Bette Davis (1908-1989)
- Kay Francis, Raffles, 1929. The legend starts badly. Fired by director George Cukor from her first stage company, she then failed a test with Ronald Colman for producer Samuel Goldwyn. "Ghastly experience." Poor costume, make-up, lighting and, above all, direction earned Goldwyn's retort: "Who wasted my time with that one?"
- Mae Clarke, Frankenstein, 1930. “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Before losing the director’s chair, Robert Florey had wanted Davis for Elizabeth, the mad doctor’s sweet fiancee. His successor, James Whale, selected Mae Clarke - getting a grapefruit pushed into her face by Public Enemy James Cagney and the horror classic all in the same twelvemonth.
- Sidney Fox, Strictly Dishonorable, 1931. Next, she lost her first film offer. After successfully testing (in her own make-up and clothes) to join Carl Laemmle's "faemmles" (to quote Ogden Nash) at Universal. He paid her $300 a week, tried to change her name to Bettina Dawes ("I refused to be called Between The Drawers all my life), and felt she would be finely dishonorable - until meeting... “the little brown wren.”
- Sidney Fox, Bad Sister, 1931. Re-cast as the virtuous sister, she lost again to the wren of a Fox, who Bette suspected was Carl Laemmle Jr's very personal faemmle and not talented enough for such spirited roles. Carl felt Bette had as much sex appeal as rustic comic Slim Somerville! From then on, Davis fought against saccharine characters. "Give me a vixen and I'm happy!"
- Helen Chandler, A House Divided, 1931. First meeting of future lovers - Davis and William Wyler - as she auditioned for this copy of Desire Under The Elms in a tight, low-cut cocktail dress. Wyler (a cousin of Carl Laemmle) took one look and snapped, loudly: "Whaddyer think of these dancers who show their tits and think they can get jobs!" When he was assigned to her Jezebel at Warners, Bette planned to reject him but... "adored Willie, he was the only male strong enough to control me. The sexual sparks were there from the beginning." He made it clear, though. He’d never leave his wife.
- Sidney Fox, Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1932. The tiny wren flew in again. Ten years and nine films later, Fox killed herself with sleeping pills at age 31.
- Margaret Lindsay, From Headquarters, 1932. Director Michael Curtiz had been ready to go with Davis and Glenda Farrell suspected of murder by homicide cop (and Bette’s guy) George E Stone. However, William Dieterle preferred Lindsay (and Dorothy Burgess) grilled by George Brent.
- Myrna Loy, The Prizefighter and The Lady, 1933. Before MGM snapped it up, "I wanted to make it with Bogart." In a manner of speaking. Joan Blondell on Davis: “I just love that feisty gal - she fought her way up, a real Miss Gutsy.”
- Kay Francis, Wonder Bar, 1933. Davis, Ann Dvorak and Barbara Stanwyck were in contention for another of the Warner musicals that broke every rule in the book - before the book, the Will Hays Productin Code, was writ. From a Busby Berkeley S&M (and murder) dance routine to called ‘Going To Heaven On A Mule’ performed by Al Jolson, St Peter and angels in black-face.
- Olivia de Havilland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1934. Davis was among the short list for Hermia. But after seeing her in a Saratoga production of the Shakespeare play, director Max Reinhardt kept the role for Olivia in his Hollywood Bowl production.
- Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night, 1934. Bette rejected Capra to be Mildred in Of Human Bondage. Both Actresses won Oscar nominations - first of ten nods for Davis. Colbert won - and later gave Davis her finest role in 1949. All About Eve.
- Helen Trenholme, The Case of the Howling Dog, 1934. Having just given, according to Life, "probably the best performance ever recorded on screen by a US actress" in Of Human Bondage, she obviously wanted something better at Warners than Della Street in a Perry Mason quickie... and Jack Warner's memo about making sure "she has her bulbs wrapped up." What a dump, indeed! Her refusal won the first of many suspensions. Two weeks later she started the "maudlin, mawkish" Dangerous - and won her first Oscar. Better deserved, she admitted, by Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams.
