Lord Laurence Olivier (1907-1989)
- Basil Rathbone, A Woman Commands, 1932. Jaundice cancelled Olivier's second Hollywood film - a rotten script with Pola Negri killing her US career as Queen Marie Draga of Siberia! After recovering from yellow jaundice, Larry's next film was... The Yellow Ticket.
- John Gilbert, Queen Christina, 1933.
Having refused Ronald Colman and Leslie Howard, Greta Garbo had Olivier fired after two weeks. “Inadequate.” All part of her plan to give old lover John Gilbert a career boost, since dropping him in 1931 (from her bed- and Susan Lennox). “That was nice of her,” said a Gilbert biographer Eve Golden in 2013. “But it was not doing him any favors. First of all, it was a bad role. The production was a horror, and sending him back to MGM was the worst thing that could have happened.” As for Larry… “It was a blow at first. But - wow! What luck. An awful part. Jack Gilbert made the flop of his life in it.” After one more film, Gibert was dead in 1936.
- Robert Donat, Knight Without Armour, 1936. Chosen by producer Alexander Korda as first reserve in case Donat's notorious asthma increased. It didn't (thanks to co-star Marlene Diertrich's therapy). By now, poor Larry had lost films oppposite Dietrich, Garbo, Negri.
- Leslie Howard, Romeo and Juliet, 1936. At 27, he could just about get away with it on stage. Yet MGM production chief Irving Thalberg chose Howard who was 43!
- Charles Boyer, The Garden of Allah, 1936. Producer David Selznick checked on him for half of the ex-cloistered lovers: a Trappist monk and a convent girl.
- Errol Flynn, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, 1939. Bette Davis stamped her dainty foot, she must have Olivier. Jack Warner stamped his: No! Bette also lost the original title, Elizabeth The Queen, as Flynn contracts insisted on titular references.
- Robert Taylor, Waterloo Bridge, 1939. Vivien Leigh stamped her dainty foot again - she must have Larry. LB Mayer stamped his, again: No! Once he decided this woupud be Leigh’s first film since Gone With The Wind, Metro didn’t want Larry anywhere near her - fearful of scandal headlines about their love affair. (They wed three months after the US premiere).
- John Gielgud, The Prime Minister, 1940. Olivier and Gielgud alternated as Romeo and Mercutio on-stage in 1935, now Gielgud inherited Disraeli from Larry a year after the project was first “cancelled.”
- Cary Grant, Suspicion, 1940. “I don’t want to be a film star like dear Cary.” So, Larry went to war in the Fleet Air Arm and his “rather sweet” propaganda film of Henry V, 1944.
- Walter Pidgeon, How Green Was My Valley, 1941. MGM had Gone With The Wind, so Fox would regain the crown with director William Wyler helming four hours of the Welsh classic with Olivier (or Alexander Knox) as the minister falling for Katharine Hepburn. Instead, Wyler fell for The Little Foxes and director John Ford replaced Hepburn with Maureen O’Hara (naturally) and needed just 118 minutes for “a stunning masterpiece,” said New York Times critic Bosley Crowther. And it went on to beat Citizen Kane to Best Film and became the third (of four) unequalled directing Oscars for John Ford.Cary Grant, Suspicion, 1941. “I don't want to be a film star like dear Cary.” So, Larry went to war in the Fleet Air Arm and his “rather sweet” propaganda film of Henry V, 1944.
- Tyrone Power, This Above All, 1941. Over the previous few years, Fox had planned for Donat, Olivier or Richard Greene for the Army deserter getting involved with Joan Fontaine’s very upper-crust WAAF. (Women's Auxiliary Air Force, the UK version of the US WACs). Title stemmed from the Polonious soliloquy in Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true...” As John Wayne could have told you; he could recite the entire play. With rather more pauses than Olivier...!
- Roger Livesey, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, 1943. Winston Churchill was outraged by the “defeatist” script, refused Olivier leave from the Fleet Air Arm and banned any military co-operation. So, all uniforms, guns, trucks had to be... stolen. “We could have been shot for it,” said director Michael Powell, “but nobody minded.”
