Ronald Colman (1891-1958)
- Richard Barthelmess, The Dawn Patrol, 1930. Legendary director Howard Hawks asked screenwriter John Monk Saunders for an air story for Colman in 1929. Howard Hughes lost a law suit claiming it was based on his 1930 Hell's Angels.
- Clark Gable, Strange Interlude, 1932. Colman-Lillian Gish became Gable-Norma Shearer.
- John Gilbert, Queen Christina, 1933. Having refused Colman and Leslie Howard, Greta Garbo had Laurence Olivier fired after two weeks. “Inadequate.” All part of her plan to give old lover John Gilbert a career boost, since dropping him in 1931 (from her bed - and Susan Lennox). “That was nice of her,” said a Gilbert biographer Eve Golden in 2013. “But it was not doing him any favors. First of all, it was a bad role. The production was a horror, and sending him back to MGM was the worst thing that could have happened.” “An awful part,” said Olivier. “Jack Gilbert made the flop of his life in it.”
- Fredric March, Design for Living, 1933. Ernst Lubitsch, Ben Hecht, Noel Coward - what a creative line-up! (Well, actually the first two kept just one line from Coward’s play, “For the good of our immortal souls!”). Lubitsch wanted Colman and Leslie Howard (or Douglas Fairbanks Jr), but settled for March and Gary Cooper - using his fluent French in some scenes.
- Fredric March, Anna Karenina, 1935. Ego ruined director George Cukor's plan. Despite who she was and having the title role, Colman refused to give top billing to Garbo. She got her way and director Clarence Brown.
- Franchot Tone, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 1935. Director Henry Hathaway's better idea had been: Grant, Colman and Milland.
- Errol Flynn, Captain Blood, 1935. Producer Harry Joe Brown's fourth choice after Leslie Howard, Fredric March, Clark Gable.
- Donald Woods, A Tale of Two Cities, 1935. “A dread of dual roles,” said producer David O Selznick, was the reason why Colman refused to play Charles Darney as well as the hero Sydney Carton. “I am glad now that he held out for that,” said DOS, “because a great deal of the illusion of the picture might have been lost had Colman rescued Colman and had Colman gone to the guillotine so that Colman could go away with Lucy!” Colman had hated his dual role The Masquerader, 1932, but happily doubled up for DOS’ 1936 Prisoner of Zenda.
- William Powell, My Man Godfrey, 1935. Colman tried hard to be the vagrant turned butler but director Gregory La Cava insisted on Universal borrowing MGM’s Powell - just as he insisted the only perfect Irene was his the ex-Mrs Powell, Carole Lombard. They were great.
- Tyrone Power, The Rains Came, 1938. Colman and Marlene Dietrich became Power and Myrna Loy for the Fox melo set in a Hollywood version of India - ie California’s Balboa Park. Power’s performance won the first Harvard Lampoon Worst Actor Award!
- Cary Grant, Bringing Up Baby, 1938. When director Howard Hawks was still hoping that his fast-talkin’ Susan Vance would be (his cousin) Carole Lombard .For RKO, Katharine Hepburn was cheaper: she had not yet bought her way out of her contract.
- Edward G Robinson, The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse, 1938. Thinking Edward G's gangster image hardly suited a shrink joining a gang (to study the criminal mind), Jack Warner mused upon almost everyone from Cary Grant… to Bette Davis.
- Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Gunga Din, 1939. Differing triples... Colman-Robert Donat-Victor McLaglen versus the impossible dream team of Spencer Tracy-Clark Gable-Franchot Tone. - became Cary Grant-Victor McLaglen-Douiglas Fairbanks Jr.
- Clark Gable, Gone With The Wind, 1938.
- Laurence Olivier, Wuthering Heights, 1938.
- Laurence Olivier, Rebecca, 1939.
- Cary Grant, Gunga Din, 1938. Howard Hawks joined RKO in 1936 to make Lawrence of Arabia - with Colman as the desert hero. When the project collapsed, Hawks still chased him (for a fourth time) for the Kipling tale. Except Hawks lost that, too, after the flop of his RKO debut, Bringing Up Baby, 1937.
- Orson Welles, Jane Eyre, 1943. In April 1942, Hollywood Reporter announced that Colman was out and Alan Marshal was testing as the new Mr Rochester. In July, the choice was Walter Pidgeon. Then, GWTW producer David O Selznick saw the light invited Welles to be the byronic Mr Rochester. By November, DOS had sold it all to 20th Century-Fox. Plus Claudia and Keys of the Kingdom.
