Richard Widmark (1914-2008)
- Robert Walker, Bataan, 1942. New in from Broadway, Widmark was nearly Purckett, among Robert Taylor’s WWII suicide mission in the Philippines. It was another four years before Widmark finally his screen debut– unforgettably, as the cackling killer Tommy Udo - in Kiss of Death.
- Kirk Douglas,The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers, 1946. Director Lewis Milestone tested five actors - and, paradoxically, chose Widmark's replacement in the Broadway play, Kiss and Tell.
- Richard Basehart, Fourteen Hours, 1950. One Richard for another as a distraught young man threatening to jump from a New York hotel’s 16th floor. An “entirely fictional” story based on how the NYPD spent hours trying to persuade John William Warde from doing exactly that on July 26, 1938. The release was postponed for six months after Fox chief Spyros Skouras’s daughter leapt to her death on the actual day of the media preview.
- Hugh Marlowe, Rawhide, 1950. Change of the bad guy Zimmerman for the Tyrone Power vehicle driving a Western into film noir. One working title got it right. Jackass Mail.
- James Mason, The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel, 1951. Soon after The New York Times announced Kirk Douglas for the titular role, a Fox memostated Widmark was “chiefly mentioned as Rommel.” Mason made it his own - and reprised the WWI German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in a second Fox film, The Desert Rats, 1953. The first film has the worst screen Hitler:Luther Adler was so Jewish, he almost said already...
- Tyrone Power, Diplomatic Courier, 1951. Since Power got back from WWII in 1946, his Fox bosses worked him hard. (Well, he was a Marine). Twelve films in five years, including pinching this one first aimed at Fox’s new guy, Widmark… also home from the war.
- Robert Ryan, The Naked Spur, 1952. MGM first wanted Widmark, then Robert Horton as Ben - target of bounty hunter James Stewart. In another of his fine Anthony Mann Westerns. Finally, Ryan was loaned from RKO.
- Victor Mature, Betrayed, 1953. One Fox loan out for another. Widmark stayed home and Mature joined Clark Gable’s final MGM movie… 28 years after being an extra in The Merry Widow.
- Humphrey Bogart, The Caine Mutiny, 1954. The studio wanted Widmark. Producer Stanley Kramer stuck out for Bogie as Lieutenant-Commander Philip Francis Queeg. Roll them balls!
- James Cagney, Love Me Or Leave Me, 1954. In May, the choice was Widmark - or Humphrey Bogart - as nightclub singer Ruth Etting’s bombastic Chicago gangster husband, Moe “The Gimp” Snyder. “A gangster, you say,” said the MGM suits. “Well, has to be Cagney!” And he also reccommended Doris Day as the perfect Etting. (She wasn’t said Etting, Jane Powell was. Indeed, they looked like twins).
- Leif Erickson, Kiss Them For Me, 1956. Cary Grant had the lead role played by Widmark on Broadway. And he was not interested in switching to the the bullying Turnbill. Director Stanley Donen hated the script. “Burt you don’t turn down Cary Grant.” (Their next three, Charade included, were far better).
- Kirk Douglas, Gunfight at the OK Corral, 1957. DirectorJohn Sturges always saw Humphrey Bogartas Doc Holliday - both legends were dying. Sturges then moved on to Mitchum or Widmark.
- Dean Martin, Rio Bravo, 1958.
- Ben Gazzara, Anatomy of a Murder, 1958. After his surprise turn as The Dauphin in Saint Joan, 1956, producer-director-ogre Otto Preminger wanted Widmark for his muder suspect Lieutenant Frederick Manion… But one Preminger experience was apparently enough for Widmark.
- Paul Newman, Rally ’Round The Flag, Boys! 1958. Something of a comic genius, Leo McCarey directed all the greats, from Laurel and Hardy to the brothers Marx. Now, he seemed determined to make a comedy without funny people. Hence thoughts about Widmark before booking Paul Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, who are to slapstick what Jerry Seinfeld is to Shakespeare. Newman made the gigantic mistake of trying to (over)act funny instead of playing it straight as per Jack Lemmon. Thoroughly embarrassing!