- Gregory Peck, The Paradine Case, 1946. Like Alfred Hitchcock, Larry lost interest when Garbo refused.“I don’t think that [Peck] can properly represent an English lawyer,” said producer David O Selznick, who wanted Ronald Colman or Olivier and felt the result was not what it should have been.True. Hitch was never happy with any of the stars imposed by Selznic -Peck, Louis Jourdan, Alida Valli - but gave in to finish his contract with the over-bossy DOS.
- Walter Pidgeon, If Winter Comes, 1947. Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick bought the morality tale in 1939 for Howerd and Joan Fontaine - or Laurence Olivier and his wife, Vivien Leigh. They all passed. So did DOS, selling his rights in 1940 to UK producer Alexander Korda… who did the same to MGM, which wanted Robert Donat and Greer Garson as the feuding Sabre couple. Finally, it was Pidgeon and Angela Lansbury… on, for the historic first time, non-flammable film.
- Joseph Cotten, Portrait of Jennie, 1948. Producer David Selznick ran through various partners for his beloved Jennifer Jones. Larry came a poor third to Cotten and Gregory Peck.
- José Ferrer, Cyrano de Bergerac, 1950. Olivier planned it as a cultural follow-up to Henry V. He did Hamlet, instead, and was knighted during shooting. Ferrer almost owned Cyrano: have nose, will travel. As well as this Oscared performance, he played Cyrano on stage in 1946, for TV in 1949, and 1955 plus in a French costume romp in 1964.
- Gregory Peck, Captain Horatio Hornblower, 1951. John Huston was writing the script in 1940 as producer Wolfgang Reinhardt pushed for William Wyler to direct - “he has changed radically from his former practises of being over-schedule, budget and his slowness with actors.” But there was a real war out there... Vivien Leigh was named as Hornblower's wife - a role cut from Peck's version.
- Mel Ferrer, Scaramouche, 1952. He missed out of the most memorable of all Hollywood sword-fencing duels - filmed in some 115 shots.
- George Sanders, Ivanhoe, 1952. Stewart Granger and Olivier were also due for MGM's Walter Scott book. Not that Metro had the rights.
- Howard Keel, Kiss Me Kate, 1952. “Can't sing? We’ll dub him,” said producer Jack Cummings. This has to be the first and only time that Olivier and his sometime lover, Danny Kaye, were up for the same role… in the musical inspired by the rows between the venerated Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine during their 1935 Taming of the Shrew in New York. Director George Sidney and Kathyrn Grayson, however, insisted on a fourth partnership of Keel and Grayson.
- Peter Finch, Elephant Walk, 1953. Too busy wrapping up The Beggar’s Opera and when his wife, Vivien Leigh, said her co-star would be Finch, “the penny dropped... with the knell of a high-pitched chapel bell." (Their affair was no longer secret). Larry had to go to Ceylon - to fly her home after a mental breakdown. Liz Taylor took over the role.
- Robert Mitchum, Night of the Hunter, 1954. For his one and only film as a director, Charles Laughton sought - perhaps obviously - Olivier for the murderous Harry Powell. “Why,” said Olivier, “would I want to be directed by someone like Laughton…?” After talks with the inevitable, the scared and dis-interested (John Carradine, Gary Cooper and Olivier), Laughton had a brainwave… He called Mitchum and warned him: “The role is of an irredeemable shit!” “Present,” said Mitchum.
- Richard Burton, Prince of Players, 1955. The role: Edwin Booth, actor brother of President Abraham Lincoln's killer, John Wilkes Booth, came with a Great Caruso-like clips of the classic roles. “When Fox couldn't get a top-rate actor like Olivier or me,” said Marlon Brando, “ they settled for...a third -rate performer with even worse skin.”
- Kenneth More, Reach For The Sky, 1955. “When your hero actually exists,” commented director Lewis Gilbert,“getting the casting right is even harder then usual.”Olivier agreed, saying the role was impossible and maybe the WWII legless fighter ace Douglas Bader should play himself.Not a good idea; he was far more unpleasant than the jovial More. (At 17, Gilbert had acted opposite Olivier in The Divorce of Lady X, 1937).
