too many echoes of his 1945 debut, The Killers. Final title by… Scarlett O’Hara.
- Cornel Wilde, The Greatest Show on Earth, 1951. Three years after the Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick threw in the towel, CB DeMille began his old dream of a circus thriller (inspiring a six-year-old Phoenix kid named Spielberg to make movies). Warners refused to loan Lancaster, a former circus trapeze star - which gave the idea for his own big top number, Trapeze, 1955. From the safety of his crane, CB taunted Wilde, unmercifully, about his fear of heights.
- Gary Cooper, High Noon, 1951. Carl Forman created Sheriff Will Kane for Henry Fonda - passed over by the suits on being grey-listed for his politics. “Not for me,” said Lancaster, 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. The closest he ever got to Kane was as Michael Winner’s 1970 Lawman.
- Victor Mature, The Las Vegas Story, 1951. Laura scenarist Jay Dratler’s original script (not many of them to the pound) went from Lancaster at Warner in 1948 to Mitchum (or Robert Ryan) at RKO in January 1950, before Mature arrived from Fox in November for his one RKO movie a year deal.
- Victor Mature, The Robe, 1952. Warners said No again and Mature also headed up the half-price sequel ($2m) on the same character: Demetrius. Lancaster acted, to purloin a phrase from the exemplary Larry McMurtry, like he’d just discovered teeth.
- Victor Mature, The Egyptian, 1953. Lancaster didn’t do supporting…! Mature was a surprisingly good substitute as Horemheb, Master of the Guard in the court of Egypt’s pharaoh Akhenaton… and buddy of Edmund Purdom (replacing a runaway Brando) as the court physician Sinuhe. Boring!
- Richard Todd, The Virgin Queen, 1954. Plan A in 1953 had been a titular Bette Davis (in her second film as HM Queen Elizabeth I) opposite The Crimson Pirate as possibly the most unlikely Sir Walter Raleigh in movie history.
- Rock Hudson, Giant, 1955.
- Jack Palance, The Big Knife, 1955. Surprising he would let such a gem go. (Kirk Douglas would have loved it!). To paraphrase Hamlet: The best is Palance.
- Leif Erickson, Tea and Sympathy, 1955. Not often Hollywood decided to film a play with more than just one of the original Broadway stars. This time, MGM chose all three: Deborah Kerr comforting “sensitive” student John Kerr (no kin) from his fellow college students and her hubby, Leif Erickson. There had, however, been much talk about Lancaster, Kerr’s From Here To Eternity lover… Burt as a college headmaster!!!
- John Wayne, Blood Alley, 1955. Robert Mitchum was fired by William Wellman, director of his first big hit, The Story of GI Joe, 1945. “He’s my favourite actor,” said Wild Bill. “He was on dope, always walking about six inches off the ground. He punched... one of the drivers, knocked him into the bay, goddam nearly killed him.” Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and Gregory Peck were unavailable, Kirk Douglas was working. Lancaster was “no dice” and Fred MacMurray “not big enough.” And so producer John Wayne sang the old song. “Aw, shucks, suppose I’ll have to do it.” Mitchum said only Louella Parsons told the true story. “And they killed her column. The transportation boss weighed 300 lbs. I was supposed to have picked him up and thrown him in the bay. No way.” The truth? “I think Duke Wayne was renegotiating his Warners contract... They agreed, provided he did one more film on his old contract. ‘Wal, we got that picture up at San Raphael.’ Duke [on his honeymoon] said: ‘No, Mitchum’s doing that.’ ‘Was!’ That was the end of that.”
- Marlon Brando, Guys and Dolls, 1956. Denied Gene Kelly by MGM, producer Sam Goldwyn determined on landing “a great actor.” He talked about Lancaster who had never made a musical - although there was something about the way he pranced that suggested he was about to break into a showstopper... just watch his prancing as Elmer Gantry, 1960. However, auteur supreme Joe Mankiewicz had ears only for... well, as the posters pontificated: Brando Sings!
