Gregory Peck (1916-2003)
- Fred McMurray, Double Indemnity, 1943. Director Billy Wilder's first thoughts for the murdering adulterer Walter Neff: Peck, James Cagney, Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd, Fredric March, George Raft. Spencer Tracy. They all fled.
- George Brent, Experiment Perilous, 1943. “Life is short,” said Socrates, “art is long, decision difficult, and experiment perilous.” So was the period thriller, although Jacques Tourneur fans adore it. When producer David Hempstead walked, so did Grant. Next: Peck came and went. Next? George Brent?!!
- John Garfield, The Always Rings Twice, 1945. WTF?! Peck, Mr Cardboard himself, as the tough drifter lover of Lana Turner… and knocking off her husband. That could never have worked! For proof of Peck and Garfield as polar opposites, check them out co-starring in Gentlemen’s Agreement, 1946.
- Van Johnson, The Romance of Rosy Ridge, 1946. Both Peck and James Stewart avoided this hokum. Therefore, the romance is of Johnson and a debuting Janet Leigh. She was just great, the story plain silly. Travellin’ Van brings peace to the post-war Unionists and Confederates in the Missouri hills with his songs, harmonica, banjo and a punch or two. Leigh, aka Jeanette Helen Morrison, had been discovered by MGM’s First Lady, Norma Sheater, and named by Johnson.
- Van Heflin, Green Dolphin Street, 1946. The game plan in May 1945 was Peck and Laraine Day for the turgid romance, set in New Zealand, amid earthquakes and Maori uprisings.
- James Stewart, Rope, 1947. Peck had made Spellbound, 1945, and Paradine Case, 1947, but Alfred Hitchcock had no more use for him in the director’s first colour movie. Thankfully. This was the first of Stewart’s four Hitch films.
- Joseph Cotton, Portrait of Jennie, 1947. Producer David Selznick surveyed the co-star possibilities for Jennifer Jones. Peck (too busy at Fox) came in ahead of Cotton and Laurence Olivier.
- Cesar Romero, The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend, 1949. Betty Grable wanted Peck to co-star at Blackie Jobero. Director Preston Sturgess did not.
- James Stewart, The Stratton Story, 1949. Brave story of amputee baseball star Monty Stratton. Surprisingly, the lightweight Van Johnson was also considered before Monty, himself, chose Jim.
- Robert Taylor, Quo Vadis, 1950. Took Hollywood 26 years to film Henryk Sienkiewicz’s 1895 epic novel about ancient Rome. MGM won the rights in 1925, planned to shoot in 1935. Or ’42 or ’43. John Huston was due to direct the MGM re-make in July 1949, with Peck, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov, Walter Huston. As sets went up in May, Peck suffered an eye-infection and shooting was postponed. Walter went home and made his son's Asphalt Jungle, instead. John got back to Peck for Moby Dick, 1956. William Wyler made the Roman epic with Taylor, MGM’s longest serving contract player… and Sophia Loren (and her mum) among the extras. Oh yes they were.
- Tyrone Power, I’ll Never Forget You (aka The House in the Square), 1950. Five years earlier, Peck had been top choice for the 20th Century atomic research physicist obsessed so much with the 18th that he manages to be transmigrated back there… only to find that the 1784 was not all it was cracked up to be. Peck and Maureen O’Hara also transmigrated - into Power and Ann Blyth.
- Henry Wilcoxon, The Greatest Show on Earth, 1951. Three years before CB De Mille made his old dream of a circus film (and inspired a six-year-old Phoenix kid named Spielberg to make movies), the Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick planned risking $6m on a big top number named after the slogan of the Ringling Bros circus. The DOS line-up would have featured Peck, Joseph Cotten, Jennifer Jones, Louis Jourdan, Dorothy McGuire, Robert Mitchum, Shirley Temple and Alida Valli. Obviously the DeMille epic had a different script, but it’s safe to surmise that the characters would have been much the same… trapeze stars, lion-tamer, elephant girl, circus boss.