- John Gielgud, Around The World In 80 Days, 1956. Producer Mike Todd sweetalked people into some 43 cameos - from Frank Sinatra to Edward R Murrow, Buster Keaton to Marlene Dietrich... Larry, however, drew the line at being the manservant sacked by Phileas Fogg and replaced by Passepartout.
- Mel Ferrer, War and Peace, 1956. Not all London producer Alexander Korda’s dreams panned out. Orson Welles was set to direct his script and play Pierre - opposite Viv and Larryas Natasha and Andrei.Years later, Welles - embittered about those who succeeded where he failed - said the first two scenes of Olivier's 1983 King Lear for the BBC, were“the worst things I ever saw in my life.” Not connected, of course,to the fact that Welles could never raise money for his Lear.
- Kenneth More, The Admirable Chrichton, 1956. Another butler...! Producer Alexander Korda could never interest Olivier or Rex Harrison in playing the ultimate butler (played by Bing Crosby in 1934) and finally signed his Chrichton during the weekend he died, 1956.
- Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1956.
When David Niven asked his opinion about playing James Bond in Casino Royale, Oliver commented: “Don’t ask me for advice... I advised myself not to do River Kwai!”
- Michael Redgrave, The Quiet American, 1957. Larry and Monty - that’s who auteur supreme Joe Mankiewicz wanted for his Graham Green adaptation.He got them... later.Olivier in Sleuth, 1972;Clift in Suddenly Last Summer, 1959. Redgrave did not enjoy Murphy and his loaded .45s that much, either. He kept asking Joe if he could get Murphy to blink - “occasionally.”
- Burt Lancaster, Separate Tables, 1957. Larry was booked to direct the Olivers in all four roles. Then, Burt Lancaster, producing, decided he wanted to play one of them. So, the Oliviers quit. Larry decided it was impossible to direct the boss! Vivien Leigh's roles went to Deborah Kerr and Rita Hayworth, the wife of co-producer James Hill.
David Niven, Separate Tables, 1957. During the musical chairs caused by producer-star Burt Lancaster, Niven was already replacing Germany's OW Fischer in My Man Godfrey when called to substitute Olivier as Major Pollock. Niven won an Osacr. Lancaster did not. Nor did his ego.
- Michael Redgrave, The Quiet American, 1958. Auteur Joseph Mankiewicz' dream team was Olivier and Montgomery Clift. When Monty bowed out, Larry was not keen on sharing a movie with Audie Murphy. 29 - Anthony Franciosa, La maja desnuda/The Naked Maja, Italy, 1958. Larry, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck - Rome could not find a plausible Goya.. Fresh out from Broadway, Franciosa found co-star Ava Gardner far more naked in his own bed... until his wife, Shelley Winters threatened to out a contract out on her. “I grew up in Brooklyn,” Shelley reminded him, “with Murder Inc as my playmates.”
- Charles Laughton, Sotto dieci bandiere (UK/US: Under Ten Flags, Italy-US,1959. The Hollywood dailies insisted that Olivier and James Mason were “slugging it out” (!) to be the Royal Navy admiral responsible for finally sinking the continually disguised German surface raider, Atlantis, which sank 22 Allied ships vessels during a non-stop, 665 day mission. This was the second of two fascinating WWII dramas made by Paramount in Italy that year, the other being Jovanka e le altre (US: Five Branded Women).
- Anthony Quinn, Heller In Pink Tights, 1960. Carlo Ponti, Sophia Loren, George Cukor circled their wagons around him, but Larry never did make a Western.
- Edmond Purdom, Salambo(US: The Loves of Salambo), France-Italy, 1960. Thinking bigger than his pocket, producer Charles Brackett dreamt of Gina Lollobrigida, Harry Belafonte, the Spartacus trio: Larry, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov. Oh, everyone except Bugs Bunny.