- Alexander Knox, Wilson, 1943. Gary Cooper and Henry Fonda were considered for the White House – and then Ronald Colman and Walter Huston. Finally, the Canadian Knox was finally elected as 28th US President Thomas Woodrow Wilson. (Minus any mention of him supporting the Ku Klux Klan). The result was such a major flop that its loving producer Darryl F Zanuck banned everyone talking to about his paean to the “pre-FDR.”
- Alan Marshal, The White Cliffs of Dover, 1943. Not many movies, at MGM or elsewhere, were based on a poem… Colman owned all rights to Alice Duer Miller's work (“The white cliffs of Dover, I saw rising steeply/Out of the sea that once made her secure…”) and planned a 1940 film with Bette Davis - for free, both of them - with all profits going to the UK and US Red Cross. Nobody saluted, so he sold his rights to MGM film-maker Clarence Brown who selected Marshall and Irene Dunne.
- Gregory Peck, The Paradine Case, 1946. For the lawyer defending murder suspect Alida Valli, Alfred Hitchcock suggested Colman or Joseph Cotten. Producer David O Selznick preferred Shakesperians Maurice Evans or Laurence Olivier (or Alan Marshal, James Mason). They compromised, inexplicably, upon Mr Cardboard. "I don't think Gregory Peck can properly represent an English lawyer," Hitch warned. True. But to finish his Selznick contract and move on to a life of less interference, Hitch gave in.
- William Powell, Life With Father, 1946. Warner Bros rejected Mary Pickford. “No one knows her,” screamed the suits, “she’s been retired for 13 years!” Yet, afterer musing on Colman and Fredric March, it was OK that Powell had been off-screen for the nine years since the tragically early death of his lover, Jean Harlow.
- David Niven, The Other Love, 1947. Change of medico for Barbara Stanwyck’s seriously ill concert pianist.
- Larry Keating, When Worlds Collide, 1950. Wandering star Bellus is is on a collision course with earth... Unusually, the initial script (by Jack Moffitt) came complete with a cast list. Producer George Paul rewrote both. Moffitt’s choices were too pricey: Colman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Susan Hayward.
- Robert Newton, The High and the Mighty, 1953. When he explained to the media in 1953 that he’d be producing four films a year and starring in one or two, he said he was putting James Arness under contract - and Colman into the air-disaster movie. Only Arness made the Batjac payroll.
- Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1956.
When producer Sam Spiegel suggested making contact again with Guinness, director David Lean replied: “I’d been under the illusion that you were lining up Ronald Colman for Nicholson. I always thought [Ralph] Richardson was the next best to Charlie [Laughton]. Alec Guinness, I am still against in that I don’t think he will give us the ‘size’ that we need.” Next on the list: Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Gielgud, Cary Grant, James Mason, Ray Milland, Laurence Olivier, Eric Portman, Anthony Quayle, Ralph Richardson - and Spencer Tracy, who bluntly told Spiegel that the mad Colonel had to be an Englishman. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch a stiff-upper-lip British colonel for two and a half hours,” said Guinness. Spiegel took him to dinner. “He was very persuasive.” Of course, he was. In the 50s/60s, to “Spiegel” was LA slang meaning to cajole, manipulate or con. That’s how producer Spiegel won his deals, casts, women - and Guinness. “I started out maintaining that I wouldn’t play the role and by the end of the evening, we were discussing what kind of wig I would wear.”
- Yul Brynner, The Brothers Karamazov, 1958. Producer Samuel Goldwyn named him to co-star in the 30s' Hollywood debut of Anna Sten, star of the German version, 1929. After a two-year English language course, she was to be Sam's Garbo. Instead, she became a much ridiculed Nana, due to its emasculation of Zola and her own poor English. She was no Garbo, nor Dietrich, more of a Tara Birell or Gwili Andre. And who among us remembers who the hell they were?
- Anthony Perkins, Green Mansions, 1958. A stop-go project since 1933 at RKO. A decade later, press agent turned producer James B. Cassidy won the rights. He planned an unknown for Rima, the jungle sprite (up for Pier Angeli, Leslie Caron, Dolores Del Rio, Yma Sumac, Elizabeth Taylor and finally Audrey Hepburn over the years) and Colman or Fredric March as the Abel in her thrall.
- Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia, 1961.