- Charlton Heston, The Ten Commandments, 1956. Burt got there. Twenty-two years later! He was Moses The Lawgiver for six TV hours on TV in 1974.
- Paul Newman, Until They Sail, 1956. After buying the rights from director Robert Wise’s company in 1953, the Hecht-Hill-Lancaster company planned for Burt to direct himself opposite Kim Stanley. However, HHL sold it to MGM at the end of 1955 - with Glenn Ford in mind for one of the many USoldiers fraternising with lonely New Zealand women, with husbands away at WWII. In ’56, MGM switched to Newman directed by… Wise!
- Aldo Ray, The Naked and the Dead, 1957. In 1949, Lancaster bought the 1948 book by WWII vet Norman Mailer (aged 25). Feeling an anti-war film wouldn’t work in 1950, Lancaster gave up. By 1954, producer Paul Gregory planned a $3m version with Charles Laughton directing Robert Mitchum as hard-assed Sergeant Croft - a great idea ruined by the financial flop of their now classic Night of the Hunter. Mailer thought Raoul Walsh’s film was terrible So did Walsh: “The censors cut all the naked and just left the dead.” Laughton, alas, never helmed a second film.
- Tony Curtis, The Defiant Ones, 1957. About the two escaped chained convicts, Billy Wilder said: Brando wanted to play the black convict, Mitchum would refuse to be in any film “with a nigger” and Kirk Douglas wanted both roles… Disappointed with The Wild One, Brando never worked for Stanley Kramer again. Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and Frank Sinatra all refused to co-star with Sidney Poitier. So much for liberal Hollywood.
- John Wayne, Rio Bravo, 1958.
- Dean Martin, Rio Bravo, 1958.
- Kirk Douglas, Last Train From Gun Hill, 1958. Producer Hal Wallis bought TV writer Les Crutchfield’s tale for Lancaster (or Charlton Heston) and it was patterned after the 1956 Douglas-Lancaster-Wallis Western, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Douglas was paid $325,000 against 10% of the gross.
- Charlton Heston, Ben Hur, 1959. MGM was close to offering Burt the whole damn studio... but he felt insecure about it. Yeah, Burt Lancaster! As an atheist, he said, he “didn't like the violent morals in the story.” Not that keen on promoting Christianity, either. If he had played Ben, Robert Ryan would have been Hur - er, Messala. Director William Wyler (from the original’s 1924 crew) also studied Italians Cesare Danova and Vittorio Gassman. Plus Montgomery Clift, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson, Van Johnson (no, really!) - and Edmund Purdom, who had picked up another epic dropped by Brando, The Egyptian, 1953. Judah Ben-Heston won his Oscar on April 4 1960.
- Anthony Quinn, Last Train from Gun Hill, 1959. As Kirk Douglas’ friend... and father of a young brute who raped and killed Kirk’s Indian wife - a masterly James Poe scenario produced by Douglas.
- Marcello Mastroianni, La Dolce Vita, Italy, 1960. Not so obvious. The Italian maestro Federico Fellini, as usual, was ahead of the pack - considered importing Lancaster three years before Luchino Visconti did so for The Leopard.
- Stuart Whitman, The Comancheros, 1960. Director Michael Curtiz’s final feature was first planned for Lancaster and Gary Cooper as a follow up to their successful Vera Cruz. But Coop died and the script was re-jigged for Duke and… Charlton Heston. No, no and no! Following his Ben-Hur Oscar, Chuck had finished with second-fiddling…. and so Stuart Whitman (from the terminally ill Curtiz’s previous film, Francis of Assisi). Curtiz was so ill, that Wayne directed half of the Western, produced by his old Republic director George Sherman In the 1963 re-make, Rio Conchos, Whitman played Duke’s rôle!
- Ernest Borgnine, Summer of the 17th Doll, 1961. After Lancaster quit, UK director Leslie Norman found “Americans couldn't understand the Australian accent and I had to cut all the Australianisms. The picture broke my heart.”
