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Laird Cregar (1916-1944)

 

  1. George Lessey, Moon Over Miami, 1940.   When Cregar fell ill, Lessey took over as Robert Cummings’ playboy father in the second re-tread of 1938’s Three Blind Mice.
  2. John Carradine, Western Union, 1941.    Delayed  by another movie, Cregar had to quit and (of all people)  George “Gabby” Hayes took over as Doc Murdoch - promptly fell ill and Carradine carried on.
  3. Monty Woolley, The Man Who Came To Dinner, 1941.   Howard Hawks wanted Cary Grant. Orson Welles wanted to direct - and have the title role. Bette Davs wanted John Barrymore as her co-star, but he could no longer remember his lines. Tests of Cregar and Robert  Benchley were respectively deemed “too mild-mannered” and “overblown and extravagant,” by producer Hal Wallis.  (Probably why Charles Coburn refused to test).  Director William Keighley also saw Charles Laughton and Fredric March before asking the Broadway play’s star to reprise the titular Sheridan Whiteside.
  4. Walter Huston, Swamp Water, 1941.     Cregar, Huston and Dean Jagger were lined up for hunter Thursday Ragan in Jean Renoir’s first US film since fleeing his Nazi-occupied France. As usual, Hollywood had scant respect for anyone who was better than Hollywood. Head Fox Darryl F Zanuck dared complain that the master réalisateur of La Grande Illusion, La bête humaine La règle du jeu - revered as the greatest film-maker by Chaplin and Welles - was too slow!! He was fired, then asked to stay. Soon as the film was finished, Renoir quit Fox. “He’s not one of us,” declared DFZ. Bah! On the Oscar night of April 8, 1975, Renoir received an honorary Academy Award for his career. One of his stars, Ingrid Bergman, picked it up for him. I know because I was there, backstage.
  5. Akim Tamiroff, Dragon Seed, 1943.     Insulting!  Pearl Buck’s book had a point - exposing Japanese atrocities in China.  MGM made it a farce, with the unlikeliest looking Chinese ever spawned by Hollywood. Taped eyelids for Hepburn, Walter Huston, Aline MacMahon, Akim Tamiroff… Charles Laughton was deemed doable as Wu Lien and then left for The Canterville Ghost. Cregar and Sydney Greenstreet were inevitably seen as his replacement but failed Eurasian make-up tests. (Likewise Edward Arnold, Fay Bainter, Donald Crisp, Greer Garsopn Van Heflin, Hedy Lamarr, Frank Morgan, Walter Pidgeon and Edward G Robinson for other roles).
  6. George Montgomery, Coney Island, 1943.   As close to the real Coney as the Eiffel Tower was… Carny operators Cregar and Pat O’Btrien plus showgirl Alice Faye were Fox-churned into Montgomery, Cesar Romero and what Variety called “a 95-minute audition of Betty Grable’s chassis and legs - in color.”
  7. George Sanders, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1944.      Cregar, first noticed by Hollywood talent scouts when playing Oscar Wilde on-stage, for the scene-stealing misogynist Lord Henry Wotton. Well, he had Oscar Wilde’s best lines. Cregar died and Herbert Marshall and Basil Rathbone (too typed as Sherlock Holmds) were seen before Sanders.
  8. Clifton Webb,  Laura,  1944.     Fox chief Darryl Zanuck and director Rouben Mamoulian started filming with Creger (6ft 3in... in almost every direction)  as  the  bitchy Waldo Lydecker opposite John Hodiak in the Dana  Andrews part. "The performances were  appalling,"  said  director-ogre Otto Preminger taking over the film and going for a less obvious heavy.  “Otherwise, the audience will know right away and there will be no chance to suspect Gene Tiernery.” (She was the screen's  first murder victim to become a suspect…) Zanuck was not so sure about Webb  - "he flies"  (gay) - but he became a surprise star at  age 53 as  the ex-bouncer Cregar died at 28 from the results of  a crash diet.  (Orson  Welles was  set  for  a 1970 re-make that, par for the Wellesian course,  never happened).
  9. Vincent Price, Dragonwyck, 1945.     The set was more akin to a hospital ward… Original director Ernst Lubitsch fell ill and quit. Alec Craig caught flu, fellow actors Albert Van Antwerp and Cregar, Gregory Peck’s successor in the lead role, had heart attacks - fatal in Cregar’s case. Price lost 30 lbs for the role - an odd move considering Cregar’s girth.
  10. Errol Flynn, Kim, 1950.     An on/off MGM project since 1935. Seven years later, Cregar was up for Mahbub Ali, the Red Beard, opposite Mickey Rooney’s Kimball O’Hara. Once again, the expense - and politics - of even token shooting in India shelved the project.  For a further eight years. 

 





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