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Lee J Cobb (1911-1976)

  1. Akim Tamiroff, For Whom The Bell Tolls, 1943.        Among the usual suspects for such a support role: Edward Arnold,  Wallace Beery... even Charles Laughton and Edward G Robinson. In cinema since 1934, Cobb did not get memorable roles until the 1950s.
  2. Charles Bickford, The Song of Bernadette, 1943.       About ten actors tested for  Father Peyramale, parish priest of the French girl who had a vision of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes in 1858. They included: Donald Crisp, Walter Hampden, Cedric Hardwicke, Thomas Mitchell.  And Cobb was later given Dr  T Duzous, instead.  Bickford became very close with  Jennifer Jones (wife of producer Davd O Selznick) who  played  Bernadette. They also co-starred in Duel in the Sun.  In fact, one hour after hearing about Bickford’s death in 1967, Jones attempted suicide. 
  3. Sam Levene, Boomerang! 1946.     Head Fox Darryl Zanuck first selected Cobb for the Morning Record reporter in the fictionalised treatment of the 1924 Connecticut murder of a Catholic priest. The courtroom scenes were shot in the Westchester County Court at White Plains, where Harry K Thaw was tried for the murder of Stanford White in 1910 - as seen in a later, gaudier Fox film, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, 1954.    
  4. Ed Begley, Boomerang! 1946.     Next idea for Cobb was as the corrupt Commissioner Paul Harris. Finally, he played the brooding police chief, Robby Robinson. The rôle was not important. What happened because of it was… Two years later, Elia Kazan, back in New York, directed his friend Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman… with Cobb in the star role  of Willy Loman. And from the same film, Arthur Kennedy, played his son, Biff.
  5. Berry Kroeger, The Iron Curtain, 1947.    Excellent propaganda based on the defection of cypher clerk at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, circa 1946. Before Kroeger’s stunning debut, Cobb was suggested as the swaggering Soviet spymaster recruiting a Canadian parliamentarian and a scientist to pass on nuclear secrets. An ironic choice as Cobb was later named as  a Communist by actor Larry Parks in 1951 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Cobb refused to testify until threatened with blacklisting. He then named 20 Communists. “I was pretty much worn down. I had no money. I couldn’t borrow. I had the expenses of taking care of the children... I had to be employable again.”
  6. Ward Bond, On Dangerous Ground , 1950.       Cobb,  Howard Da Silva, Albert Dekker plus the unknowns James Bell and Rhys Williams were up for Walter Bent in the snowy mountains thriller - co-directed by Nicholas Ray and an un-credited Ida Lupino… who also played the blind Mary. It cannot be a coincidence  that the right-wing bigot Bond -  who helped put Cobb, Da Silva (and so many others) on the ignoble Hollywood blacklist - won the role from them
  7. Tom Tully, Where the Sidewalk Ends, 1950.   Whenever director Oto Premingher got interested in a thriller, the head Fox Darryl Zanuck would forecast another Laura. This one had the same stars and Dana Andrews was, agaion, a cop named Mark. Everyone was happy except Cobb, who, refused to be Gene Tierney’s father, a cabbhy andf murder suspect.
  8. Gene Barry, The Houston Story, 1955.      When Cobb collapsed (from two stories: fatigue or heart attack), the director, the similarly bulky William Castle, played the rôle for him - in long shots. Once Cobb’s doctors forbade him working, the less bulky Barry substituted.
  9. Tom Helmore, Vertigo, 1957.        In November 1956, Alfred Hitchcock was undecided between Cobb and Joseph Cotten for the villainous Gavin Elster.    Hitch settled for Helmore manipulating James Stewart’s poor, acrophobiac ex-cop.  
  10. Orson Welles, The Long Hot Summer,1957.  Director Martin Ritt was surrounding himself with Actors Studio and/or Elia Kazan grads  - Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa,  Lee Remick – so why not one  more. Yes, said  the suits but Welles would be better that Cobb. Except Welles was totally out of touch with the new generation of actors. “I feel.like I’m riding a tricycle in a barrel of molassss) And vice versa.  And Ritt warned Welles…  Newman was OK, he admires you and ignores your tantrums, but  “don’t fuck around like that with Tony Franciosa, because he doesn’t understand you, and he’s going to knock you on your ass.” Supposedly based on a pair of  William Faulkner stories, but the script more obviously based er, inspired by Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof… filmed by Newman in  the following year.
  11. Walter Brennan, Rio Bravo, 1958.
  12. Theodore Bikel, The Sands of the Kalahari, 1965.     After the Burtons  proved too expensive, their pal, Welsh actor-producer Stanley Baker, never got the next Hollywoodians he wanted: Cobb, Carroll Baker and  Kirk Douglas.

  13. Peter Falk, Columbo, TV, 1968-2003.   
    The tenacious but eventually boring Lieutenant Frank Columbo actually dated back to 1960 and Bert Freed playing the William Link and Richard Levinson creation in the Enough Rope episode of NBC’s The Chevy Mystery Show. Two years later, they turned the  script into a stage play, Prescription For Murder, with Mitchell just-one-more-thinging.   Audiences preferred him to Joseph Cotton’s villain and the writers started musing on a series format for Mitchell. But the veteran  died in 1962. So who else? Lee J Cobb passed.  So did Bing Crosby. Well, he  turned down all series: “It would interfere with my golf game.”  “So,” said Falk, “it’s because of golf that I’m here!”  It took Link andf Levinson three years to wear down Falk’s reluctance down (by agreeing to eight shows a season, instead of the usual 22). Two pilots led to the first season’s opener: Murder By The Book, a Steven Bochco script directed by an unknown whelp named Steven Spielberg. Falk was really reprisng his Lieutenant Bixbee from the 1965 Penelope film with Natalie Wood. He was anti-cliché until, of course, he became a most annoying cliché, himself. With all his oddities: never being called Frank (the name was visible on his warrant card), his pessimism (forever wearing the world’s most famious raincoat in the LA sun), his battered Renault 403, and, finally, a dog. Oh, and a wife, often mentioned but unseen (until winning her own series). Falk died  at 83 in 2011, no longer knowing who he was. Or Columbo.

  14. Anthony Sharp, House of Mortal Sin (US: The Confessional), 1976.     Peter Cushing passed on being, as Time Out put it, a crazed old Catholic priest terrorising a young girl after hearing her confession… He was too busy and not, as rumours insisted, hating the scenario. UK schockler Pete Walker then offered Father Xavier Meldrum to Harry Andrews, Stewart Granger, plus (said Steve Chinball’s Walker book), Cobb and Richard Greene.

 





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