Robert Montgomery (1904-1981)
- James Hall, So This Is Heaven, 1928. After four Broadway plays, producer Samuel Goldwyn announced Bob among the support of Vilma Banky, then changed his mind. “His neck is too long, his collars too small.” Yet the same test led to MGM signing him for $350 a week, kicking off with the similarly titled So This Is College.
- Gary Cooper, Design For Living, 1933. Coop in a Noel Coward piece... Oh, Hollywood!
- Franchot Tone, Dancing Lady, 1932. Too busy trying to stay wed to Helen Hayes in Another Language to join Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and, in his top hat and tails debut, Fred Astaire. Furious with Gable taking so long to recover from appendicitis, MGM loaned him out to Columbia for It Happened One Night. Result: an Oscar. Some punishment!
- Franchot Tone, Moulin Rouge, 1933. Head Fox Darryl F Zanuck wanted Montgomery as the tunesmith caught between his wife, her twin sister and a Broadway revue. MGM would only agree to a 24 day loan. Fox needed 15 more. “But you can have Tone for 39 days, OK?” Poor DFZ. He also lost Paramount’s Charles Laughton that year for The Affairs of Cellini.
- Franchot Tone, Dancing Lady, 1933. Change of Tod Newton as Montgomery was still shooting Another Language. This musical is best remembered for (a) Clark Gable being forever ill - or “ill” - so MGM punished him by sending him to Columbia for what, of course, proved an Oscar-winning turn in It Happened One Night and (b) Fred Astaire’s debut - yes, in top hat and tails. (Joan Crawford was his first movie dancing partner).
- Clark Gable, It Happened One Night, 1934. “It’s the worst script I’ve ever read,” Montgomery told director Frank Capra. To get the kind of stars he lacked for his film, the crude Columbia chief Harry Cohn offered MGM the use of Capra. “But Herschel,” LB Mayer told him, “Montgomery says there's too many bus pictures. And, Herschel, no offence, stars don’t like changing their address from MGM to Gower Street. But Herschel, you caught me in a good mood. I got an actor here who’s being a bad boy. Wants more money. And I’d like to spank him. You can have Clark Gable.” Result: Gable, who had taken far too long to recover from appendicitis (asccording to Mayer) won an Oscar. Some punishment! Seven years later, Montgomery clung tight to Capra’s Here Comes Mr Jordan.
- Franchot Tone, Mutiny on the Bounty, 1934. First choice for Midshipman Roger Byam - opposite Clark Gable’s Fletcher and Charles Laughton’s Bligh - was busy shooting No More Ladies before sticking to the letter of his new MGM contract about a three months summer vacation. Tone had an affair with the Tahitian leading lady, Movita, who later wed Marlon Brando, the Tahiti-lover from Nogales, Arizona. He also wed his co-star Tarita (Movita’s successor) in the 1961 re-make. And had a son and a daughter with each of them.
- Joel McCrea, Private Worlds, 1935. Producer Walter Wanger did not want McCrea in Charles Boyer's Hollywood debut. “I can get Montgomery. McCrea isn't as good an actor as Montgomery or Fairbanks Jr.” “He will be with me,” boasted director Gregory La Cava. Joel started shooting minus a contract. “Don't worry,” said La Cava. “If they don't pay you, I'll pay you out of my salary.” Wanger paid - double. And producer Sam Goldwyn signed McCrea for five years.
- 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 Montgomery, Warner Baxter, Leslie Howard and Clark Gable. Whether they were also due as Carton’s lookalike saviour, Charles Darney, was never mentioned. Colman refused, due said DOS, to“a dread of dual roles.” Yet he doubled up the following year in MGM’s Prisoner of Zenda!
- Leslie Howard, Romeo and Juliet, 1935. Montgomery was about to start Small Town Girl, when MGM’s production genius Irving Thalberg thought he should play the young Montagu. This was Thalberg’s last film before his shock death at 37 (the premiere was being staged the night he died. (Twice over). As a swansong, this was one ugly duckling. With Shakespeare’s teenage lovers farcically played by Howard and Norma Shearer (Thalberg’s widow) - aged, 42 and 33!
