Charles Bronson (1920-2003)
- James Dean, Giant, 1955.
- Robert Nichols, Giant, 1955.
- Clint Eastwood, Per un pugno di dollari (UK/US: A Fistful of Dollars), Italy-Spain-West Germany, 1964. “Just about the worst script I’d ever seen.” (Based on Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, 1961… in turn inspired by Budd Boetticher’s Buchanan Rides Alone, 1957). After Coburn refused; so did another guest in Eastwood’s Rawhide series. Director Sergio Leone then looked at an episode called Incident of the Black Sheep (1961) – Clint didn’t talk very much in it. And that settled who The Men With No Name would be (he was a different character per film). Bronson made up for the error (beautifully) with Leone’s classic, Once Upon A Time in the West, 1968, and Coburn (not so wonderfully) in Leone’s Duck You Sucker, 1972. Neither matched Eastwood’s global fame.
- Eli Wallach, Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo/The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Italy-Spain, 1966. Sergio Leone asked him to be il brutto.... Clint Eastwood was a bit miffed and called it the best role. No, no, said maestro Sergio Leone, he is your Gunga Din, your Sancha Panza. And the maestro just got on with his Western opera. “No,” he said, “it’s a concerto.”
- Lee Van Cleef, Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo/The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Italy-Spain, 1966. Sergio Leone also called Bronson about playing il cattivo when feeling the public might be upset by his last film’s Colonel Mortimer turning into such a dark heavy. Bronson was busy - serving with The Dirty Dozen. And, of course, Leone called him back for Once Upon A Time in the West.
- Gene Hackman, The French Connection, 1971. The budget was as low as the expectations. Suggestions for the NYPD cop ‘Popeye’ Doyle included Taylor, writer Jimmy Breslin, Charles Bronson, Jackie Geason, Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin, Paul Newman… and, cheapest of all, the Fox Batman, Adam West. Holy moley!!!! Ironically, Michael Winner refused to direct and later joined forces with Bronson for the Death Wish franchise in 1973.
- John Wayne, Rooster Cogburn, 1974. The idea was fair - a sequel to True Grit. But if Wayne proved too ill, what would be the point of someone else in his titular Oscar-winning rôle? Marlon Brando topped producer Hal Wallis’ eye-patch list of Bronson, Richard Burton, Clint Eastwod, Gene Hackman, Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, George C Scott and several Duke co-stars: Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn. This was director Stuart Miller’s second feature. The “6ft 6ins somafabitch no-talent, ” as Duke termed him, never made a third
- Gene Hackman, Bite The Bullet, 1975. Scenarist-director Richard Brooks’ Western desperately required the actor that auteur - John Huston - compared to “a grenade with the pin pulled.”
- Gene Hackman, A Bridge Too Far, 1976. UK director Richard Attenborough got most of the A List cameos he’d set his heart on for the WWII saga. From James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery to Laurence Olivier, Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford - but not Robert De Niro, Audrey Hepburn or Steve McQueen. Nor Bronson as General Sosabowski.
- John Wayne, The Shootist, 1976. Duke’s finale… Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Paul Newman passed. George C Scott was signed but not sealed when John Wayne showed interest in the dying gunfighter JB Brooks... and it was bye-bye George, baby! It was a waste of time expecting to find insurance cover when the star - dead in three years - was suffering heart, lung and prostat problems.
- James Coburn, Firepower, 1978. Announced by producer Lew Grade at a 1977 Cannes Festival lunch for the Bronsons. Charles passed on the $l.5m salary as there was no role for his wife, Jill Ireland. This story was denied by Michael Winner, who directed six films with Bronson - Ireland apearing in one only. “There was some conflict,” Winner told me in 1990, “regarding another film.” (Probably, Love and Bullets with Rod Steiger and… Jill Ireland!). The eventual (and top-billed) co-star was Sophia Loren and Bronson never allowed a female to rain on his parade. Not since the day Katharine Hepburn threw him over her shoulder in Pat and Mike in 1951.
- Christopher Reeve, Superman, 1978,
- Robert Conrad, Centennial, TV, 1978-1979. Flummoxed by the necessary French-Canadian accent for Pasquinel. Robert Blake also passed. Conrad studied with a dialect coach.
- Kurt Russell, Escape From New York, 1981. “Somehow, he got hold of a script,” recalled director John Carpenter, “and he wanted to be Snake Plissken. But I was already committed to Kurt. And at 60, Bronson was far too old to be Snake.” Or Cobra in Korea... Hyena in Italy.
- Lee Marvin, The Delta Force, 1985. According to early Cannon Films posters, Bronson was first up for Colonel Nick Alexander - Marvin’s final role - based on Charlie Beckwith, creator of the Delta Force, based on his work with the UK’s SAS and French GIGN.
- Bruce Willis, Die Hard, 1987. There were 16 possible John McClanes… From top TV heroes Richard Dean Anderson and Don Johnson to A-listers: Bronson, Tom Berenger, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Michael Madsen, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone. And Frank Sinatra had to be contractually offered the hero. In his 1980 move debut, The First Deadly Sin, Willis is seen leaving a bar as Sinatra walks in. So it flows…
- Tommy Lee Jones, Lonesome Dove, TV, 1989. A stupid refusal... from Bronson and before him, John Wayne…of the ex-Texas Ranger Captain Woodrow F Call in Larry McMurtry’s classic mini-series. It started as a film script and turned into a novel after Wayne, rejected it in 1971. Actually, legend says a cantankerous (jealous!) John Ford warned Duke off it - and thereby James Stewart and Henry Fonda. Pappy Power!
- Frederic Forrest, Lonesome Dove, TV, 1989. Having enjoyed playing the vengeful Apache half-breed in Chato’s Land, 1971, Bronson was more keen on being the notorious Mexican/Indian bandit Blue Duck. “I stole horses, burned farms, killed men, raped women and stole children all over your territory and until today, you never even got a good look at me!” But his Cannon Films contract had him heading Messenger of Death. Thanks for nothing, Cannon. As per…
- Gérard Depardieu, Germinal, France, 1993. For realisateur Claude Berri, the role of Zola’s miner hero, Toussaint Maheu, was the most difficult to fill. “If I were shooting in English, no problem - it would be Bronson, the only Hollywood star who started as a coal-miner.”
- Darren McGavin, Billy Madison, 1995. Then again, who would want to be seen as Adam Sandler’s father! Bronson was so dour - and dur - that Lee Marvin called him Charlie Sunshine.
- Maximilian Schell, Telling Lies in America, 1997. Bronson was considered when Schell wanted too much money to play the scenarist Joe Eszterhas’ father in the low-budget, autobiographical script. So Joe paid him his salary. “I was happy to pay the anti-Nazi crusader... $100,00 of my own money... to effect a very personal revenge on my anti-Semitic father.”
- Al Pacino, Any Given Sunday, 1999. “I wanted to make this kind of movie with Bronson,” says Oliver Stone about his US football gridironmongery. “In the early 80s, I wrote a treatment... He never even read it.”