- Yul Brynner, Tarus Bulba, 1962. Failing to snare Anthony Quinn, helmer Robert Aldrich found Burt was tied up for a year. “I told him: I can’t wait that long. You get hit by a taxi and what have I done with a year?” He let the project go.
- James Garner, The Great Escape, 1962. Richard Harris quit when the emphasis switched from British Commonwealth POWs to Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, who ultimately became James Garner and Steve McQueen - when American prisoners were moved from Germany’s Stalag Luft III seven months before the mass break-out from on March 24, 1944. McQueen and James Garner were already optioned to producer Walter Mirisch for $50,000 a piece while and Kirk cost more than $1m.
- Richard Burton, Cleopatra, 1963.
- Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou, 1964. “Lee was the seventh guy after six turned it down: Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, a whole list,” reported Dan Gurler from the office of Marvin’s agent Meyer Mishkin. “He worked it for $30,000, something like that.” Hecht wasn’t pleased with Marvin in rehearsals and told director Elliot Silverstein to fire him. No! “We’re going to Colorado in 48 hours. We’re going with Lee Marvin. Or you’re going with a different director.” When Hecht later tried to fire Silverstein, Marvin said much the same... And won the support Oscar on April 18, 1966.
- Tony Curtis, The Great Race, 1964. In June, 1963, Lancaster was set to become Leslie Galant III, aka The Great Leslie, battling an evil Jack Lemmon in a (comic) car raced across three continents. Then, he wasn’t. Charlton Heston also had to pass. Curtyis quickly agreed to joined his Some Like It Hot partner. Daphne and Josephine were dressed as guys this time.
- Richard Burton, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, 1965. Teeth-flashing Burt was an unlikely choice for the UK MI5 spy hero Alec Leamas in the first movie of a John le Carré novel.. Burton power was just igniting...
- Anthony Quinn, Zorba The Greek, 1965.
- Richard Burton, The Sandpiper, 1965. Director Vincente Minnelli wanted an Eternity Class of '53 reunion of Burt and Deborah Kerr but the Burtons’ agents were dominating the film world.
- Omar Sharif, Doctor Zhivago, 1965. With MGM moaning that Max von Sydow was (a) too cold and (b) too Christ-like, MGM chief Robert O'Brien voted Lancaster and begged David Lean to see The Leopard.
- James Mason, Lord Jim, 1965. Both the arch rivals - Lancaster and Kirk Douglas - wrote to auteur Richard Brooks about playing Gentleman Brown. Neither one fitted Brooks’ vision.
- Richard Widmark, The Bedford Incident, 1965. For the (over?) zealous US Navy destroyer skipper engaged in a hunt-to-exhaustion chase of a Russian sub in mid Cold War.
- John Wayne, The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965. Dated back to 1955 when Hal Wall is wanted John Sturgis directing Lancaster… now everyone from Heston to James Stewart were up for John Elder until Duke galloped in for $600,000, a third of the profits and and one-third ownership of the negative. With a month to go to the starting date, Duke told his producer son, Mike, and director Henry Hathway about the egg-sized tumour and in his left lung. “I’m gonna have the lung removed… tomorrow morning. Of course you’ll wanna recast - I suggest Kirk Douglas.” Hathaway had survived colon cancer and gave invaluable advice. “You’re gonna be as sore as hell - surgery is no piece of cake, expect to be tired and expect the recovery to take longer than you think.” Wayne was operated on September 17, 1964 on for six hours – twice, after edema set in. Producer Hal Wallis refused to recast. They would wait. Duke showed up for work on January 6, 1965.
- Horst Buchholz, La fabuleuse aventure de Marco Polo (US: Marco The Magnificent), Italy-France-Yugoslavia-Afghanistan-Egypt, 1965. Acting like a Hollywood 30s nabob, the French producer who launched Brigitte Bardot on the world, gathered money from all over (Afghanistan!) but Raoul Lévy could never decide what age Polo should be. He went from Curd Jürgens, 47, to Burt Lancaster, 49, to Alain Delon, who started the film at 27, and the German Delon, who finished it at 32... just before it finished Lévy.