- Maurice Evans, Macbeth, 1961. With everything ready to go, Olivier failed to win Hollywood or Pinewood finance (and Mike Todd died before backing him) for a fourth Shakespeare venture because Richard III, 1955, had failed to make a profit. He had won his finest reviews for the 1956 stage version at Stratford-upon-Avon but Evans did The Scottish Play next, after Orson Welles in 1948. Film critic Paulibner Kael found it tragic that the movie industry prevented such a great talent from making “such a potentially significant film.”
- Burt Lancaster, Judgment At Nuremberg, 1961. Lancaster was woefully miscast as main defendant Dr Ernst Janning. Olivier has passed. Or his ego had...“He was courting his soon-to-be-wife [Joan Plowright] and he didn’t want to play an older guy,” reported scenarist Abby Mann. “At least, that was part of what he said.”A major disappointment for Spencer Tracy. They had been firm friends for more than 20 years. Tracy helped Olivier find the necessary Midwestern accent for Carrie, 1951, but they nevermanaged to work together.
- Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia, 1961.
- Alec Guinness, Lawrence of Arabia, 1961.
- Anthony Quinn, Lawrence of Arabia, 1961.
- James Mason, Lolita, 1962. With his first choice, Mason, committed to Broadway, Stanley Kubrick was furious when his agent, who was also Olivier’s, warned the great man off the paedophile role. With reason... He was secretly playing the role for real... "Did you want to do it?" asked Sarah Miles hours before becoming his mistress. "I suppose so, but I’d sooner live it. I never ever dreamt I’d be tempted by anyone so young.” He was 55 to her 21 when their Term of Trial ironically lost out to Lolita at the 1963 Venice festival. Their affair was hushed up throughout its six year run.
- Mel Ferrer, Scaramouche, 1962. Larry missed out of the greatest Hollywood sword fight. Well, he was ten years older than Ferrer, who was closer in age to co-star Stewart Granger.
- Burt Lancaster, Il gattopardpo (The Leopard), Italy-France, 1962. For Prince Don Fabrizio Salina, the Italian maestro Luchino Visconti wanted Brando, Olivier or Russia’s Ivan The Terrible: Nikolai Cherkasov. Hollywood wanted a Hollywoodian: Anthony Quinn or Spencer Tracy. “They wanted a Russian, but he was too old,” Lancaster told critic Roger Ebert. “They wanted Olivier, but he was too busy. When I was suggested, Visconti said, ‘Oh, no! A cowboy!’ - until seeing him tackle Olivier's rtole in Judgment at Nuremberg. “And,” said Burt, “he needed $3 million, which 20th Century-Fox would give them if they used an American star, and so the inevitable occurred. And it turned out to be a wonderful marriage.” Visconti chose Burt again for Gruppo di famiglia in un interno (Conversation Piece), 1974. “Each time I wasplaying Visconti,” said the cowboy.
- Rex Harrison, Cleopatra,1963.
- Marcello Mastroianni, 8½, Italy-France, 1962.
Seemed a logical move to have an genuine director (and actor, too, for a mighty plus)to portray a director who had not thje foggiestidea what his next film was about...They met in New York and Federico Fellini found Olivier to be too theatrical, too English,too full of himself and his talent. In short, one monumental ego was enough on the Cinecitta set. Besides “the dear, the perfect “Marcellino” was Fellini’s other half. “the kind of friend you only find in English novels: faithful, devoted, wise.Working with my old Snaporaz is a joy.”
- Richard Burton, Becket, 1964. An obvious, early consideration, but the box-office pull was not there.
- James Mason, Lord Jim, 1965. He was initially announced for Gentleman Brown but the locations put him off: Cambodia, Hong Kong, Malaysia. A long way - and a long time - from home.
- John Huston, The Bible... in the Beginning, 1965. God.. as a voice-over. Who better suited for that than a director. Better still, the director!
