Joan Crawford (1904-1977)
- Norma Shearer, A Free Soul, 1930. “How can I compare with Norma when she sleeps with the boss? ” Adela Rogers St. Johns wrote her book with Crawford in mind, but Shearer got her hands on it first and she was wed to MGM’s house production genius, Irving Thalberg. Clark Gable made a huge impression. Thousands of letters requested more of “the guy who slapped Norma Shearer.”
- Jean Harlow, Red-Headed Woman, 1932. By refusing Katharine Bush' best-selling vamp, Crawford and Norma Shearer allowed MGM some return on the $690,000 paid tycoon Howard Hughes for Harlow - for $1,250 a week (soon to be $5,000). Hughes had paid her $250. The film was banned in the UK but King George V allegedly had his own copy.
- Greta Garbo, The Painted Veil, 1933. A year earlier, the Hollywood Reporter reported that Crawford had the lead role of Katrin, married but falling for a UK diplomat in old Hong Kong. But no… The billing explained why: Garbo. No need to say anything more.
- Jeanette MacDonald, The Merry Widow, 1933. Maurice Chevalier’s MGM contract gave him co-star approval. Therefore, Crawford, Evelyn Laye, Grace Moore and Gloria Swanson were seen for Sonia, the widow, when the fussy Frenchman was no longer getting on with MacDonald. Nor with playing “the charming prince and lieutenant roles.” (What did he expect? Cowboys and gangsters!).
- Myrna Loy, The Prizefighter and the Lady, 1933. As MGM switched from directors Josef von Sternberg to Howard Hawks to, finally, “One Take Woody” Van Dyke, so did the The Lady… from Crawford and Mae Clarke to Jean Harlow and Elissa Landi. The Prizefighter was a real one - Max Baer. He won every round.
- Carole Lombard, Twentieth Century, 1934. The usually crude Columbia boss Harry Cohn also considered Tallulah Bankhead, Constance Bennett, Ruth Chatterton, Kay Francis, Ann Harding, Miriam Hopkins, even Gloria Swanson. None were close to being Howard Hawks dames.
- Ann Harding, Biography of a Bachelor Girl, 1934. MGM production chief Irving Thalberg wanted Joan. Too busy, said MGM boss LBMayer. Thalberg covered his bets by getting Ann's best director, EH Griffith. Good man. Wrong initials..
- Constance Bennett, Outcast Lady, 1934. MGM’s house genius, Irving Thalberg, had to do without Joan when re-making Garbo's film. He should not have bothered.
- Jean Harlow, Reckless, 1934. Co-star William Powell said Harlow objected to replacing Crawford. Harlow felt the script was capitalising on the sensational publicity surrounding the death of her husband, Paul Bern. Powell talked her around… and was planning to marry her when she died from uremic poisoning on June 7 1939 while shooting Saratoga. She was 26.
- Marlene Dietrich, The Garden of Allah, 1936. Decided on a holiday rather than the casbah.
- Myrna Loy, Parnell, 1936. Longtime on-off lovers Crawford and Clark Gable made seven movies in as many years. This was not one of them. Crawford advised Gable to copy her and quit this “boring, pretentious” script. He stayed and Myrna Loy joined him (becoming King and Queen of Hollywood in Ed Sullivan’s poll). Crawford wuz right. Film tanked and put Gable off costume dramas... including Gone With The Wind.
- Jean Harlow, Saratoga, 1937. Plan A: RKO-Pathe bought the Anita Loos script for Constance Bennett in 1929. MGM was in three minds about a Plan B: Carole Lombard, Crawford or Harlow v Clark Gable. Shooting was all but over when Harlow collapsed on-set and later died from suspected uremic poisoning. For her final scenes, her double, Mary Dees, was her body (shot from the rear) as Paula Winslow supplied the voice. Crawford was so bitter at Gable’s anger at her (correct) Parnell opinions, she backed off him for three years. Their affair still lasted 30 years, inbetween their various marriages.
- Margaret Sullavan, Three Comrades,1937. Despite success in Joseph Mankiewicz’ productions (in his bed, too), Joan felt that F Scott Fitzgerald's sole Hollywood writing credit would be dominated by the guys, including her ex-husband Franchot Tone. For once, she wuz wrong!
- Margaret Sullavan, The Shopworn Angel, 1937. MGM had no idea who should - could! - inherit Daisy after Harlow’s shock death. At first, it was Crawford in ’37 (a good title for Joan, a bi-sexual porno starlet and stripper before hitting LA), then Rosalind Russell in ’38. Crawford passed, Russell was sent into The Citadel in London and, finally, Sullavan partnered James Stewart. Two years later, comedy genius Ernst Lubitsch waited months for the same couple for “the best picture I ever made in my life” - The Shop Around The Corner, 1939. (In the meantime, he casually knocked off Ninotchka!)