- Florence Eldridge, Mary of Scotland, 1935. Fredric March co-starred with all the ladies from Clara Bow to Sophia Loren. With one exception: Davis! “Because I got to play Queen Elizabeth,” said his wife Florence. (Like Cate Blanchett some 70 years on, Bette played Bess twice: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, 1939, and her colour debut, The Virgin Queen, 1955). The director was John Ford. “I still remember asking him how he saw my character of Bothwell,” March told the New York Times in 1973. “He’s a comic, Jack said, just a comic. Well, I said, how do you see Elizabeth, Jack? He chewed on that old handkerchief of his for a minute and finally said: Elizabeth’s a comic. Jesus, I thought, there sure are a lot of comics in this movie."
- Olivia De Havilland, Anthony Adverse, 1936. She asked but Warners wanted her for...
- Beverly Roberts, God's Country and the Women, 1936.
"I won’t do it! Satan Met A Lady was bad enough but this is absolute tripe!" She went back on suspension; fighting for freedom to work at other studios. Head Brother Jack Warner offered George Brent and Technicolor and a great role later on. He had just optioned a wonderful a novel, not yet published - "you were born to play the heroine." "Yeah," snorted Bette leaving his office, "I bet it's a pip!" It was! (Gone With The Wind!) Her weekly $5,000 was suspended as she fled home (Garbo's old house) for two films in Europe. Jack Warner should have seen it coming. There was a warning in the script: “All the men are men, and the women are too.”
- Margaret Lockwood, The Beloved Vagabond, 1936. First of two London films she signed to make for a year's salary each ($60,000) with producer Ludovico Toeplitz - this one with Maurice Chevalier trying to revive his career (“He Kissed Many But Loved One”). Warners took her to court as a naughty young lady, wanting more money. She lost - and won. Jack Warner paid her fees and damages and suddenly found better scripts.
- Lola Lane, Hollywood Hotel, 1936. ‘Hooray for Hollywood!’. Yep, this is where it came from. The initial idea was for Davis to play both the temperamental movie star, Mona Marshall…
- Rosemary Lane, Hollywood Hotel, 1936. … and her waitress double, studio selected to fill in for Mona’s absence at her latest premiere, with talent contest winner Dick Powell as her date. "I've worked very hard to become known as a dramatic actress," she wrote head Brother Jack Warner about what was a Busby Berkeley musical. (The Lane sisters played the twins - and Bette did…in A Stolen Life, 1946).
- Kay Francis, Confession, 1936. Producer Henry Blanke wanted Davis in the shot-by-shot mish-mash of Pola Negri’s German Mazurka, 1934. The role: a glamorous singer committing murder to protect her daughter’s virtue.
- Erin O'Brien-Moore, The Life of Emile Zola, 1937. Davis begged for the minor role of Nana - but Paul Muni wouldn't hear of it! (Director Joseph Mankiewicz said Bette’s snort and laugh should be protected by copyright).
- Kay Francis, Comet Over Broadway, 1937. Directors ranged from Edmund Goulding to Busby Berkeley as Davis refused the lead. Her substitute, Miriam Hopkins, fell ill and Francis saved the day. In person and via out-takes from her 1934 film, I Found Stella Parish.
- Edward G Robinson, The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse, 1938. About Edward GH, Bette reported: "All of us girls hated kissing his ugly purple lips." Some Warners folk felt his gangster image was all wrong for a shrink studying gangs. Suggested replacements ranged from Cary Grant to Davis - someone must have heard co-star Bogart's version of the title. Dr Clitoris
- Kay Francis, Comet Over Broadway, 1938. Jezebel Davis was the new Warners comet, eclipsing Francis, taking her best roles (eventually, her bungalow) and passing on her left-overs like this forgettable Busby Berkeley soap.
- Margaret Lindsay, Garden of the Moon, 1938. The synopsis sent her running."Nightclub owner Pat O'Brien and bandleader John Payne have a running feud. There is time out for numerous numbers." Davis' number was an unlikely affair with Howard Hughes. Her husband taped them in bed and she coughed up $73,000 in hush money and asked for a divorce - which had Hughes chasing after Ginger Rogers.
- Priscilla Lane, Four Daughters, 1938. When Bette refused the lead role in Fannie Hurst's Sister Act, Priscilla's sister, , Lola Lane, suggested that she and her three sisters make the tearjerker. Priscilla and Rosemary were signed on, but the oldest, Leota, failed her test and Gale Page replaced her. The movie was a hit, requiring two sequels and making a star out of… John Garfield.
