Jason Robards (1922-2000)
- Richard Burton, Cleopatra,1963.
- Ernest Borgnine, The Oscar, 1966. Opposite (at the time), Rita Hayworth, Jean Seberg. None survived to the final version. Those that made it didn’t survive that well, either!
- Ralph Meeker, The St Valentine’s Day Massacre, 1966. For his first studio movie, director Roger Corman wanted Orson Welles as Al Capone, with Robards was Bugs Moran. Welles was willing, but the Fox was weak. Robards moved up and Meeker took over Bugs.
- Jack Palance, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, TV, 1968. When shooting resumed after a strike, Robards had to leave for a previous commitment - taking his very 1920s’ John Barrymore make-up with him. Palance settled for looking like a satyr.
- Ernest Borgnine, The Wild Bunch, 1968.
- Rod Cameron, The Last Movie, 1970. In the late 60s, when deciding to succeed the late Montgomery Clift as Kansas, director Dennis Hopper assembled a cast including Robards (for Pat Garrett), Jane Fonda, Jennifer Jones. And then decided not to risk Phil Spector’s promised $1.2m budget. Based on Hopper’s experiences while shooting The Sons of Katie Elder in Mexico (when indigenous natives re-enacted the movie-making), the film won the Critics’ Prize at Venice but The Last Movie was damn nearly The Last Hopper. Well, he shot it in Peru - coke capital of the world!
- Rod Steiger, Giù la testa (UK: A Fistful of Dynamite; US: Duck You Sucker), Italy, 1971.First choice of Sergio Leone (as producer only), was Robards as the Mexican peon caught up in the Mexican Revolution with IRA man Malcolm McDowell. They became Steiger and James Coburn and Leone finally directed after they refused Sam Peckinpah.Flushed with his Oscar and $700,000 per film, Steiger threw his not inconsiderable weight around, turning his bandit Miranda into Pancho Villa and Zapata combined until Leone exploded in Almeria. “I don’t care if you’re called Rod Steiger and you won an Oscar by some mistake… you’re a sack of shit!” Coburn cooled him down. After three days directing him via an assistant (with a sack of horse manure always near the actor!), Steiger became a pussycat… Leone still put him through 25 takes if necessary to get what he wanted. And when he didn’t, the scenes were later dubbed by New York impressionist Will Jordan.
- Lee Marvin, The Iceman Cometh, 1973. When Robards was injured in a road crash, director John Frankenheimer had the choice of Brando, Hackman or Marvin for Eugene O’Neill’s Hickey. “Secretly, I really hoped to do it with Lee. He has that wonderful face. That tortured face. And and he looked like a salesman. He told stories so well in life and he was such a good actor. I loved working with him. It was a really wonderful experience. He was perfect for it.” Even when he wasn’t required, Marvin was always on the set - “almost like an assistant director, ” said Frankenheimer, “trying to quiet people down while I worked with other actors.” And such other actors! Including the last hurrahs of Fredric March and Robert Ryan.
- Jackie Cooper, Superman, 1978.
- Klaus Kinski, Fitzcarraldo, Germany, 1982.
Director Werner Herzog dropped his usual star for “a figure of genuine charm, warmth and humour,” adding “that paranoid schizophrenic [Kinski] never showed a spark of humour in 170 films.” As usual, Kinski called Herzog crazy. “I am Fitzcarraldo. Do what you like - in the end, I'm still him.” And he was. After five weeks’ shooting in Peru. Robards fell ill. "Ill…? I nearly died!" he told me in Cannes. Herzog SOSed “the baddest dude among actors.” Kinski replied: “Fuck you!” Two days later, he opened a bottle of champagne and signed on. As Mick Jagger had no time to re-shoot, his role was cut from the film.
- Robert Mitchum, That Championship Season, 1982. Auteur Jason Miller's 1989 game-plan. Mitchum was the only non-stage star in the final team.
- Jonathan Pryce, Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1983. Director Sam Peckinpah’s idea in 1972, Robards played a kindlier character in Jack Clayton’s bedevilled Disney version.
- Jack Nicholson, Ironweed, 1987. Up for novelist William Kennedy’s hobo, Francis Phelan
- John Mahoney, Article 99, 1992. M*A*S*H comes home - and fights the scandal of Veterans’ Administration health care. A Pearl Harbour survivor, Robards was a well decorated war veteran, awarded the Navy Cross (second-highest Navy honour) for his WWII service.
- Jack Warden, A Dog of Flanders, 1999. Bad health ruled him out of the fifth screen version of Ouida’s classic novel.
- Martin Sheen, The West Wing, TV, 1999-2006. Hardly surprising that creator Aaron Sorkin first thought of Poitier for his US President. “Those talks didn’t get far,” Sorkin recalled. Poitier’s fee was too high for the planned four appearances per season. Next in line for POTUS: Robards, Alan Alda, John Cullum, Hal Holbrook. Then producer John Wells remembered Sheen had played JFK (and RFK) and would be the perfect Josiah Bartlett (named after a signatory of the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence). In fact, he ruled from his first entrance and was quickly written (front and centre) into all 154 episodes.
- James Coburn, The Man From Elysian Fields, 2001. Second time Robards pulled out of a film with Mick Jagger; a Jagger production, this time.