Michel Simon (1895-1975)
- Louis Jouvet, La kermesse heroique, France-Germany, 1935. There was a great rivalry - on stage and screen - between Jouvet and Simon. Therefore, Jouvet jumped in quickly when Simon passed on the chapelain (or priest) in the Charles Spaak short story directed Jacques Feyder.
- Gabriel Gabrio, Regain/Harvest, France, 1937. A knife-grinder loses his mistress to his best friend... Jean Giono-via-Marcel Pagnol, bien sur. When everyone (Raimu, Simon, Harry Baur) refused, writer-director Marcel Pagnol resurrected the mute Jean Valjean, circa 1913. Their union was the only Pagnol film banned by the British - and for 19 years!
- Louis Jouvet, Entrée des artistes, (US: The Curtain Rises), France, 1938. Also considered by realisateur Marc Allgrét for Professor Lambertin. So was André Brunot. (“He’s not an actor,” said Jouvet, “he’s a lampoonist”). Jouvet was perfect, virtually playing himself - Le Patron, as he was known when teaching his own class at the Conservatoire. Bernard Blier, Jouvet’s favourite pupil, was his only disciple in the film.
- Louis Jouvet, La fin du jour, France, 1938. Raimu caused a big switcheroo when quitting his role of Cabrissade. Simon took it over - and his original role of Saint-Clair went to… of course… Jouvet. And his role of Marny was handed to Victor Franchen. A huge fan of him in Jean Renoir’s La Cienne, 1931, Chaplin called Simon “the greatest actor in the world.”
- 5Gabriel Gabrio, Val d’enfer, France, 1943. Passed on the role of Noel Bienvenu in the Maurice Tourneur film opposite Ginette Leclerc and Gabrielle Fontan. Simon’s frequent director Jean Renoir called him one of the colossaux of movies - alongside Charles Laughton and Orson Welles.
- Fernandel, l’Amoir volante, (US: The Cupboard Was Bare), France, 1948. The journalist-novelist-scenarist-director Carlo Rim suggested his meek M’sieur Pic should be Simon, Pierre Fresnay or François Périer. “You mad?” said his producteur, “he’s perfect for Fernandel.” “You’re mad!” cried Rim. “We haven’t spoken to one another for five years.” Not any more. And the comic promised, for once, “to do the impossible and play the role exactly as written, M’sieur Rim.” Result: “Probably his best film,” said critic André Bazin.
- Pierre Brasseur, Barbe-Bleue, France-Switzerland-West Germany, 1950 The comedy was really Simon’s idea… His pitch was simple. “What to do when you’re nicknamed Bluebeard and you’ve lost your your sixth wife? Marry a seventh one, bien sur!” But he passed it to Brasseur.
- Gert Fröbe, Douze heures d'horloge, France-West Germany, 1958. Insurance companies were worried about Simon’s health - and he comoplained that the future Goldfinger was stealing his work
- Jean Gabin, Archimede le clochard, France, 1959. Now, he said that Gabin stole his tramp... “They’re all bastards,” Simon growled. “I’ll return to Switzerland, I’ll act no more.” He later apologised to both actors.
- Charles Vanel, L’Aine des Ferchaux, France, 1962. Due to co-star with Alain Delon and Romy Schneider. When Delon failed to get his chosen director (Jean Valère), hd quit and swopped roles with Jean-Paul Belmondo when he quit Italian maestro Michelangelo Antonioni’s L'Eclipse. Strangely, Simon did not stay on, although he was among Belmondo's heroes. The film came from a story by Georges Simenon - for whom Simon was “the real Maigret."
- Charles Vanel, Un roi sans divertissement, France, 1963. A lover of all animals. Simon refused the role because of a scene where his character beheaded a goose… (He refused other films for similar reasons - and one gig because his cat had died).
- Georges Wilson, Merlusse, France, TV, 1965. Simon was too busy sheltering in stage revivals to accept the Marcel Pagnol tele-film.
- Akim Tamiroff, La fabuleuse aventure de Marco Polo (US: Marco The Magnificent), Italy-France- Yugoslavia-Afghanistan-Egypt, 1965. As The Old Man of the Mountain, the veteran French star was part of Paris producer Raoul Lévy’s lofty plans for the Polo story - to be played by Curd Jürgens, Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, or, finally, Horst Buchholz. Shooting started (with Delon) in ’62, quickly ran out of funds, began again in ’63 - only Gregoire Aslan and Folco Lulli stayed aboard.
- Claude Dauphin, L’une et l’autre, France, 1967. Passed on realisateur René Allio’s offer to join his script, alongside Philippe Noiret, Françoise Prevost, etc. Among other projects that never flew, were two more wth Jean Renoir (Emile; Partie de campagne), Dostoievsky’s The Idiot, Jacques Prevert’s Le métro fantome, the victim in a French version of The Postman Always Rings Twice for Marcel Carné, with Viviane Romance and Jean Gabin as the lovers.
- Bernard Fresson, L’Écume des jours, France, 1968. After working hard on persuading Simon to join the party, auteur Bertrand Blier’s version of the Boris Vian book found no backers. Former nouvelle vague actor Charles Belmont had better luck... but scanty audiences. Michel Gondry directed a better version in 2012 with the current (and outstanding) cream of the Paris crop: Audrey Tautou, Omar Sy. Romain Duris, Gad Elmaleh, Alain Chabat, Laruent Lafitte and, helas, Philippe Torreton.
- Michel Bouquet, L’après-midi de monsieur Andesmas, France, 2003. When Simon rejected the film of the novel by Marguerite Duras in the late 60s, it took another four decades for the book to reach the screen.
- Gérard Depardieu, Uranus, France, 1990. Veteran realisateur Claude Autant-Lara tried to film Marcel Aymé’s boisterous novel in 1969 - as long as Simon agreed to be Leopold Lajeunesse, the boozy barkeep and Racine lover. Depardieu was sheer perfection 21 years later in the third of his four films for auteur Claude Berri.