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Fred MacMurray (1908-1991)

  1. Cary Grant, Big Brown Eyes, 1935.     The New York Times insisted that MacMurray was first choice for the cop helped by Joan Bennett’s manicurist (!) to nab crooks and killers.  Grant, noted Variety on May 6, 1936, “has developed into a really capable light comedian, and blends the romance with that convincingly.” Ain’t dat da truth!  
  2. Henry Fonda, Spawn of the North, 1937.   As might be expected with a name like Georges, Rigaud sounded way too French - although he was actually born Pedro Jorge Rigato Delissetche in Buenos Aires. In a 50-year, he won 205 (mainly French and Spanish) screen roles. Just not this one. He was replaced as George Raft’s buddy by, first MacMurray, then Fonda.
  3. George Raft, Each Dawn I Die, 1938.     After John Garfield, MacMurray was set as the lifer, Hood Stacey - opposite James Cagney.  This once, Raft did not veto a good part.  He knew Cagney from their vaudeville days and he had got Raft his eighth movie bit in Taxi, 1931
  4. Gary Cooper, Beau Geste, 1938.    Three years earlier,  director Henry Hathaway planned a colour version with a MacGeste... who, according to one kid co-star, Paul Petersen, was “cold, arrogant,  rude.”
  5. Bing Crosby, Road To Singapore, 1940.    First written for Burns & Allen as Beach of Dreams, it grew into Road To Manderlay for Fred and Jackie Oakie, then  redirected to Singapore for Hope and Crosby - first of their six Road comedies. MacMurray had been Crosby's lazy brother in Sing You Sinners, 1938.
  6. Ralph Byrd, A Yank in the RAF, 1940.   Change of Al Bennet in  one of the Hollywood films preparing Americans for entering WWII - with, therefore,  a happy ending patched on instead of Tyrone Power’s  heroic death because “audiences would resent his dying… and not getting the girl.”(!)   The UK government agreed, not wishing  to show  US audiences  how  Americans helping the UK could die. Actually, head  Fox Darryl Zanuck (who wrote this story) had already decreed that Fox films would never have unhappy ends following the public anger over Power’s death in Blood and Sand, 1940.
  7. George Brent, Honeymoon For Three, 1940.   Surprising to find Brent (who finished up as inert as Brian Donlevy) excelling in light comedics opposite Ann Sheridan - as the couple first aimed at MacMurray and Olivia de Havilland.  Then  again,  Brent and Sheridan married in 1942.  For exactly one year.  
  8. Barbara Stanwyck, The Lady Eve, 1940.      For his deliciously sexy comedy, director Preston Sturges went through various combos for the con-woman chasing an heir to zillions… In 1938, the rascally gal was Claudette Colbert. In July, the couple was Joel McCrea and Madeleine Carroll, then Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard. By August, Carroll and MacMurray. In September, Fox loaned Henry Fonda to join Goddard - and they wound up as Fonda and Stanwyck… at her wicked best. And then Sturges claimed he wrote it for her. Oh really!
  9. Paul Muni, Hudson’s Bay, 1940.    The birth of Canada, Hollywood style… A story about the Hudson Bay Company had been on head Fox Darryl Zanuck’s mind since 1936. He cancelled it in 1939 because “the feature would have a weak box-office pull at the present time.” His hero changed from MacMurray, Don Ameche, Henry Fonda, Dean Jagger, Tyrone Power to Muni - his first gig since quitting Warner Bros.
  10. Bing Crosby, The Road To Zanzibar, 1941.    Just another comedy, never planned as a sequel to The Road To Singapore. MacMurray and George  Burns (different halves of the teams offered the first film) refused it and no one would make it. “Hey, Sinagpore didn't do so bad and those guys  seem to work well together...”
  11. Joseph Cotten, Journey Into Fear, 1941.  Universal  planned the WWII thriller for Michèle Morgan and MacMurray, Robert Montgomery… or even Fred Astaire (!) 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 - and the  affair. 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.
  12. Robert Cummings, Princess, 1942.     Change of the American Everyman falling for an incognito Euro-princess fleeing WWII. Like an early draft for Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday ten years later.

