- Barry Coe, But Not For Me, 1959. Or: How To Lose Your First Feature Film Break... Burt was flown from New York to Hollywood to test with his idol, Clark Gable. "He was big and friendly and likeable. The only thing he said to me on the set that day was: 'You duck hunt? ' And I said: No. Then, he turned to Barry Coe who was also trying out for the role and asked him the same question. Barry said: 'Yeah, I hunt duck.' Right away I knew I'd blown my chance... Barry got the role - and also went duck hunting with Gable, I guess."
- Jim Hutton, Where The Boys Are, 1959. Producer Joe Pasternak was reported as selecting unknowns (Reynolds, Sean Flynn, etc) to battle the power of big Hollywood stars. Total bull! The top roles were for jeanagers (few of whom were A Stars) and, anyway, unknowns were cheaper.
- Russ Tamblyn, West Side Story, 1961. As plain nutty as the idea of Angie Dickinson for Maria! In the following years, Tamblyn's decline was even more rapid than Burt’s proved to be.
- Jack Nicholson, The Broken Land, 1961. For the fifth wheel, the non-credited co-producer Roger Corman had the choice of Jack or Burt. No choice really, even back then. The B-oater lasted an hour and Nicholson was just fine as Will Brocious.
- Rod Lauren, The Crawling Hand, 1962. Too wooden in two screen-tests – not to mention too old at 26 - Reynolds lost the teenager Paul Lawrence. If that made Burt wonder about any future as an actor, all he had to do was look at Chicagoan Syd Saylor in the movie - playing his 425th and final role! Lauren’s real name was Strunk. Close.
- John Cassavetes, Rosemary's Baby, 1968. Doesn’t sound much like Roman Polanski casting... but then Burt wasn’t good ole boy Burt back then.
- Elliott Gould, M*A*S*H, 1969. Refusing Trapper John delayed his career taking off until Deliverance in 1972. Was just the start: he also passed on Rocky, Taxi Driver, Pretty Woman, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Terms of Endearment - the worst refusal rate since George Raft’s. “At the time, something struck me wrong, and I kept thinking back to films that I had turned down, and the films, when I saw it later, I was glad I turned them down. But there are some films I wish I’d done. But you’ve got to follow your heart and not your head sometimes. I haven’t made the best decisions about some pictures, and I realise that, but I did the best I could."
- Robert Blake, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, 1970. "There was a four-picture clause in the contract. That could've given me a lot of money but I just didn't see myself being trapped into doing several stinkeroos." Or, as in Blake's case, one TV series... and a 2001 murder charge.
- James Franciscus, Beneath The Planet of the Apes, 1970. Considered for Brent, until Franciscus was chosen because he resembled Charlton Heston - as if that was important. Heston reprised his original role on condition that Taylor died in this (first) sequel.
- Sean Connery, Diamonds Are Forever, 1972.
- Al Pacino, The Godfather, 1971.
- James Caan, The Godfather, 1971.
- Roger Moore, Live And Let Die, 1973.
- Jack Nicholson, The Last Detail, 1973. Columbia said Burt, Jim Brown and David Cassidy - Smokey and the Shore Patrol ! - when it was Jack who had his pal, Robert Towne script Darryl Ponicsan's novel in the first place! Could have shot Burt's career far from bandit's cannonballs.
- Sean Connery, Zardoz, 1974. Double hernia - ordered to rest for three months by doctors. UK director John Boorman located a bonus - "on a golf course in Spain... Sean doesn't shilly-shally. He was in Ireland for script talks within a couple of days - extraordinarily imaginative, supportive, assured." When Connery quit Bondage, Burt was rejected as a new 007 for being "only a stuntman."
- Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, 1974.
- Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver, 1975.
- William Devane, Family Plot, 1975. Alfred Hitchcock called his (alas, final) film a runaway car ride. Reynolds obviously understood that… Hitch looked him over in The Longest Yard - and found Ed Lauter for Maloney. Hitch as prepping The Short Night when he died, at age 80, on April 29, 1980.
- Sylvester Stallone, Rocky, 1976.
- James Brolin, Gable and Lombard, 1976. An obvious first choice. Although David Janssen would have been perfect.
- Harrison Ford, Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, 1976.