- Dale Robertson, The Outcasts of Poker Flat, 1951. The Hollywood Reporter daily - not always as on the mark as Variety - announced Peck as the gambler Oakhurst in Bret Harte's tale of six outsiders taking refuge in an old cabin. For Tarantino, in 2015, it was eight - The Hateful 8.
- Richard Burton, The Robe, 1952. Five toppermost stars were discussed for the centurion hero, Marcellus Gallio… totally regardless of age. From Spencer Tracy at 52 and Gary Cooper, 51 to Laurence Olivier, 45. A fair trade in the end. The cardboard Peck, 26, for the hammy Burton, 25… and the birth of CinemaScope (When Peck had eye trouble in 1950, Taylor took over the other big toga epic, Quo Vadis).
- Gary Cooper, High Noon, 1952.
"I'd just made The Gunfighter and along came High Noon a few weeks later," is how Peck explained it to me in London. "The loner, the town that's frightened of the violence he might bring about, so it's him against the town. "Well," I said, “I’ve just done that... If I do it again, they'll say I'm imitating myself, trying to get cast as the classic Western gunman." So I passed... and it got seven nominations and four Oscars including one for Gary Cooper. But that happens." Marlon Brando. Montgomery Clift, Charlton Heston, John Wayne also refused to be Will Kane. Kirk Douglas nearly played him with Lola Albright as the missus.
- Gene Evans, Park Row, 1952. Tough guy auteur Samuel Fuller Fuller financed his cut-price Citizen Kane - and lost the whole shebang: $200,000. The Press loved the newspaper story, but Darryl Zanuck was right. To win the the public Sam needed stars,. For example, Peck as the honest-joe editor and Susan Hayward as his ex-boss, the tabloid queen, Or Peck and Ava Gardner(!).
- Charlton Heston, The President’s Lady, 1952. Every American recognises Andrew Jackson, the seventh US president (1829-1837). His face is on every $20 banknote. Few know about The Jackson Scandal… living as man and wife with Rachel Donelson without realising that her divorce was never finalised. He was called a wife-stealer, his wife much else and he fought back - as if he was not busy enough working his way to White House. Irving Stone’s novel as bought by Fox when still in galley proofs - for De Havilland and Gregory Peck. They became Hayward and Charlton Heston… who made the rôle his own, portraying Jackson again in The Buccaneer, 1957.
- James Stewart, The Glenn Miller Story, 1953. One year earlier, Peck and Tyrone Power topped Universal’s list for the bandleader - whose plane went missing after one of his WWII troop concert tours in Europe. Power went on to play a different bandleader (piano, not trombone) in The Eddy Duchin Story, 1955.
- James Mason, A Star Is Born, 1953.
- James Mason, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 1953. Instead of Captain Nemo, Peck later played Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, 1956.
- Van Johnson, The Last Time I Saw Paris, 1953. Willam Wyler directing Peck as Charles Wills churned into Richard Brooks having a surprisingly good Johnson headlining the F Scott Fitzgerald short story, Babylon Revisited - expanded (and then some, by the twin Casablanca writers, Julius and Philip Epstein) to make room for Elizabeth Taylor as the originally unseen Helen. The Epstein twins were also due to direct before Philip died in February 1952.
- Clark Gable, Betrayed, 1953. The June 30, 1953 edition of the Hollywood Reporter stated that Peck had been first choice for what proved to be Gable’s final MGM movie… 28 years after being an extra in The Merry Widow.
- Rock Hudson, Giant, 1955.
- 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.” Peck, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden were unavailable, Kirk Douglas was working. Burt Lancaster was “no dice” and Fred 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.”
- Humphrey Bogart, The Left Hand of God, 1955. When director Howard Hawks was attached, he thought of Peck, John Wayne and, mainly, Kirk Douglas. Edward Dmytryk only ever thought of Bogie.
- Colonel Tim McCoy, Around The World In 80 Days, 1955. Peck gets fired! “He wasn't taking the role seriously enough.” Producer Mike Todd dumped Peck as the US Cavalry colonel at Fort Kearney. The real Colonel was far from the real McCoy! Stars who did accept cameos included Charles Boyer, Joe E Brown, Martine Carol, Ronald Colman, Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, Fernandel, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Buster Keaton, Evelyn Keyes, Peter Lorre, Victor McLaglen, John Mills, George Raft, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton.