- Paul Scofield, A Man For All Seasons, 1966. Larry wanted to put “the new Olivier” in his place by recreating Scofield's stage triumph as Sir Thomas More, standing up to Henry VIII. “Not playing Thomas More will probably end up one of my main regrets,” he said of the “cracking” script by Robert Bolt, future husband of His Nibs' secret lover, Sarah Miles.
- Rock Hudson, Seconds, 1966. To director John Frankenheimer's horror, Paramount insisted on... a bigger name! The film - against type for Hudson - flopped. Doris Day wasn't in it!
- Cyril Cusack, Fahrenheit 451, 1966. As if he didn’t have enough pressures - first film in colour, first in English, a lingo he was far from confident with - French nouvelle vague icon François Truffaut also suffered four years of casting hurdles…. starting with Paul Newman as the fireman hero, Montag. When feeling Ray Bradbury’s story was too important to be shot in English(!), the réalisateur tried his past and future stars, Charles Aznavour, Jean-Paul Belmondo - and Oskar Werner as Montag’s boss. Producer Lewis Allen wanted Sterling Hayden in either role; or Finney, Olivier, Peter O’Toole, Michael Redgrave, Max Von Sydow. Producer Sam Spiegel even tried muscling in by promising Burton… bossing a Robert Redford and loving Elizabeth Taylor! Enter: the head of the Cusack movie clan: actors Catherine, wife Maureen (his wife), Niamh, Sinéad, Sorcha, producer Pádraig, director Paul. And even a son-in-law. Jeremy Irons!
Maurice Evans, Planet of the Apes, 1967.
- Ron Moody, Oliver!1968. When Lewis Gilbert was “was born to direct it, ”the A List names fell like confetti... Olivier, Peter O’Toole, Peter Sellersfor Fagin - and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as Bill Sykes and Nancy. Then, poor Gilbert was snared by a contractual obligation at Paramount (Harold Robbins’trashy Adventurers) andCarol Reed made Lionel Bart’s musical.
- Chief Dan George, Little Big Man. 1970. Among points raised in Thomas Berger’s novel was that white actors were rarely convincing as native Americans. Director Arthur Penn must have missed that page as he started wooing great Shakespereans Olivier and Paul Scofield to play… Old Lodge Skins. Next? Marlon Brando and Richard Boone. Finally, the lightbub flickered and Penn decided on the genuine article… the 1951-1963 chief of the Burrard Band of North Vancouver (now the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation). He won an Oacar nomiatiion for beautifully intoning, among other lines, the one pinched by Star Trek’s Klingons): “Today is a good day to die.”
- Christopher Lee, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, 1970. Chris Lee’s heart sunk when writer-director Billy Wilder said he was also seeing Olivier for the same role -of Holmes’ brother,Mycroft.“What’s he seeing me for?”To give him the part!
- Marlon Brando, The Godfather,1971.
- Alec McCowen, Frenzy, 1971. “A good colourful crime spree is good for tourism...” Once upon a whimsy. it was to be Inspector Olivier suspecting David Hemmings as a serial killer, with Vanessa Redgrave among his victims. Not when Alfred Hitchcock started his 52nd and penultimate film - his first in Britain for 16 year.
- Gene Wilder, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask, 1971. What a nerve! The acting legend was Woody Allen’s second choice (second!) for the What is Sodomy? chapter (sodomy!) which was more about bestiality (bestiality!) as Wilder was in love witha sheep…All based on the best-selling sex manual (150m copies sold in 52 countries). The author, Dr David Reuben hated it, but then Woody’s parody was his revenge on Reuben for stealing one of his Take The Money And Run jokes on TV. Johnny Carson: “Is sex dirty?” Reuben: “It is if you’re doing it right.”
- Alec Guinness, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, 1972. Too ill for the latest opus of Italian stage-screen director Franco Zeffirelli. Guinness was never a Larry fan:“He would make a point of stressing a line, or just a word - something at any rate that didn’t warrant the stress. He would distort meaning for effect.”
- Robert Shaw, The Sting, 1973. Top of co-producers Tony Bill and Julia Phillips’ English list for the Newman and Redford’s stingee..Paul Newman handed his copy of the script to Shaw in Britain. “Delicious, when do I start?”
