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James Coburn (1928-2002)


  1. Clint Eastwood, Per un pugno di dollari/A Fistful of Dollars, Italy-Spain-Germany, 1964.   Coburn admits his reaction was: "Who is this Sergio Leone guy? Italian! I don't want to work in any Italian films for crissakes." Leone, naturally, told it differently. "We got Clint for $15,000. Coburn wanted $25,000." Per un pugno di dollari too much. Clint cut his verbiage to nothing and ridiculed Leone for wearing belt and braces.
  2. Warren Oates, The Return of the Seven, 1965.    Producer Walter Mirisch found it impossible to gather many - any! - of the original Seven, “for reasons of increased salary demands or unavailability, or simply a desire not to repeat their previous roles.”
  3. Lee Van Cleef, The Big Gundown, Italy-Spain, 1966. He was refusing any spaghetti dish... Director Sergio Sollima was more than happy with Sergio Leone’s resurrected Van Cleef. (And his stunt double Romano Puppo).
  4. ranco Nero, A Professional Gun, Italy-Spain, 1968.    Any spaghetti Western! Even an Alberto Grimaldi tortilla Western production directed by t’other Sergio ... Corbucci.
  5. Charles Bronson, C'era una volta il west/Once Upon A Time in the West, Italy-US, 1968.     "Every time Sergio made a film, he'd come see me - wherever I was. Never had anything on paper. It would gel in his mind as he told it - his brother-in-law translating. I told him: "No, no, I don't believe in this harmonica guy. I don't believe in revenge." Telling an Italian that you don't believe in revenge [laugh] is like a slap in the face..." Coburn finally came to heel for the ridiculously titled Duck, You Sucker! 1971. They became a mutual admiration society. "Wonderful man, Sergio - like he was shooting a movie about making movies!" “Coburn was Clint ,” said Sergio. “With more humour. I loved the way he threw his knife in The Magnificent Seven... and the way he walked.”
  6. Elliott Gould, M*A*S*H, 1969.    Director Robert Altman planned James Garner and Coburn. Or, Garner, certainly. Producer Ingo Preminger had seen The Dirty Dozen and preferred Donald Sutherland... who suggested Gould.
  7. Marlon Brando, Queimada/Burn!, 1969.     A great admirer of Battle of Algiers, 1966, Brando was keen on joining another Gillo Pontecorvo political trip. As usual, he took some courting, so much the director started talking to Coburn - who in turn talked to Brando about Pontecorvo. "I kinda like him,. He's got those blue, sincere eyes, so I guess he must be sincere." The more he talked, the more Coburn realised Brando would do the film. He did and made life hell for Old Sincere Blue Eyes.
  8. Warren Oates, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, 1973.   Our hero Bennie - “He had to die,” insisted director Sam Peckinpah – was first offered to Coburn. He hated the script and wondered why on Mexican earth, Sam wanted to make it. Peter Falk was still shooting Columbo and so Oates flew to Chalco and based Bennie on… guess who. Even borrowed his shades.
  9. OJ Simpson, The Cassandra Crossing, 1976.    When he was still America's favourite football player, OJ got his wish. "I'm not looking for parts that call for a black cat... or action parts with a lot of runnin' around. The guys I want to be like are character actors." Before playing this priest, OJ surprised his (first) wife by attending church with her every Sunday
  10. Jeff Cooper, The Silent Flute, 1978.    Lost all interest in the mystical martial arts story he had created with pal Bruce Lee after the superstar's shock death in 1973.

  11. William Holden, Ashanti, 1978.     First, Telly Savalas passed on the mercenary chopper pilot – not unlike his crop-duster pilot the previous year in Capricorn One. Then, likewise, Coburn. Holden accepted the seventh billed cameo in the modern slavery drama to get back to his beloved Africa. Co-star Michael Caine called it “the worst, most wretched film I ever made.”
  12. Tony Curtis, Othello, The Black Commando, 1982.    First time Iago got top billing. Coburn's image remained on posters (of Cannon, who else?) even after Curtis took over in the Max H Boulois film.
  13. George Peppard, The A Team, TV, 1983-1986,    First choice for the 98 episodes of Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith. Coburn made tele-films, and guested in series, but never searched for a series of his own.
  14. Charlton Heston, The Colbys, TV, 1985-1987.   Coburn, Burt Lancaster and Gregory Peck were top choices to head up the Dynasty spin-off as billionaire patriarch Jason Colby. Fortunately, they passed because before Ben-Hur turned soap star, Heston had been contemplating running for senator!
  15. James Woods, Hercules, 1997.    The directors had no idea who should voice Hades.  “Why don’t you ask Jack?”suggested their Philoctetes, Danny Vito. Jack was keen. For his nomal fee - between $10m and $15m. Disney offered… $500,000.  Hence talks began with David Bowie, James Coburn, Willem Dafoe, Phil Hartman, Michael Ironside, Martin Landau, Broadway’s Terrence Mann, Ron Silver, Kevin Spacey, and Rod Steiger. Then, John Lithgow got the gig and recorded it all. Next thing he knew, Jimmy Woods was adlibbing Hades to glory with Robin Williams/Aladdinbravura.  And made it a growth industry with the TV series and  various video games.
  16. Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story, 1999. "I was on a [walking] stick and my agent said: Guess what, this role has two sticks." After a hip-replacement, The Old Grey Fox was unsure of his agility. Wierdo director David Lynch said only three others were capable of the role: John Hurt, Jack Lemmon and Coburn - an inspired choice as Jim was finally Oscar-nominated that year for playing his age in Affliction.





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