  13. Clarence Kolb, True To Life, 1943.     Change of boss for the radio writers with a failing show. Change of writers, too, from Bing Crosby and Bob Hope to Dick Powell and Franchot Tone. 
  14. Margaret O'Brien. Tenth Avenue Angel,1946.      One ex-kid player for another in the title role - as poor McManus was not as famous (or loved) as O’Brien.  Yet even she could not save it from being a million-dollar-plus flop,. Sharon’s career was over by 1953 after just 20 credits, the first at age six. Margaret started at five (with Judy and Mickey) and was still working 77 screen roles later in 2018… at 83.
  15. Burgess Meredith, Story of GI Joe, 1943. Pulitzer Prize-winning US WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle was revered by his public as  saint, seer and common man.  So producer Lester Cowan naturally first thought of Astaire and Gary Cooper, then James Gleason or Fred MacMurray. Plus two total amateurs: Pittsburgh radio sports jock, Albert Kennedy “Rosey”Rosewell, and an Ernie clone called John M Waldeck: a streetcar conductor nominated for the role by 1,200 St Louisans. Pyle voted for Meredith, a serving US Army captain at the time. Pyle never saw the film - he was killed during the 1945 Okinawa invasion two months before the premiere
  16. James Dunn,  A Tree Grows  in Brooklyn, 1944.      After being the fourth highest paid American in 1943 with $420,000 (none of it wasted; he took sandwiches to the studios for his lunch), Fred signed with Fox and was announced as the ne'er-do-well father.  Then  left it to Dunn, who had   twice,  said Hollywood Reporter, “after all other possibilities had been abandoned and it was certain no top box office name would be available.”  He won a support Oscar. 
  17. George Raft, Nob Hill, 1944.     For the second re-tread of Alexander’s Ragtime Band, 1937 which, recalled New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, had been nothing to write home about.   Raft beat MacMurray, James Cagney, Brian Donlevy, Michael O’Shea to saloon owner Tony Angelo. But then, poor Raft knew zilch about choosing movies. He nearly walked off this one.
  18. George Raft, Nob Hill, 1945.     The new pact had a script approval clause - and he exercised it. Again. And again.
  19. Frederic March, The Best Years Of Our Lives, 1946.
  20. George Raft, A Dangerous Professsion, 1948.  MacMurraybought the bail bond thriller to star in, but RKO preferred Raft. (So much for common sense).  Fred’s timing was perfect -  the LA  papers had just begun exposing the bond racket.

  21. Dan Dailey, My Blue Heaven,1949.   Fox set out, chequebook in hand, to nab Fred Astaire or James Cagney as Betty Grable’s husband. Producer Sol Siegel wanted  MacMurray. But the song and dance act wound up as the third of four Grable-Dan Dailey teamings. 
  22. William Holden, Sunset Blvd, 1949.    Two weeks before shooting started, Montgomery Clift bowed out of a script proving too close to home. Director Billy Wilder immediately called his Double Indemnity star and Fred passed, saying the gigolo was a supporting, demeaning role. He later added: “The two films I did with Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity and The Apartment, are the only two parts I did in my entire career that required any acting.” 
  23. Tyrone Power, An American Guerrilla in the Philippines, 1949.   Legal problems over  portraying the Filipino wife of the hero based on US Navy  Lieutenant Iliff David Richardson, stopped shooting in 1945.  Good news for Fox, which re-started everything once Ty Power returned home (as a US Marines Corps lieutenant, himself) from the same WWII. 
  24. James Mason, East Side West Side, 1949.    MGM bought Marcia Davenport's novel for $200,000 in September 1947.  By June ’49, MacMurray and Claudette Colbert were MGM’s targets for the adulterous husband of his lady of leisure wife.

  25. 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. Burt Lancaster was “no dice” and 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.”

  26. Raymond Burr, Perry Mason, TV, 1957-1966.    When the overweight Burr agreed to shed 60 lbs to be the LA DA Hamilton Burger, he was the perfect Mason.  Also in the mix for the defence attorney who rarely lost a case were MacMurray, Richard Carlson, Richard Egan, William Holden, William Hopper (he became Mason’s private eye, Paul Drake), John Shelton, William Tallman (given Ham Burger (!), instead). “Wecouldn't afford a big star,” explained producer Gail Patrick Jackson. No shows did in the 50s - they simply made big stars.Such as two other Mason wannabes: Mike Connors (becoming Mannix, 1967-1975) and Efrem Zimbalist Jr (77 Sunset Strip, 1958-1964).Burr had co-starred with MacMurray in Borderline, 1950.

  27. Robert Stack, The Untouchables, TV, 1959-1963.      Fred was not alone in  refusing. Van  Heflin, Van Johnson,  Jack Lord, Cliff Robertson all passed on being Special Agent Eliot Ness - fighting Al Capone's Chicago mob in the 30s. MacMurray had the  best reasons - his pal, Walt Disney, gave  him his own show, My Three Sons, 1960-1972, with him shooting an entire season of his scenes (three weeks of kitchen scenes, two weeks of upstairs hall scenes, etc)  -  then  he went  home and they shot the rest.

  28. Henry Fonda, Yours, Mine and Ours, 1968.    When Fred quit being Lucy’s new husband (with 18 children between them), she called up a lover from 30years before. Their affairended when Fonda made “Yuk!” remarks about her reliance on (buckets of) make-up.

 





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