- Van Johnson, The End of the Affair, 1955. Turned down by Peck, director Edward Dmytryk then made the casting error of his career and ruined the Graham Greene story with the empty vessel called Johnson.
- Kirk Douglas, Ulisse/Ulysses, Italy, 1955. Undecided about a comeback, Greta Garbo rejected German director GW Pabst’s version of The Odyssey with Peck as Ulysses. Italian director Mario Camerini picked up the pieces with Kirk and Silvana Mangano.
- Robert Taylor, The Last Hunt, 1955. Peck agreed to hunt with Montgomery Clift. MGM preferred the cheaper contract staff from All The Brothers Were Valiant, 1953: Taylor and Stewart Granger.
- James Cagney, Tribute To A Bad Man, 1955. “It’s the end of my career. I’ll never make another picture.” Spencer Tracy quickly lost interest and his health in the high altitude of Colorado. And just as no one had agreed to be The Girl (they finished with the Greek Irene Papas), no guy wanted to sub Spence. As if they could. Peck and Clark Gable refused; Cagney agreed. He was a friend and huge fan... “I’m easy to imitate, but you never saw anyone imitate Spence Tracy. You can’t mimic reserve and control.”
- Henry Fonda, War and Peace, 1956. Producer Dino De Laurentiis insisted on ruining it all with an all-American Pierre.
- Humphrey Bogart, The Left Hand of God, 1955. Iconic director Howard Hawks considered Peck, Wayne and, mainly, Kirk Douglas.
- Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory, 1957.
“Stanley,” rasped Kirk, “I don’t think this picture will ever make a nickel… But we have to make it.” And then, he couldn’t... Stanley Kubrick agreed on Peck for the anti-war classic. But he was booked for 18 months - during which time, Douglas became free again... a happenstance leading,of course, to Spartacus, 1960.
- Tony Curtis, The Defiant Ones, 1957. About the two escaped chained convicts, Billy Wilder said: Brando wanted to play the black convict, Mitchum would refuse to be in any film “with a nigger” and Kirk Douglas wanted both roles… Disappointed with The Wild One, Brando never worked for Stanley Kramer again. Peck, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Anthony Quinn and Frank Sinatra all refused to co-star with Sidney Poitier. So much for liberal Hollywood…
- Anthony Franciosa, La maja desnuda/The Naked Maja, Italy, 1958. Failing to locate a credible Goya, the Rome producers became desperate enough to think of Peck!
- John Wayne, Rio Bravo, 1958.
- Fred MacMurray, The Shaggy Dog, 1958. If MacMurray refused this possible life-saver, Peck was Walt Disney’s second choice for the father of the kid who keeps turning into a Bratislavian sheepdog. (You hadda be there!). The studio’s biggest hit (up to then) saved the McCareer and he was quickly into The Absent-Minded Professor 1961, and Son of Flubber, 1963, etc. And, of course, headlining the Disney series, My Three Sons - bringing his own luncheon sandwiches to the studio over the next 12 years, 1960-1972!
- James Stewart, Anatomy of a Murder, 1958. Peck was the early front runner for the wily, folksy defence attorney Paul Biegler. Never mind, another day, another controversial trial with Peck for the defence, winning his Oscar as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962.
- Robert Mitchum, The Wonderful Country, 1959. Good Western but hey, he'd just wed the French reporter who'd come to interview him.
- Cary Grant, North By Northwest, 1959. Two films with Mr Cardboard was enough for Alfred Hitchcock, who fought the MGM brass for Mr Superb!
- Yves Montand, Let's Make Love, 1960. "The script [tweaked by Arthur Miller] was now about as funny as pushing grandma down the stairs in a wheelchair." Turning her down upset Marilyn Monroe. She loved men looking like Abraham Lincoln. Peck played Abe on TV in 1982, years after Montand confessed that co-starring with Monroe "was a part that could have shot me down in flames for the rest of my career."