- Art Carney, Harry & Tonto, 1974. Not often Olivier and ex-lover Danny Kaye were up for the same role. And the Oscar goes to…. And I was there, shocked like everyone else, when Carney, the TV favourite, beatFinney, Hoffman,Nicholson and Pacino at the first and only Oscarnight I attended: April 8, 1975.
- George Burns, The Sunshine Boys, 1975. After Jack Benny died, all kinds of names were considered by Neil Simon.Larry was not such a wild notion. Think: Archie Rice in retirement.
Charles Vanel, Alice ou la derniere fugue, France, 1976. Nouvelle vague icon Claude Chabrol had loftier aims for his nightmarish tale of a young wife leaving her husband, crashing her car and finding in....the hereafter. Or close by. He wanted Shirley MacLaine and Olivier as God - or, maybe, Death... Another veteran, Charles Vanel, took over opposite the finest performance by Kristel, akaEmmanuelle.
- Gregory Peck, MacArthur, 1977. George C Scott also said no “and they finally got around to me - wisely,” said Peck. Olivier played General Douglas MacArthur in a strictly-for-the-money number, Inchon, 1979.
- David Niven, Candleshoe,1977. Change of butler at the country seat of Helen Hayes, somewhere in a Disneyfied UK, meant no meeting of TheFirst Lady of the American Theatre andBritain’s Finest!
- Winston Ntshona, Wild Geese, 1978. Larry made the sequel instead - as Rudolf Hess.
- Melvyn Douglas, Being There, 1979. “He didn’t like the idea of being in a film with me masturbating,” said Shirley MacLaine.And told her she shouldn’t be in it, either!He was not so prudish in his private, bisexual life.
- James Mason, Murder By Decree, 1979. Peter O’Toole as Sherlock Holmes with Olivier as Watson, became Christopher Plummer and Mason - whobased his good doctor on bumbling President Gerald Ford.
- Burt Lancaster, Atlantic City, 1979. Difficult to see Lord Larry as a former cellmate of Bugsy Siegel called Lou. But there he was among Paris auteur Louis Malle’s choices (Henry Fonda, James Mason, Robert Mitchum) for the an aging numbers runner involved with an oyster-bar waitress and an ex-Betty Grable lookalike. The producers refused Olivier, a great insurance risk at the time. Made after the chagrin of losing his 20-year-old dream project, Victory, Malle’s little gem was won five Oscar nominations in 1982.
- John Gielgud, Brideshead Revisited, TV, 1981. For Britain’s most expensive TV drama, the ill Lord Larry was given his pick of Lord Marchmain or Edward Ryder. His Lordship went for His Lordship and later agreed he’d made a mistake. “Ryder was the better part.” Or, it was when Gielgud played him.
- Alec Guinness, Lawrence of Arabia, 1981. When Olivier bowed out, Guinness took over as Prince Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi, future king of Syria and Iraq - in the third of his five films for David Lean during 1947-1983. Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, The Bridge on the Rivcr Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, A Passage To India.
- Edward Fox, Gandhi, 1982. Larry was announced for General Dyer in 1980.
- Peter Harlowe, Gandhi, 1981. Before David Lean had to abort his version of the Mahatma’s life, Olivier was scheduled to portray the last viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten.
- Trevor Howard, The Missionary, 1982. He had never heard of Monty Python but wanted $1m to be the curmudgeonly Lord Ames in Michael Palin’s love child,“Mish.” Bye-bye! Maggie Smith was not sad to see him go.She told scenarist-star Michael Palin that Larry had an odd sense of humour: “ie none.”
- Albert Finney, Under The Volcano, 1984. The ideal team, for Spanish director Luis Buñuel in 1965 was Olivier and Jeanne Moreau. But another Buñuel star, Zachary Scott, held the rights. Firmly.
- Robert Eddison, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, 1988.
- Richard Dryfuss, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, 1990. Inevitable idea for The Player when John Boorman plannedto film Tom Stoppard’s play in 1970.