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Pat O’Brien (1899-1983)

 

  1. Chic Johnson, Boy Meets Girl, 1938.       Ole Olsen and (of course) Johnson (of Hellzapoppin’ fame) were first thoughts for the Hollywood screenwriters in the Film City comedy. Before they went to the leaders of LA’s Irish mafia, life-long pals, O’Brien and James Cagney. The best joke was real - powerful Press baron William Randolph Hearst, forbidding his lover, Marion Davies, from co-starring as… heaven forfend… an unmarried mother. It was OK for her to be a zillionaire’s real mistress but not a fictional unwed mother!
  2. Gary Cooper, Sergeant York, 1941.      Warners announced Coop as thewar hero of 1918 - without a finished script, much less a director. Henry Fonda and James Stewart were on the reserve list. Then, O’Brien and even Ronald Reagan were tested. But Alvin C York only ever wanted Cooper to play him, even if he was too old.
  3. William Wright, A Man’s World, 1941.    As Hollywood Reporter explained the year before, Columbia suits tried to persuade O’Brien to headline the WWII thriller with Marguerite Chapman and Larry Parks. Wright, Columbia’s Clark Gable (sort of) was a one-off, 11th Philo Vance in 1947.    
  4. Randolph Scott, To the Shores of Tripoli, 1941.     O’Brien and George Raft (now there’s an odd couple!) were due to take charge of the new US Marine leatherneck recruits - but that job fell to Scott and John Payne. The film also fell. Darryl Zanuck churned the training process, hinged to the shock December 7 Pearl Harbour attack (when second unit director James Havens and his crew were shooting background footage) into a bunch of cliches, wrapped in Old Glory. An opportunity wasted.
  5. Glenn Ford, The Adventures of Martin Eden, 1941.    For his debut production, Samuel Bronston wanted O’Brien as Jack London’s hero. Bronson went on to produce such 60s’ epics as El Cid, 55 Days At Peking and The Fall of the Roman Empire.
  6. Ronald  Reagan,  Kings Row,  1942.   Warners  bought this one  as another  Cagney-O'Brien  teaming. Plus Bette Davis. Until they were switched to: Reagan, Robert Cummings, Ann Sheridan. Pretty damn good they were, too.
  7. Victor McLaglan, China Girl, 1942.   Ya cain’t always get wot ya wanna…  Head Fox Darryl Zanuck short-listed O’Brien and John Payne as the WWI heroes - played by McLaglen and George Montgomery. Betty Grable - avoided the  WWII thriller. She preferred the lighter Coney Island.  O’Brien had been up for her guy in both.
  8. Cesar Romero, Coney Island, 1943.  As close to the real Coney as the Eiffel Tower was…  Carny operators O’Brien and Laird Cregar plus showgirl Alice Faye were Fox-churned into Romero, George Montgomery and  what Variety called “a 95-minute audition of Betty Grable’s chassis and legs - in color.”
  9. Robert Mitchum,Out of the Past  (UK: Build My Gallows High), 1947.  Author Daniel Mainwaring (aka Geoffrey Holmes) admitted much of the Gallowsnovel was lifted from The Maltese Falcon. So, naturally, he wanted Sam Spade to play Jeff Bailey. But Humphrey Bogart passed (after Pat O’Brien), and Bailey went on to John Garfield, Dick Powell  and. on loan from Paramount,  the future Tarzan Lex Barker.Mitchum made it a classic.
  10. Chill Wills, Giant, 1955.

 





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