- Joel McCrea, These Three, 1936. “You know, I didn't want you,” director William Wyler told McCrea after a week. “Yeah, Goldwyn told me.” “He did? I didn't tell him to tell you. But now that I've worked with you, I want you - you're great!”
- Clark Gable, Love on the Run, 1936. MGM bought the short story, Beauty and the Beat, because it was like a new spin on Clark Gable’s It Happened One Night. Loy and Robert Montgomery were set as the runaway bride and undercover reporter. Then, Jean Harlow and Montgomery, or Harlow and Robert Taylor, and finally: Gable and Crawford… on-off lovers during 30 years and several marriages.
- Cary Grant, Suzy, 1937. All the MGM big boys - Clark Gable, Montgomery, William Powell, Robert Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Robert Young - were too big to play third fiddle to Jean Harlow and Franchot Tone. So Metro went shopping at Paramount's superstarmarket.
- Cary Grant, Bringing Up Baby, 1938. Director Howard Hawks switched leading ladies from Carole Lombard to Katharine Hepburn and then searched through Harold Lloyd, Frederic March, Ray Milland, Robert Montgomery for her leading man. It proved yet another perfect role for perfect Grant.
- Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Gunga Din, 1937. Arriving at RKO, Howard Hawks - The Silver Fox - wanted Montgomery,Spencer Tracy and Robert Donat (or Roger Livesey) as his three Kipling heroes. However, the director’sRKO screwballer, Bringing Up Baby, flopped. He was out, George Stevens was in. According to critic Pauiline Kael, he made it“one of the most enjoyable nonsense-adventure movies of all time” - second only to Gone With The Wind in 1939.
- Walter Pidgeon, Stronger Than Desire, 1938. Montgomery was set for the lead but, well, director Leslie Fenton was wed to co-star Ann Dvorak. Like who’d get the best close-ups, lines, breaks… MGM squashed that issue by switching to its Society Lawyer duo: Pidgeon and Virginia Bruce.
- Ronald Colman, The Light That Failed, 1940. Gary Cooper also refused Kipling.
- Cary Grant, Suspicion, 1941. Before Alfred Hitchcock, Before The Fact by Francis Iles, was planned for Louis Hayward, Montgomery or even Laurence Olivier. None would have been any more believable as a killer than Grant.
- Joseph Cotten, Journey Into Fear, 1941. Universal planned the WWII thriller for Michèle Morgan and Montgomery, Fred MacMurray… 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 make 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 Mitchum, Desire Me, 1946. “Nobody desired anybody,” said Mitchum of this MGMess. It was bad enough when Montgomery was Greer Garson’s husband betrayed by Mitchum, but when Montgomerydee-deed (to play Phillip Marlowe in Lady in the Lake - and direct it, utilising the subjective camera technique) .and Mitchum was moved into his place, oppoosite an unknown (still) Richard Hart in Bob’s old role, it was completely askew. Director George Cukor quit, Mervyn LeRoy took over (followed by Jack Conway) and it became Metro’s first film without a director credit. That’s when Mitchum gave up being serious about movies... “around the time Greer Garson took 125 takes to say: No.”
- Richard Todd, The Hasty Heart, 1949. Fifth film and first starring role (and Oscar nomination) for the Irish-born Todd - beating off Hollywood’s Montgomery and John Dall to the Scottish corporal Lachlan MacLachlan. Dying in a 1945 British military hospital in Burma, Lachie rejects all compassion from fellow patients like Ronald Reagan’s Yank. Dall was Lachie in the first TVersion, 1953.
- Peter Finch, Network, 1976. After tenuous thoughts about real TV News anchors (John Chancellor and the venerable Walter Cronkite), the film’s Oscar-winning writer Paddy Chayefsky wrote to Paul Newman. “You and a very small handful of other actors are the only ones I can think of with the range for this part.” The others were Cary Grant, old pals Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, Gene Hackman, Sterling Hayden - for the “mad prophet of the airwaves,” Howard Beale. (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”). Oh, and Montgomery - who doubled as President Eisenhower’s image consultant. “If Nixon had used him,” said Ike, “he would have beaten Kennedy.” Finchey won the first posthumous acting Oscar. Ironically, the second was also for an Aussie, Heath Ledger, for The Dark Knight... 33 years later.