Rod Steiger (1925-2002)
- Ernest Borgnine, Marty, 1954.
A year after the iconic TV hit, Burt Lancaster and his production partner Harold Hecht bought the rights (allegedly to lose money to cut their taxes!). They asked Steiger to repeat his role as Bronx butcher Marty Pilletri (written by Paddy Chayefsky for his pal, but blacklisted actor Martin Rtitt - and named after him). And Steiger collided with the the contract barrier. “All right, to do Marty I’ll sign a seven-year contract. But who chooses my parts?” “We do.” “No, you don’t! I have the right to sleep with whom I please.If I'm going to make to maketa mistake, it’s going to be something I chose. You just can’t take that right from any humanbeing. And I lost the picture.” And the Oscar, but got his own in 1968 for a filme he chose...In The Heat of the Night.
- James Dean, Giant, 1955.
- Paul Douglas, The Solid Gold Cadillac, 1956. He lost his audition. More like that he was a Star Power victim when the film’ star, Judy Holliday, insisted on her ex-Broadway co-star as they had been cheated out of re-teaming for the film of their stage hit, Born Yesterday, in 1950.
- Rock Hudson, A Farewell To Arms, 1957. Impressed by his Oklahoma! role, it was now producer David O Selznick talking contracts - and diets. Lose 30 lbs or else. "I told him that I must have the right to chose my own mistakes," Steiger told his British biographer, Tom Hutchinson. "His face fell. He couldn't believe anyone would refuse him. Neither could my agents!" This would have been a huge error. The film flopped and ended Selznick’s career. And nearly Hudson’s.
- Dean Martin, Rio Bravo, 1958.
- John Gavin, A Breath of Scandal, 1960. Austrian princess Sophia Loren needed an actor as her US lover. Instead, husband Carlo Ponti produced the wooden Gavin. Almost a match for the original, His Glorious Night, John Gilbert's first talkie, 1929, it proved a dullard end to the Pontis' Paramount deal.
- Robert Mitchum, Cape Fear, 1962. Among the choices for the snakelike Max Cady until Gregory Peck (star and producer) agreed another star was required, not a character actor. “This is not a job to me,” he’d say. “This is my life.”
- George Segal, No Way To TreatA Lady, 1968. With his Oscar behind him, Rod simply swopped roles, becoming the gay serial killer, not the cop. "Doesn't mean you're a bad person."
- George C Scott, Patton, 1969.
George C Scott, The Hospital, 1971. Sue Mengers began her superagent's career with "one of my greatest failures" - getting director Arthur Hiller's film for Steiger. Writer Paddy Chayefsky and Steiger had a stormy history dating back to Marty on TV, 1953. "George C Scott had turned it down and the United Artists executives said: Sue, close the deal." Instead, she held out for "let's say, an extra $50,000" to match Steiger's previous film... as Chayefsky flew to Spain where Scott was filming and got his OK. "Never ever blow a deal on money." said Mengers. "Rod was a gentlemanabout it."He had, after all, won his In The Heat of the Night Oscar by snapping up that role from Scott. Next time he backed off a role offered them both, it was Scott winning the Oscar - forPatton, 1970.Which must have begun his problems with near-catatonic depression.
- Marlon Brando, The Godfather, 1971.
- Burt Lancaster, Scorpio, 1972. Steiger and Ryan O’Neal were producer Walter Mirisch’s first suggestions for the CIA hit manand his successor... and would be assassin.They became Lancaster and... a Frenchman working for the CIA:Alain Delon!
- Topol, Gailielo, 1975. Paramont paid $100,000 to Bertold Brecht's widow for the rights in 1967.Took director Joseph Losey longer to finally adapt his 1946 Broadway triumph for the screen, beating Italian stage-screen director FrancoZeffirelli’s planswith Steiger.
- Edward Woodward, Breaker Morant, Australia, 1979. The producers wanted aninternational name. Aussie director Bruce Beresford went, instead, forthe star of the great UK TV series, Callan,1967-1972. He was perfection - even if Noel Coward once said of him: "Edward Woodward... Edward Woodward... sounds like a fart in the bath."
Maximilian Schell, The Chosen, 1981. The UN debates the Palestine partition. Andtwo Orthodox Jewish pals in Chaim Potok’s best-seller suffer their fathers.An immigrant Rabbi and Tzaddic (a messenger from God) and a college professorand Zionistactivist.Director Jeremy Kagan gave the roles to Schell and Steiger. And Schell agreed when Steiger asked to swop roles!
- Richard Burton, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1984.
Director Michael Radford fought hard to film the Orwell classic in the titular year - andwas six weeks into shooting before he found his interrogator, O’Brien. “Burton was always on the list,” Radford told the Den of Geekl website, “but I didn’t really want a drunk around the place. Sean Connery ummed and aahed... Rod Steiger’s face-lift had gone wrong... Paul Scofield broke his leg... And I said we’d better just go for Burton and hope for the best.
So we helicoptered the script to Haiti, and he got on board another helicopter and came straight out... He was great, he became completely teetotal.” In his final role. The picture is dedicated to him, even though one scene took him 41 takes to get right.
- Burgess Meredith, King Lear, 1987. The contract for bilious auteur Jean-Luc Godard to tackle Shakespeare was signed (an hour after it had been mooted) on large napkin at the Majestic Hotel bar during the 1985 Cannes festival. The film was just as ridiculous. Marlon Brando passed (he’d made enough rotten movies) and the modern-day Lear. Following Mailer's suggestion that "The Mafia is the only way to do King Lear,” Godard asked was then offered by Jean-Luc Godard and the Go Go twins, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, to Dustin Hoffman, director Joseph Losey, Lee Marvin and Orson Welles. Godard invited Steiger by mail, on October 15, 1986... “Sure, if you shoot near my home in Malibu!” Enter, swiftly, grizzly Buzz Meredith. Godard had forgotten the perfect US choice: Robert Mitchum.
- Peter Bowles, Sauf votre respect (Try This One For Size), France-US, 1989. The role was an up-date of Komarovsky, his Doctor Zhivago Russian playboy. And he was right in avoiding the first in a short-lived French cinema series of James Hadley Chase thrillers that not even Bond director Guy Hamilton could save.
- Robert Prosky, Far And Away,1991.“I’m glad that [it] was such a rotten movie: it fitted its director.” Coming out of a paralsying depression, Steiger agreed to audition.Director Ron Howardwanted him video-taped - in a wig. “I hated that.Because those tapes usually form part of the after-dinner entertainment on the Bel-Air circuit, so that guests can see stars making fools of themselves. But what could I do?I desperately needed the work. But Howard - the cocksucker - insisted that I be video-taped.” He never forgave Howard for that humiliation.“It showed me he had no respect for me or my work.He was just using me. I hope I gave him some fun for his dinner parties. I know, sure as God, I didn’t have any - fun, that is.” Chicago critic Roger Ebert reported the role was such “a mass of contradictions and character tics that it’s hard to see if anybody’s at home.”