- Robert Mitchum, Cape Fear, 1962. For some stupid reason, Peck was first offered the villain, Max Cady.
- Frank Sinatra, How The West Was Won, 1962. When The Voice could not longer fit gambler Cleve Van Valen into his schedule, Peck agreed to take over. Other A-Listers who did not finally appear in the Cineama epic included Brando, Cagney, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.
- Robert Mitchum, What A Way To Go, 1964. For one of Shirley MacLaine's many millionaire hubbies, UK director J Lee Thompson wanted Greg to replace Sinatra (too pricey) and then went for the obvious - Shirley's hardly secret lover.
- David Niven, Bedtime Story, 1964. Peck-Curtis became Niven-Brando. (And Michael Caine-Steve Martin in the 1988 re-mould, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).
- Richard Harris, I Tre Volti/Three Faces of a Woman, Italy, 1964. The woman was Soraya, ex-wife of the Shah of Iran. Producer Dino De Laurentiis was convinced he could make her a star and tried hard for A List co-stars in the triple-sketch project. Harris agreed - for top billing and (like Soraya) script approval.
- Peter O’Toole, How To Steal A Million, 1966. A full ten years earlier, the director, William Wyler, was telling Stanley Kubrick about his plans to re-unite his Roman Holiday stars: Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Only Audrey and Willie stayed the course to ’66. (But why?).
- Walter Chiari, They’re A Weird Mob, Australia, 1966. Fred Astaire passed the book to Peck during On The Beach in Australia. His option was running out when veteran British director Michael Powell moved in, after persuading Peck that the hero had to be an Italian.
- Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes, 1967.
- Rock Hudson, Ice Station Zebra, 1968. He was due opposite David Niven... Guns of Navarone goes to the Arctic!
- Charles Bronson,C'era una volta il West (UK/US: Once Upon A Time in the West), Italy-USA, 1968. Sergio Leone said he would have won a better budget from, his usual spaghetti Western backers, United Artists - if he agreed to Chuck Heston, Peck and Kirk Douglas. Leone settled for less money, but all his own choices at a Paramount.
- Jack Lord, Hawaii Five-O, TV, 1968-1980. You want I should book him? Not a chance. Peck was still a busy A-List movie star - McKenna’s Gold, I Walk The Line, The Omen, McArthur. Had no need of TV. Or not until after ’89. Jack played Detective Steve McGarrett for all 283 episodes - good Lord!
- Robert Ryan, The Wild Bunch, 1968.
- Robert Mitchum, Ryan's Daughter, 1970. Director David Lean's producer Anthony Havelock-Allan preferred Greg but Lean was proved right. Although he never bargained the shooting would last 43 weeks, Robert Mitchum said: "It's a film I can talk about without embarrassment." Not to see? "I might get cramp in my butt."
- Dennis Weaver, Duel, TV, 1971. Although supposedly suspicious, even scared of Stars, Steven Spielberg sent Peck the script of his perfectly planned first TV movie. Greg was not tempted. Was it the story-boards?
- John Wayne, Rooster Cogburn, 1974. The idea was fair - a sequel to True Grit. But if Wayne proved too ill, what would be the point of someone else in his titular Oscar-winning rôle? Marlon Brando topped producer Hal Wallis’ eye-patch list of Charles Bronson, Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, George C Scott and several of Duke’s co-stars: Peck, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Robert Mitchum, Anthony Quinn. This was director Stuart Miller’s second feature. The “6ft 6ins somafabitch no-talent, ” as Duke termed him, never made a third.
- John Mills, The Devil's Advocate, Germany, 1976. Maddest idea since Peck was considered for Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, circa 1947!
- Robert Shaw, Force Ten From Navarone, 1978. Exiled US writer-director Carl Foreman's late 60s sequel plan proved impossible - until the 70s.
