Margaret Sullavan (1909-1960)
- Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night, 1933. Constance Bennett, Miriam Hopkins, Myrna Loy, Sullavan... so many turned it down that Columbia chief Harry Cohn told director Frank Capra: “It’s becoming a trend. If it gets out in the papers, you'll never cast it.”
- Ann Gillis, Bambi, 1942. Tested for the second (young adult) voice of Bambi’s sweetheart, Faline, after being earlier voiced by Cammie King as the young version.
- Katharine Hepburn, The Little Minister, 1933. Universal bought it for her, but as with Spitfire, Hepburn moved in: “I didn’t really want to play it until I heard another actress was desperate for the role. Then, of course, it became the most important thing in the world that I should get it.” Particualrly as the other actress was Sullavan, her agent-lover’s other lover... and future wife. Such mindless spite resulted in a second successive stinker winning Kate the label: box-office poison. Sullavan is said to have danced with joy at Kate’s flop. Kate's pal, director George Cukor, saw the mess and told her:“Next time you must walk on terra firma - more firma, less terra.”
- Katharine Hepburn, Stage Door, 1936. Angry with his ex-lover Hepburn’s friendship with director John Ford, the snazzy agent turned Broadway producer Lelend Hayward put his new lover, Sullavan, into the Broadway hit. They wed a month later. (Hayward was the ex-agent of her first spouse, Henry Fonda). So , Sullavan expected to star in the RKO movie, but - his fault! – she proved pregnant (with daughter Brooke). So, Hepburn finally got to play Terry Randall… pointless, said Hepburn, until Terry was beefed up for her to end her run of turkeys.
Bette Davis, Jezebel, 1937.
The brothers Warner wanted the play for Ruth Chatterton - even though the Broadway star, Miriam Hopkins, co-owned the rights and would only sell if she kept the lead. Warner agreed to that. . And, well, Warner just plain lied… Talks switched to to Sullavan. For a film directed by one ex-husband, William Wyler, and co-starring another, Henry Fonda. It was bad enough on-set without her. “Do you think Wyler is mad at Fonda…because of their past,” production chief Hal Wallis wrote to associate producer Henry Blanke on November 4. 1937. “He is not content to OK anything with Fonda until it has been done 10 or 11 takes. After all, they have been divorced from the same girl and by-gones should be by-gones.” In March ’38 after certain scenes taking between 16 and 28 takes, Wallis added: "What the hell is the matter with him anyhow - is he absolutely daffy?” (Daffy?)
- Janet Gaynor, A Star Is Born, 1936.
- Andrea Leeds, Letter of Introduction, 1936. Change of the (ssh!) illegitimate daughter of one America’s most beloved actors, played by Adolphe Menjou - and obviously, er, inspired by John Barrymore.
- Isa Miranda, Hotel Imperial, 1938. Marlene Dietrich had half-finished I Love A Soldier in 1936, whenSullavan replaced her - and immediately broke her arm. The Pola Negri re-make was shelved until Paramount toyed with making an exotic star out of Miranda. After two more tries, she wen\t home to Italy. Sulllavan was the love of James Sterwart’s life. He waited too long...
- Joan Fontaine, Rebecca, 1938.
- Myrna Loy, Too Hot To Handle, 1938. Sorry, Margaret, but your planned co-star, Clark Gable, and Loy have been voted King and Queen of Hollywood… and if you think we’re going to waste such valuable - and free! - publicity for their fifth (and last) teaming, you’re in the wrong biz, honey.
- Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday, 1939. This time, both Sullavan and Hepburn refused. So did Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne and Carole Lombard. A lot they knew!
- Virginia Bruce, The Invisible Woman, 1939. OK, she owed Universal a film - but not this pot-boiler. With poor John Barrymore reduced to being a nutty professor! She felt it could ruin her chance of better offers. Universal took out a court order forbidding her working elsewhere until completing her contract. OK, you win, fellas. I’ll do Back Street but not this horse manure. Done deal!
- Eve Arden, Ziegfeld Girl, 1940. Not about one girl but three: Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr and, stealing the show: Lana Turner. Oddly, no one played Broadway icon Florenz Ziegfeld. (William Powell was busy?). Pidgeon, Sullavan and Frank Morgan were in the mix for his right-hand men.
- Dorothy McGuire, Claudia, 1941. “Never what you call a dedicated actress,” she was tired of testing for producer David Selznick. Him, too. He sold both script and McGuire to Fox. By 1947, Sullavan, an alleged nymphomaniac, was Irene Selznick’s first choice for Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway.
- Priscilla Lane, Saboteur, 1941. Hitchcock wanted Sullavan (or Barbara Stanwyck) to help Robert Cummings prove his innocence of the titular crime. Hitch had to make do with borrowing Warner’s Lane - about as effective as Cummings. Film flopped. Of course! Hitch made sure that he had total control from hereon.
- Joan Fontaine, The Constant Nymph, 1942. Arriving for lunch at Romanoff’s, director Edmund Goulding stopped by Brian Aherne’s table to chat with his pal. (He had starred in the UK version, circa 1933). Goulding said it was impossible to find the lead girl. He’d tried Wendy Barrie, Jennifer Jones, Eve March, Joan Leslie. Head brother Jack Warner craved A Star but Sullavan was too old. “She has to be consumptive, flat-chested, anemic, and 14!” “How about me?” said the the freckled miss sitting with Aherne. “Who are you?” asked Goulding, somehow not recognising his friend’s wife in her leather flight suit and pigtails (they had just flown into LA from their Indio ranch). “Joan Fontaine.” “You’re perfect!” She was 25. So what! She signed next day and called it “the happiest motion-picture assignment of my career.” Oscar nomination, included.
- Bette Davis, Watch on the Rhine, 1942. Davis was keen but making another film. Sullavan, Edna Best, Rosemary DeCamp, Irene Dunne, Helen Hayes, Margaret Sullavan were not tempted by a mere support role. Proving there are no small roles, only small players, Davis wrapped Now Voyager while scenarist Dashiell Hammett was laid up with a bad back. (Excellent, er, timing). She had no objection to be supporting Paul Lukas when the writing (Hammett adapting his lover Lillian Hellman’s play) was so good and the message so important. Wake up to barbary, world. And fight it!
- Miriam Hopkins, Old Acquaintance, 1943. Hopkins was proving troublesome - wanting double the salary of co-star Bette Davis among other perks. Warners looked elsewhere (Constance Bennett, Janet Gaynor), before deciding she was the best bitch.
- Elizabeth Taylor, National Velvet, 1944. Second choice, behind Katharine Hepburn, when producer Pandro Berman (David Selznick’s assistant at RKO and the man who first joined Fred Astaire to Ginger Rogers) tried to land the rights in 1935. Among British girls interviewed for the role in St Paul, Minnesota, was Shirley Catlin, later the British politician Shirley Williams. Fearing the effect of an increasing deafness on her (17 movie) career, Sullavan committed an OD suicide in 1960.
- Ida Lupino, On Dangerous Ground, 1950. Also in the snowy mountains frame for the blind Mary were Lauren Bacall, Olivia de Havilland, Faith Domergue Susan Hayward, Wanda Hendrix, Deborah Kerr, Janet Leigh, Teresa Wright, Jane Wyman - and Broadway newcomer Margaret Phillips. RKO chose well. Because, although un-credited, Lupino also co-directed the noir thriller with Nicholas Ray. In all, she helmed 41 films and TV shows during 1949-1968 when Hollywood women were just supposed to pout, pirouette and pucker up.