- Keith Carradine, Pretty Baby, 1977. The subject was horrendous - a prostitute allowing her 12-year-old daughter’s virginity to be auctioned off in a brothel in the red-light district of New Orleans, circa 1917. French director Louis Malle saw 28 hopefuls and/or instant (parental) refusals for little Violet… 15 actresses for her mother… and 15 guys for for the real life, misshapen, hydrocephallic photographer Ernest J. Bellocq, whose Storyville work of the epoch influenced the style of the surprisingly elegant film. Robert Redford was first choice, Jack Nicholson second. Before falling for Carradine, Malle saw Albert Brooks, James Caan, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Malcolm McDowell (the only Brit short-listed), Al Pacino, Christopher Reeve (planning to make us believe a man could fly), John Travolta (more into Grease)… plus such flat out surprises as Reynolds, Joe Pesci, Sylvester Stallone (prepping FIST) and even Christopher Walken.
- Michael Caine, Beyond The Poseidon Adventure, 1978. More like beyond the pale…Producer Irwin Allen wanted Reynolds. The Warner suits voted Clint Eastwood - of course. And Allen was staggered by Duke’s interest. That would push the film - about a sunken, upside down cruise liner stuck on an underwater volcano - to a whole other level. Beyond what co-star Angela Cartwright called : “a film about water, fire and stunts.” All the suggested leads fled because… they read the scrip! So did Caine and Sally Field, but they admitted they made it for the money.
- Christopher Reeve, Superman, 1978.
- Jon Voight, Coming Home, 1978. Chasing Oscar-worthy work, he felt he lost this one due to Jon's friendship with co-star Jane Fonda.
- James Caan, Chapter Two, 1979. Caan called it a piece of Neil Simon crap. Burt preferred to battle Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford for Starting Over.
- Alan Alda, California Suite, 1978. Neil Simon loses again. Not even co-starring with Jane Fonda was temptation enough.
- David Warner, Time Bandits, 1980. Exec producer Dennis O’Brien, said Michael Palin, started hurling suggestions with “all the hallmarks of a man more desperate about a bank loan than about anything to do with the quality of script.” Including Burt as the Evil Genius... and Art Carney as Winston The Ogre.
- Harrison Ford, Blade Runner, 1981. UK wiz Ridley Scott spent a long time sniffing out the perfect Deckard. From top notchers Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman (keen… but on making it a totally different character, of course), Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino… to such excellent journeymen as William Devane, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Frederic Forrest, Scott Glenn, Cliff Gorman, Tommy Lee Jones, Raoul Julia, Nick Nolte, Christopher Walken. Then, in sheer desperation, choices lowered to Cliff Gorman, Judd Hirsch. Even the Virginian Morgan Paull stood a chance, having played Deckard in Scott’s tests of potential Rachaels. (He was given Holden for his pains). Plus Arnold Schwarzenegger, not yet seen as Conan, much less Terminator. And for probably the last time in such an illustrious list, Burt’s fading star.
- Nick Nolte, 48 Hrs, 1982. Producer Larry Gordon was prepping the scenario at another studio - for Burt and Richard Pryor. Then, producer Don Simpson brought it to Paramount. As a vehicle for, at first, Nolte and Gregory Hines.
- Jack Nicholson, Terms of Endearment, 1983.
"Biggest mistake of my life. I could’ve won an Oscar. I refused because it wasn’t the lead role, because he wanted me to do it without my wig, because it was not enough money, because the character was completely different to my image.” And because Burt was a fool... Instead of the role written for him by James L Brooks (and a future profit cut of $4,989,000), Burt did the good ole boy thang of staying loyal to his buddy, director Hal Needham - for what proved an enormous loser, Stroker Ace. “I felt I owed Hal more than I did Jim.” Universal would have obviously waited for him but, he says, nobody told him that. “The astronaut was the uncastable part,” said Brooks. “Needed a big male star but it is too short and the actor has to give up his vanity... I’ll take Jack Nicholson any time I can get him.” As he did again for a shorter bit in Broadcast News, 1987, and winning another Oscar in As Good s It Gets, 1997. Nicholson based based this Oscar-winning ex-astronaut Garrett Breedlove on his stepfather WWII pilot Murray Hawley Snr and Apollo astronaut Rusty Sweikart, who graduated from New Jersey’s Manasquan High two years before Jack.
- F Murray Abraham, Amadeus, 1984. An early idea of Czech director Milos Forman for Salieri...! Mick Jagger was another. (Stop laughing, it’s true - Rebecca De Mornay was in the same test).
- Michael Douglas, Romancing The Stone, 1984. "I don't believe I did all those bad films in a row until I looked at the list. I went to the well too many times." And by 1991 he was back in a TV series. As he told Larry King on CNN: “There are no awards in Hollywood for being an idiot.”