- Giancarlo Giannini, Viaggio con Anita, Italy-France, 1978. Anita’s trip grew from a (long) stanza in La dolce vita - with Marcello Mastroianni and his lover, taking a (longer) Cadillac trip to his father’s deathbed. Fellini wanted Sophia - representing Nature opposite Peck (or Marcello) as Culture. Producer Carlo Ponti (aka Mr Loren, after a sudden, 1957 Mexican proxymarriage), didn’t want his old partner/enemy, producer Dino De Laurentiis, messing with his lady, and priced her put of contention. End of project, as Fellini refused any other Anita (even his beloved Miss Ekberg) and the excellent script, or the bare bones of it, finished up also being known by the Woody Allenish title, Lovers and Liars. And flopped. Naturalmente.
- Rock Hudson, The Martian Chronicles, TV, 1980. "How would you feel if you were a Martian and people came to your land and started tearing it up?" About as bad as one did watching Ray Bradbury's sf classic imploding into a turgid mini... and maxi-yawn.
- Cesar Romero, Falcon Crest, TV, 1985-1988. Three other suave movie kings were also examined for the billionaire Greek shipping magnate Peter Stavros (involved with lead harridan Jane Wyman for 50 episodes): Peck, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Louis Jourdan.
- Sean Connery, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1988.
- Armin Mueller-Stahl, Music Box, 1989. Very keen - but rejected by Costa-Gavras for the old Hungarian modelled upon scripter Joe Eszterhas’s father, who was similarly accused of war crimes after the movie. Costa also passed on Kirk Douglas: “I turned down Spartacus!”
- Max von Sydow, Bis ans Ende der Welt (Until The End of the World), Germany-France-Australia, 1991. Now it was to be William Hurt’s dad! Also on German director Wim Wenders' list were Robert Mitchum and Richard Widmark.
- Tommy Lee Jones, JFK, 1991.
- Walter Matthau, JFK, 1991.
- Martin Balsam, Cape Fear, 1991. Peck was keen to join the re-make even though the original flop ruined his Melville company in 1962. . Director Martin Scorsese offered the choice of a judge, an assistant DA or Robert De Niro’s sleazy lawyer. Balsam sat on the bench…
- Fred Dalton Thompson, Cape Fear, 1991. “I’ll take the sleazylawyer,” said Peck, fondly loved by Americans for his Oscar-winning perfect lawyer and father in To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962. Thompson Fred Dalton Thompson, Cape Fear, 1991. “I’ll take the sleazylawyer,” said Peck, fondly loved by Americans for his Oscar-winning perfect lawyer and father in To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962. Thompson (a real life Republican senator and former lawyer during the Watergate committee hearings) became the assistant DA while Peck worked just one day… on what proved to be his final movie. became the ssistant DA while Peck worked just one day… on what proved to be his final movie.
- Robert Duvall, La Peste/The Plague, France-UK-Argentina, 1992. Luis Puenzo had a deal with his Old Gringo... until his Albert Camus adaptation was delayed and Peck retired.
- Liam Neeson, Ethan Frome, 1993. Bette Davis wanted Peck (or Gary Cooper) for a Warners version in 1947 - unfortunately for her (too old for Mattie, anyway), it was right in the middle of Warner's worst creative and financial hour.
- Rip Torn, Hercules, 1996. James Belushi, John Goodman, Patrick Stewart, were also in the frame to voice Zeus. Apart from Peck, they all went on to supply voices for other Disney characters. Twenty years earlier, Torn’s wife, actress Geraldine Page, had voiced Madame Medusa in The Rescuers at Disney.
- Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story, 1999. Wierdo director David Lynch considered John Hurt and Greg before calling up The Grey Fox, himself, for his last film at 79. The following year, Farnswowrth shot himself dead.
- David Kelly, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2004. Peck was very keen, said his family. But he passed before passing on Tim Burton’s offer. (Exactly the same story with Peter Ustinov).
- Tom Hanks Bridge of Spies, 2014. Over to Steven Spielberg: “In 1964 or ’65, when it was better known and closer to the incident, Gregory Peck… asked [MGM] to finance a screenplay about the spy swap [Russia’s Rudolf Abel for USAF pilot Gary Powers]. Peck sent the script to Alec Guinness and got him to agree to play Abel. MGM decided not to go ahead and make the picture because of the tension.”