- Ginette Leclerc, La femme de boulanger/The Baker's Wife, France, 1938. The director's wife was the obvious choice - but playwright-realisateur Pagnol had quit Orane Demazis (alias Fanny). And dreamt of his favourite Hollywoodian. He even cut Aurélie’s French dialogue to just 144 words for Joan. (After re-making Pagnol's Fanny in 1960, Joshua Logan talked of a new Boulanger with Orson Welles and Brigitte Bardot).
- Norma Shearer, Idiot’s Delight, 1939. MGM’s tragically dead production genius, Irving Thalbeg, was still ruling the roost… Milady Crawford wanted to be Irene Fellara- desperately. However, Thalberg had left his Metro stock to his wife, Shearer - and the first choice of roles. Game over.
- Lana Turner, Ziegfeld Girl, 1940. Odd MGMusical. Monochrome, no one playing Broadway icon Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell was busy?), and not about one girl but three. Turner and Hedy Lamarr getting into all kinds of trouble while, ironically, Judy Garland alone coping with the vicissitudes of fame. When planned in 1938, Joan was due to die at the end. After upsetting preview audiences in ’41, Metro cut Lana’s death scene in - and no one knew became of her!
- Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story, 1940. Arch enemies, Crawford and Bette Davis didn’t stand a chance of being Tracy Lord. MGM tried to buy the Broadway hit for Joan as producer David Selznick did the same for Bette. However, Howard Hughes had made sure that Kate had the rights of her Broadway hit.
- Norma Shearer, Her Cardboard Lover, 1942. Norma’s farewell, in a role first offered to the younger Crawford and Hedy Lamarr.
- Joan Leslie, Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942. At Warners, Joan kept getting offered Bette Davis rejects. This time, she told Jack Warner: “I’m too old. Give it to Joan Leslie.” Excellent advice.
- Greer Garson, Random Harvest, 1942. She pushed for it and was pushed out of it. Indeed, the idea was to push her out of the studio by giving her the weakest MGM scripts in the hope she’d refuse and thus break her contract.
- Margaret Sullavan, Cry ‘Havoc’, 1943. Hollywood didn’t make many WWI films about women. So they all wanted to be in this female Bataan. “in any role.” Crawford, who wanted it called The Women Go to War, was first choice for Smitty, aka Lieutenant Mary Smith...
- Ann Sothern, Cry ‘Havoc’, 1943. … and then she was made Pat opposite Merle Oberon’s Smitty… until they became Sothern (a very last minute choice) and Margaret Sullavan. Also trying to join up as US military or civilians were June Allyson, Eve Arden, Bonita Granville, Marilyn Maxwell, Susan Peters, Donna Reed, Ann Sheridan, Lana Turner. When refused Madame Curie. by LB Mayer, Crawford quit MGM after 17 years. “If you think I made poor pictures after A Woman's Face, you should see the ones I went on suspension not to make!”
- Greer Garson, Madame Curie, 1943. No, no, Joan, she’s not for you. Having lost her two dream roles to the new star, Crawford finally took umbrage and strode out of MGM after 18 years.
- Hedy Lamarr, The Heavenly Body, 1943. The title pleased La Crawford, more than the role of astronomer William Powell’s wife. “It was about a girl who stands around and does nothing. I told the studio to give the part to Hedy Lamarr.”
Rose Hobart, Conflict, 1944.
Awaiting her first role at Warners, La Crawford refused to be the wife murdered by hubby Humphrey Bogart. Her message to head brother Jack Warner was simple. “Joan Crawford never dies in her movies, and she never ever loses her man to anyone.” Bogie had less luck in trying to escape the mediocre script.
- Dorothy McGuire, The Spiral Staircase, 1945. On a high from her good reviews in A Woman’s Face, 1941, Crawford bought the rights to Ethel Lina White’s 1933 book, Some Must Watch, in order to go Oscar-hunting in the lead - a deaf mute. MGM’s LB Mayer wouldn’t hear of it. “No more cripples or maimed women.”
- Betty Grable, When My Baby Smiles At Me, 1947. It was Burlesque on Broadway in 1927 and starred Babara Stanwyck. That’s exactly why La Crawford wanted to re-make the two Paramount versions. Warner Bros agreed but Columbia would not sell. To show just how important the rights were to Columbvia czar Harry Cohn, he eventually let Fox have them in exchange for… horse-racing footage from Kentucky, 1937, for use in The Return of October.