- James Garner, Hour of the Gun, 1966. The Western began where director John Sturges had left it a decade earlier in Gunfight At The OK Corral. So obviously it was a good plan to try and get Burt and Kirk back together again. No way!
- Charlton Heston, Khartoum, 1966. Odd choice for a British hero: General Charles 'Chinese' Gordon, William Gladstone's military governor of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, circa 1855.
- Kirk Douglas, The Way West, 1966. Ten year earlier, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Productions was ready to roll with the boss, James Stewart and, maybe, Gary Cooper. When HHL broke up, Harold Hecht formed a new combine to make the Pulitzer Prize-winning book starring Lancaster’s old rival. The Shane novelist, AB Guthrie Jr, started his trilogy with The Big Sky, filmed in 1951, and ended with Three Thousand Hills, shot in 1958.
- Marlon Brando, Reflections In A Golden Eye, 1967. Producers Harold Hecht and Lancaster had the Carson McCullers book scripted by Tennessee Williams in 1956 for UK director Michael Anderson but... no one wanted to know about a gay USArmy colonel. Ironically, Brando and Burt were alleged lovers in 1947 during the casting of Broadway’s A Streetcar Named Desire. (Burt wanted the film, not the play).
- Kirk Douglas, The Way West, 1967. In the late 50s, producer Harold Hecht first envisaged Lancaster and Jimmy Stewart on the 1843 wagon trail to Oregon, saved by Gary Cooper. Coop was ill, dead and gone by 1961.
- Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes, 1967.
- Franco Nero, A Professional Gun, Italy-Spain, 1968. Despite all his Italian films, Lancaster was never invited to partake of dish of spaghetti Western until producer Alberto Grimaldi first announced Il mercenario for Lancaster, Peter O’Toole, Antonella Lualdi and director Gillo Pontecorvo in 1967. All changed within a year to Sergio Corbucci helming Tony Musanate, Franco Nero and Giovanna Ralli.
- William Holden, The Wild Bunch, 1968.
- Rod Steiger, The Ilustrated Man, 1968. OK, Ray Bradbury, the heavyweight champion of science fiction writers, told Jack Smight, a featherweight US director: “You can film my book… as long as the lead is Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman or Steiger!”
- George C Scott, Patton, 1969.
- Dirk Bogarde, Morte a Venezia/Death in Venice, Italy, 1971. Burt would hardly be Hollywood’s first choice for novelist Thomas Manns “paradigmatic master-text of homosexual eroticism.” But after Il gattopardo (The Leopard), 1962, Visconti knew Lancaster better. He still backed off. (Quite right, said French director Claude Chabrol, who loathed the film) . They later made Gruppo di famiglia in un interno (Conversation Piece), 1974. “Each time I was playing Visconti,” said the cowboy.
- Marlon Brando, The Godfather, 1971.
- Anthony Quinn, Across 110th Street, 1971. His famous friends were all doing it, so why not him? So, Quinn was going to sit this one out. And simply produce the blacks v Mafia thriller, bloody enough for Scorsese or Tarantino. Harlem, however, disliked his ideas - Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr, Sidney Poitier, even Lancaster, Kirk Douglas or John Wayne as the top cop. Too Hollywood! Not street enough! Quinn switched invites to Paul Benjamin, Antonio Fargas, Yaphet Kotto and took over Captain Mattelli, himself. So much for relaxing.
- Charles Bronson, The Mechanic, 1972. Old v young hit-men. Burt had worked with UK director Michael Winner before and would do so again, just not this time.
- Charles Bronson, Death Wish, 1972. As I was saying...
