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Sir Noel Coward (1899-1973)

  1. Charles Boyer, The Garden of Allah, 1936.    For Marlene Dietrich’s ex-monk lover, producer David Selznick had several peculiar, milque-toast suggestions: Coward, John Gielgud, Ivor Novello
  2. Robert Newton, This Happy Breed, 1944.    Coward was the head of  the family on stage but  director David Lean made it clear  he was wrong for the  film. And good only “with a cigarette holder and a dressing-gown.” Lean felt he was never really forgiven, although they worked on two more films. Both without  Coward starring!
  3. Orson Welles, The Third Man, 1949 Producer David O Selznick was a parody of his  former Gone With The Wind glory. Full of fatuous notions like Coward as the titular Harry Lime… and why don’t  we call it Night Time In Vienna!   Director Carol Reed wanted no one but Welles, who, stupidly, took the $100,000 salary instead of 20% of what proved the biggest hit of his bizarre career. Some regard it still as the  finest British movie. Can’t quite  hear Coward delivering Welles’  classic line (all he wrote, despite outlandish claims to the contrary).  All together now…  “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” 
  4. Dennis Price, Oh... Rosalinda!!, 1955.    Coward proved impossible as the English colonel, director Michael Powell tried for David Niven and settled for Price.
  5. Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957.    Colonel Nicholson changed as often as directors.: Ronald Colman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Gielgud, Cary Grant, Charles Laughton, James Mason, Ray Milland, Laurence Olivier, Eric Portman, Anthony Quayle, Ralph Richardson - and Spencer Tracy, who bluntly told producdr Sam Spiegel  that the mad Colonel had to be an Englishman. In his proposed version, Howard Hawks wanted Coward “to play a fairy that thought of marvelous ways of killing the enemy.” (It was his future Hatari! stars, Gérard Blain, who “detected a submerged homosexual” in Hawks - as if his continual male love stories were not clue enough).
  6. Moray Watson, The Grass Is Greener, 1960.    When it was set for the Rex Harrisons and himself, Cary Grant wanted Coward as his butler.  The death of Rex’s wife, Kay Kendall, from  myeloid leukemia, caused various changes - and the butling Watson was the  only one of the West End cast in the movie.
  7. Ralph Richardsobn, Exodus, 1960.   Producer-director-ogre Otto Preminger lost The Master as General Sutherland but won him five years later for the more flamboyant (more Coward!) Wilson in the kidnap drama.
  8. Joseph Wiseman, Dr No, 1962.
  9. Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady, 1964.   Head Brother Jack Warner was not keen on the Broadway and West End Henry Higgins. He had several other Professors in mind. From the inspired (Noël, Cary Grant, Peter O’Toole, George Sanders) to the plain stupid (Rock Hudsons as a grumpy English gentleman?). Plus dowdy Michael Redgrave, who had the style but the box-office appeal of George Zucco. (Who?) (Exactly!)
  10. Patrick Cargill, The Countess From Hong Kong, 1967.    Coward & Chaplin - the mind boggles!   Plus Marlon Brando & Sophia Loren - and runneth over!   Peter Sellers tried to win the role of Brando’s snooty valet, Hudson,  who weds Countess Sophia to satisfy US Immigration.   Finally, Charlie Chaplin  decided his script was too top heavy with stars. The biggest was  Brando, and he called Chaplin the nasty, sadistic asshole from Hell. “And I’m being kind."

 





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