- Jack Nicholson Prizzi’s Honour, 1984. ”Do I ice her? Do I marry her?” Conundrum for Charley Partanna, hit-man for the Prizzi Family, when he falls for a fellow contractor: Kathleen Turner. John Huston had ten other Charley notions, each as mad as the other. Italians Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, even John Travolta made more sense than, say, Reynolds, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray, Ryan O’Neal, Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight. Nichiolaon was the mst unlikely Brooklyn Mafioso since the Corleone’s James Caan, but terrific… Because Huston kept reminding him: ”Remember, he’s stupid!” Not as much as Reynolds.
- Gere, Power, 1986. Burt had to tell director Sidney Lumet he was ill. Not with AIDS as media trumpeted, but the relatively unknown TMJ, temporodmandibular-joint disorder - a painful condition of the jaw joints - after being hit with “the wrong chair” (iron, not a breakaway) in a City Heat fight, 1984, Lumet was staggered when Gere asked: “Why do you want me in this part?” “No actor had ever asked me that before. It wasn’t arrogance but an extraordinary vulnerability and inquisitiveness.”
- Ted Danson, A Fine Mess, 1986. Writer-director Blake Edwards wanted Reynolds and Richard Pryor re-treading Laurel and Hardy's Oscar-winning short, Music Box. He should have left such a magical mess alone.
- Bruce Willis, Die Hard, 1987. Fourth choice after Richard Gere, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone had all turned down John McClane.
- Billy Joel, Oliver & Company, 1987. What you say - a toon ??!!! Reynolds and Steve Martin were inspired voice choices the for (no longer Artful) Dodger. Singer Billy Joel was not! “Inspired” by Charles Dickens, Disney’s animalia take on Oliver Twst was written by, among others, Tim Disney - great-nephew of the great Walt.
- Jeff Bridges, Tucker, 1988. Director Francis Coppola talked to him in 1979 - before changing his idea into a musical, then dropping it until George Lucas decided to pro duce it.
- Richard Chamberlain, The Bourne Identity, TV,1988. UK director Jack Clayton's movie plans became a typical Chamberlain mini-series. All that Robert Ludlum's book deserved... until Matt Damon got hold of it in 2002.
- Richard Gere, Pretty Woman, 1989.
- Kevin Kline, Soapdish, 1990. “All Hollywood will laugh at me,” yelled Mrs R, Loni Anderson - insisting Burt give up the lead opposite his ex-lover Sally Field. Reynolds said Sally had been a positive influence on his life. “How incredibly unselfish she was in terms of the time she spent with me. You know, inside that little body of hers is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.”
- William Hurt, The Big Brass Ring, 1998. Orson Welles’ last stand… His potential investors in 1984 said he must get Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson or Robert Redford… for the gay Texas senator and Presidential hopeful. They all passed. (So did the investors). Buddies Burt and Clint were wary of the gay angle, Redford was busy and Nicholson, of course, refused to lower his $2m salary (it equaled the proposed budget). Some 13 years after Orson’s death, Missouri auteur George Hickenlooper adapted the 1982-1987 Welles-Oja Kodar scenarios, with Hurt running for governor of Missouri (hah!) and colliding into his past… his aged political mentor, the role Welles reserved for himself. Criticised for adapting Welles, Hickenlooper said: “Welles in many respects was the Shakespeare of the American cinema. So, if Welles adapted Shakespeare, why not adapt Welles?”
- Jason Robards, Magnolia, 1999. They did not exactly gell during the shooting of Boogie Nights two years previously, but auteur Paul Thomas Anderson still wanted Burtin his next movie...as a dying TV tycoon.During the Boogie promo tour, however, Reynolds (who sacked his agent for persuading him to play the Boogie porno director- before his Oscar nomination!) rowed again with PTA and went back to the kind of video-bin crap that PTA had rescued him from.(In 2010, Burt guested on Bruce Campbell’s Burn Notice series as a guy named…Paul Anderson).
- Danny De Vito, The Oh in Ohio, 2005. The Indies’ Queen, Parker Posey offered Burt a role but his agenda was finally full again after the success of Boogie Nights, 1997
- Zachary Levi, Rapunzel, 2009. Some 22 years after his first Disney toon offer - and although a tad old at age 73 – good ole Burt was considered to voice the heroic Prince Flynn. Named after Errol Flynn... in his centennial year! Also up for it: Clay Aiken, Dan Fogler, Santino Fontana.