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Yul Brynner (1915-1985)

  1. Anthony Quayle, Oh...  Rosalinda!!, 1955.    A passing thought by UK director Michael Powell for the Russian general in his updated Die Fledermaus.
  2. Marius Goring, Ill Met By Moonlight, 1957.    Michael Powell tried again, pleading to Rank chiefs that the hero, Dirk Bogarde, needed stellar back-up otherwise “he’d be at sea...  doctor at sea!”
  3. Gary Cooper,  Love in the Afternoon,  1957.    Director Billy Wilder’s mid-aged roue was based on the Aly Khan - until the research proved too boring. Exit: Brynner. Enter: Cooper, embarrassingly old for chasing Audrey Hepburn. So  he had a face lift in 1958. Too late.  He was dead three years later.
  4. James Mason, North By Northwest, 1959.    Brynner was Hitchcock’s first  thought for his suave villain, Vandamm.
  5. Kirk Douglas, Spartacus,  1959.     After  losing  Ben-Hur, Kirk Douglas created his own epic - from Howard Fast’s book -  just as Brynner’s  company   announced  the   same  story,  via  Arthur Koestler’s Gladiators.  In February 1958, Douglas’ merger-proposal was greeted with a “next from United Artists” ad in Daily Variety  of Brynner in costume. By September, Brynner and director Martin Ritt were talking merger. Too late.Tony Curtis was already begging Douglas to join Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov. And, on October 29, 1958 - not realising Kirk’s stars would  be  soon  squabbling and upstaging each other -  UA backed down.
  6. Yves Montand, Let’s Make Love, 1959. Norman Krasna wrote the zillionaire for him. Brynner passed. All  Hollywood  men passed -  Stephen Boyd, Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, William Holden, Rock Hudson, Gregory Peck, James Stewart.  They did not want Marilyn Monroe stealing a film from them in a script tweaked by her husband,  Arthur Miller.  Marilyn and Montand took the title too literally.
  7. Anthony Quinn, Barabba (Barabbas), Italy, 1961. So said Richard Fleischer. And he should know. He directed “the motion picture that begins where the other big ones leave off” for Rome  producer Dino De Laurentiis.
  8. Rex Harrison, Cleopatra, 1962.
  9. Paul Newman, A New Kind of Love, 1963.    Paramount offered to buy him out of Broadway’s The King and I for three months to make Melville Shavelson’s (empty) comedy.
  10. Omar Sharif, Genghis Khan, 1964. Brynner was perfect - but far too pricey said London producer Irving Allen, ex-partner of Cubby Btoccoli, who left their Warwick shop to make the Bond fllms.

  11. Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music, 1965.    “Brynner was one of several people wanting to be The  Captain,” recalled director Robert Wise.  “I told  his agent his  name  would  be at the bottom of my list. He’d have been better on the other side!” Plummer called it The Sound of Mucus.
    Omar Sharif, Genghis Khan, 1965.    Irving Allen, a US producer based in London,  refused his “astronomical” fee.
  12. Maurice Evans, Planet of the Apes, 1967.
  13. Tom Baker, Nicholas and Alexandra, 1970.     Rasputin! Laurence Olivier, cast as Count Witte, recommended Baker, his National Theatre actor  to producer Sam Spiegel.  Having lost $10m for Columbia on a four consecutive flops, small films all, it was time for Spiegel to go BIG again in the River Kwai/Lawrence of Arabia tradition. BIG, but CHEAP.  And, said The Guardian’s Derek Malcolm, “irredeemably dull, a traipse through one of the most extraordinary events the world has known with the gait of a brontosaurus.”
  14. Lee Van Cleef, The Magnificent Seven Ride! 1971.    Not many film franchises in those days (excepting Tarzan), so Brynner refused to come back a third time (after passing Guns of the Magnificent Seven to George Kennedy). This proved the  fourth and last of the original Seven movies.
  15. Donald Pleasence, Halloween, 1978.   The Hitchcock fan  and auteur John Carpenter searched high and low for his shrink, Dr Sam Loomis: Peter O’Toole and the Hammer horrors, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee versus Charles Napier, Lawrence Tierney, Abe Vigoda. The $300,00 shoestring budget couldn’t afford any of them! Same for the kinda obvious Lloyd Bridges, David Carradine, Kirk Douglas, Steven Hill, Walter Matthau… and such off-the-wall surprises as John Belushi, Mel Brooks, Yul Brynner, Edward Bunker, Sterling Hayden, Dennis Hopper, Kris Kristofferson… and Dick’s brother, Jerry Van Dyke. Loomis, incidentally was named after John Gavin’s character in Psycho; his screen lover was Janet Leigh, mother of Carpenter’s heroine, Jamie Lee Curtis. So it flows.
  16. Kabir Bedi,  40 Days At Musa Dagh, 1982.    MGM also considered Charlton Heston, of course. The Anglo-Indian actor won when an Armenian business consortium  took over funding the saga of the Armenian independence struggle against the Turks, circa 1919.
  17. Peter O’Toole, Svengali,  TV, 1983.  Announced as Brynner’s first tele-film in 1980. 

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