- Celeste Holm, A Letter To Three Wives, 1948. Who is Addie ? Writing to the wives to say she was running off with one of their spouses, Addie was heard but never seen. Crawford and Ida Lupino were considered as the voice-off - and Holm’s name as kept secret. At the time.
- Ginger Rogers, Storm Warning, 1950. Head brother Jack Warner asked Crawford to “ play Doris Day's sister.Oh c’mon, Jack,” rasped Joanie. “No one would ever believe that I’d have Doris Day for a sister!”
- Jane Wyman, A Kiss in the Dark, 1948. On March 1, Variety reported Crawford had the lead. Three days later, Hollywood Reporter said Wyman. For once, Reporter was right.
- Barbara Stanwyck, Clash By Night, 1951. RKO originally wished to borrow Warner’s Crawford for Fritz Lang’s clunky, indeed campy, version of Clifford Odets’ Broadway play. From Fox, RKO did manage to secure Marilyn Monroe. And critics loved her first important role in 17 outings. She “has an ease of delivery,” said Daily Variety, “which makes her a cinch for popularity, given the right roles.”
- Bette Davis, The Star, 1952. A star down on her luck - oh, far too close to home. But like Davis, Crawford could have used her own Oscar in her drunken rampage scene.
- Ann Blyth, One Minute To Zero, 1952. Mommie Dearest played (too) hard to get. And the injured Claudette Colbert’s was role was retailored for the (much) younger Blyth.
- Deborah Kerr, From Here To Eternity, 1952.
- Claire Trevor, The High and the Mighty, 1953. All aboard the flying Grand Hotel - a DC-4 piloted by John Wayne and Robert Stack and stuffed to the flaps with the kind of mixed cliché bag of passengers that continued into the Airport films and were torn to comic shreds by the Airplane franchise. Tasty or not, the roles were basically cameos - beneath the high and mighty Crawford, Bette Davis, Ida Lupino, Dorothy McGuire, Ginger Rogers and Barbara Stanwyck. They all rejected the sassy old broad, described by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther as a gallant lady of much circulation. Trevor won an Oscar nod, Crawford would have won it.
- Jane Wyman, Magnificent Obsession, 1953. It was Wyman’s idea to re-hash the 1935 Universal weepie. She first approached director Douglas Sirk about it. And then, whadderyerknow, Universal had the gall to start talking to Crawford, Olivia de Havilland and Eleanor Parker about being Helen Phillips… As if Wyman was going to let that happen! She didn’t get all her own way, though. Jeff Chandler fled saying the story was “soppy.” (And how!)
- Maureen O’Hara, Lisbon, 1956. Three years earlier, director Nicholas Ray gave her script. “Oh hell, Nick, give it balls! Write it for Gable and I’ll play it.” Ray Milland picked it up, directing himself and O’Hara.
- Lana Turner, Peyton Place, 1956. All the obvious, well, MILFS, of their day were in the frame for Constance McKenzie - for the mother and father of all movie and TV soaps. Namely: Crawford, Turner, Olivia de Havilland, Susan Hayward Jane Wyman.
- Lana Turner, Portrait In Black, 1960. Due to head up a 1949 version at Universal - a kind of The Postman Always Rings Thrice - then to be made by suave UK director Carol Reed.
- Mary Astor, Return To Peyton Place, 1961. Her bete noir, Bette Davis, was also considered. And Joan fled.
- Olivia De Havilland, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, 1964. Getting $50,000 and 25% of the profits compared to Bette Davis' $160,000 and 15%, Crawford was soon boozing her way through Whatever Happened to Bette and Joan. Next minute, she had quit. Her “pneumonia” was more like unrequited love for Bette who deliberately upset Joan by being over-pally with their lesbian co-star Agnes Moorehead. Bette refused any of director Robert Aldrich’s suggesations - Katharine Hepburn or Vivien Leigh - and suggested her old Warners pal.
- Olivia De Havilland, Lady In A Cage, 1964. After What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, 1962, Joan had enough of handicapped victims. Olivia replaced her ... again.
- Susan Hayward, Valley of the Dolls, 1967.
- Rita Hayworth, I Bastardi/Sons of Satan, Italy, 1969. Dropped out at eleventh hour.
- Gloria Swanson, Airport 1975, 1974. Joan turned down the "aging alcoholic actress" role in the re-make (in essence) of The High and the Mighty that she had refused 20 years before.
- Olivia De Havilland, Airport 77, 1977. The producers tried again. Crawford passed again, Olivia subbed again.
- Valerie Perrine, Superman, 1978.