Fred MacMurray (1908-1991)
- 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!
- 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
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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...”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- George Raft, Nob Hill, 1945. The new pact had a script approval clause - and he exercised it. Again. And again.
- Frederic March, The Best Years Of Our Lives, 1946.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- Raymond Burr, Perry Mason, TV, 1957-1966. Burr did 271 episodes for CBS; he had co-starred with MacMurray in Borderline, 1950.
- 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.
- 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.