- John Wayne, Rooster Cogburn, 1974. The idea was fair - a sequel to True Grit. But if Wayne proved too ill, what would be the point of someone else in his titular Oscar-winning rôle? Marlon Brando topped producer Hal Wallis’ eye-patch list of Lancaster, Charles Bronson, Richard Burton, Clint Eastwod, Gene Hackman, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, George C Scott and several Duke co-stars: Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn. This was director Stuart Miller’s second feature. The “6ft 6ins somafabitch no-talent, ” as Dutermhim, never made a third.
- Sean Connery, The Man Who Would Be King, 1975.
- Richard Harris, The Cassandra Crossing, 1977. Wise decision!
- Richard Harris, The Wild Geese, 1978. He left this UK war movie (opposite Richard Burton, Roger Moore) to make something more modern: the first (under-rated) Vietnam movie, Tell It To The Spartans. “He did not pull out," insisted producer Euan Lloyd. “I resisted all the script changes he wanted and Richard Harris gladly accepted - without changes.” Harris (like Burton) stayed on the wagon for the entire shoot. Well, half his pay was in escrow...
- Melvyn Douglas, Being There, 1979, Laurence Olivier refused due to a masturbation scene by his screen spouse Shirley MacLaine (in a scene without him). Lancaster had no qualms, but Douglas won the day. Melvyn for once, not Kirk...
- Kirk Douglas, The Man From Snowy River, 1981. The rivalry enters a fourth decade and another continent... Kirk beat Burt to the roles of the twins Harrison and Spur - rich rancher and wizened old miner - in the down-under Western based on an epic poem by Australia’s famous bush balladeer, Banjo Patterson.
- James Mason, The Verdict, 1982. Sidney Lumet helming a David Mamet script, all Hollywood was keen. From Redford to Sinatra, by way of Hoffman.
- Brian Dennehy, First Blood (aka Rambo),1982.
- Lee Marvin, Gorky Park, 1983. As the US businessman caught up with William Hurt’s investigation of a triple Moscow murder.
- Martin Sheen, Firestarter, 1983. Sheen filled in - the zero role - when Lancaster required heart surgery.
- Robert Mitchum, Maria's Lovers, 1984. Mitchum agreed to sub for Burt - in dock for a heart bypass. And “the poet with an ax" loved the result, said Andrei Konchalovsky.
- 54 - William Hurt, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985. Burt tried to raise a budget ever since Hector Babenco gave him the Manuel Puig novel in 1981. “It was intimidating, following in his footsteps,” said Hurt taking over at minimum union salary ($20,000), after swopping with second choice Raul Julia as the gay haidresser Molina, “because Burt is one of my idols. The age difference didn't matter - these are universal characters, universal truths.” Hurt won best actor at Cannes and at the Oscars.
- Gregory Peck, Old Gringo, 1988. Burt sued Columbia for his agreed $l.5m salary and settled out of court. He alleged that, although in good physical shape, the studio knew he was not insurable at customary rates due to his heart condition, stabilised after open-heart surgery. He was not notified of a problem until he was dumped when he arrived for the shooting in Mexico City in December 1988. Producer Jane Fonda called up Peck on Christmas Eve. “Burt was wonderful about it, saying: It’s a great role, you'll do it a little differently that I would but...” While Old Gringo (which needed him, or better still Mitchum) was shooting, Lancaster replaced an ill James Stewart in Field of Dreams. For... Columbia!
- Clint Eastwood, White Hunter, Black Heart, 1990. Named for the Ray Bradbury script years before. Clint made a surprisingly good John Huston… while making The African Queen., circa 1951.
- François Cluzet, L’Enfer, France, 1994. Thirty years earlier, Burt had been among realisateur Henri-George Clouzot’s first choices for Romy Schneider’s jealous husband. The role finished at the opposite end of virility with French singer Serge Reggiani - about to be replaced by Jean-Louis Trintignant when Clouzot’s heart attack cancelled any more shooting. (He had already shot 15 hours of the film - and various tests, including footage of himself in the role). Claude Chabrol made the 90s’ version.