- Robert Ryan, Odds Against Tomorrow, 1958. Negotiations about being Harry Belafonte’s co-star failed. By 1996, more important negotiations at the Writers Guild of America restored the script credit to the earlier blacklisted Abraham Polonsky (plus Nelson Gidding). For author James Ellroy, this was just the best heist-gone-wrong movie ever made.
- John Wayne, The Alamo, 1960. To satisfy his UA backers and rescue his dream movie, director John Wayne agreed to a star role, taking Davy Crockett from Widmark…
- Laurence Harvey, The Alamo, 1960. …making him Colonel William Travis. Widmark preferred being Jim Bowie. Duke mortgaged home and hearth and yacht(s) to help the budget . Paid $200,000, Widmark soon got bored with Wayne, the director - better with cameras, lenses, stunts and editing than actors. Harvey took over Travis for $100,000… And loved to called Wayne… Dukey.
- Dirk Bogarde, The Singer Not The Song, 1961. A better idea than Dirk Bogarde’s absurdly camp bandito. “I had a great love affair with myself,” Bogarde admitted years later. “Can you believe not one single person in that bloody [Rank] Organisation knew what I was up to.” More like if they did, they did not dare say anything to Rank’s #1 contractand box-office star - already in tears over imagined problems.
- Reginald Kernan, 100.000 dollars au soleil, France-Italay, 1963. Realisateur Henri Verneuil wanted the Hollywoodian for his American truck-driver, but the budget only allowed for Kernan - in his fourth and final movie. knew it was a vehicle for co-stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Lino Ventura.
- Stephen Boyd, The Poppy Is Also A Flower, 1965. UNO planned six telefilms about its work by Kubrick, Preminger, etc. Only this one was made when Terence Young gave up a third Bond gig to work with 007 creator Ian Fleming on this star-studded (Yul Brynner, Angie Dickinson, Rita Hayworth, Omar Sharif) battle to stop heroin reaching Europe. Fleming died before completing the script. Everyone else died on-screen.
- Robert Mitchum, The Way West, 1967. “Dick didn’t want to do it,” recalls director Andrew V McLaglen, “so they swopped roles.” Widmark hated to be called Dick.
- Charles Bronson, Adieu l’ami, France, 1968. Alain Delon wanted Widmark but he took one look at the scenario in Paris and left. Film executive Sandy Whitelaw was behind the Bronson casting - which made him a Euro and soon enough global star.
- Milo O’Shea, The Adding Machine, 1969. Two years earlier - just after sundering his usual image by playing The Dauphin in Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan - Widmark was announced as the human adding machine being replaced at work by a mechanical adding machine in the weak UK film version of Elmer Rice’s play.
- Jean Yanne, Le Saut de l’ange, France-Italy, 1971. Yves Boisse wrote to Widmark the kind of fan letter any Hollywood star would cherish from a French auteur. He had an ulterior motive. ”I’d love to work with you” - and he enclosed his latest scenario. The reply, according to Yanne, was brutal. “I haven’t fallen so low that I have to accept a film from an unknown director in an equally unknown country.” A dozen years on, Boisset persuaded Lee Marvin to join his 18th thriller, Canicule (US: Dog Day).
- John Huston, Momo, West Germany, 1986. For Hora,the Master ofTime,“a mixture between The Dead and the mystery fantasy figure, the spender of time,” director Johannes Schaf wanted a veteran actor,“a little out of the ordinary,able to change his image, like Guinness or Widmark.”He was even thinking of a woman when Huston signed on - his final screen role.
- Max von Sydow, Until The End of the World,1991. Another German director, Wim Wenders, tried all the vets (Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, etc) to be Sam Neill's father in the globe-trotting film. Widmark had retired the year before at age 76 - and meant it. He later wed Henry Fonda’s third wife, Susan Blanchard, at 84.