- Vivien Leigh, Gone With The Wind, 1938.
- Rosalind Russell, No Time For Comedy, 1939. Jack Warner hired Casey Robinson to write the comedy for Davis. As if she’d be interested in something then called… Guy With A Grin.
- Merle Oberon, 'Til We Meet Again, 1940. For the first time in her life, the newly elected Queen of Hollywood (Mickey Rooney was King), did not care if she never made another film. "I am that overworked!" Close to a nervous breakdown after five movies in a year, she told Jack Warner: "Health cannot be manufactured. I am very serious about mine - and willing to go to any lengths to protect it." Like risking unemployment to win another new deal - no more than three films a year and a rise to $4,500 per week. Her regular co-star (and lover), George Brent, stayed in place as Warner started grooming Mrs Alexander Korda to do to Davis what Davis did to Kay Francis. Take over!
- Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story, 1940. OK, Kate was the toast of Broadway in the show (written for her), she was still box-office poison in LA when producer David Selznick tried wrap up the rights for Bette to be Tracy Lord. No way. On Howard Hughes’ advice, Kate held all rights.
- Merle Oberon, Affectionately Yours, 1940. After Wuthering Heights, a third successive Davis role passed to Oberon - once Vincent Sherman (another of Bette’s director lovers) rejected it. He said she deeply distrusted men, needed but never enjoyed sex, "there wasn't a great deal of foreplay... or afterplay."
- Betty Field, King's Row, 1941. When Davis was rejected as the reclusive Cassandra, she kindly suggested Field for the role. Katharine Hepburn, Marsha Hunt, Priscilla Lane, Joan Leslie, Adele Longmire, Ida Lupino, Susan Peters were also seen for “the town they talk of in whispers,” full of murder, sadism, depravity. And worse that had to be axed from Henry Bellamann’s 1940 novel: sex (premarital), sex (gay), incest, suicide... Peyton Place 16 years before Peyton Place! What had been due for Davis and Cagney (plus Pat O’Brien, of course), stood up well enough with Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings. Plus Ronald Reagan and his classic line: “Where’s the rest of me?”
- Barbara Stanwyck, The Gay Sisters, 1941. Fretting that she’d have to look older than Mary, who already “photographed old,” Bette Davis told head Brother Jack Warner to shove it… to someone else. He called up Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn and tried to borrow Norma Shearer, MGM’s First Lady. The problem was solved when Astor split for The Maltese Falcon. Except La Barb was signed by then.
- Joan Fontaine, The Constant Nymph, 1942. Arriving for lunch at Romanoff’s, director Edmund Goulding stopped by Brian Aherne’s table to chat with his pal. (He had starred in the UK version in 1933). Goulding said it was impossible to find the lead girl. He’d tried Davis, Wendy Barrie, Olivia De Havilland, Jennifer Jones, Joan Leslie, Eve March, Merle Oberon, Margaret Sullivan. Head brother Jack Warner craved A Star. “She has to be consumptive, flat-chested, anemic, and 14!” “How about me?” said the the freckled miss sitting with Aherne. “Who are you?” asked Goulding, somehow not recognising his friend’s wife in a leather flight suit and pigtails (they had just flown into LA from their Indio ranch). “Joan Fontaine.” “You’re perfect!” She was 25. So what! She signed next day and called it “the happiest motion-picture assignment of my career.” Oscar nomination, included.
- Ida Lupino, The Hard Way, 1943. “How did I let that one get away?” Davis was kicking herself after seeing the film she spurned... probably because it was based on Ginger Rogers and her awful stage-mother, changed into her overly ambitious sister in the movie).
- Irene Dunne, 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.
- Ingrid Bergman, Saratoga Trunk, 1944. "If I make a horse's ass of myself on that screen, it is I - me - Bette Davis - who is the 40 x 30 ft. horse's ass."
- Rosalind Russell, Roughly Speaking, 1944. Davis rejected the film about a woman fighting to succeed in a man’s world. She’d already won that fight in life. Been there, done that. For real.
- Faye Emerson, Danger Signal, 1944. The brothers Warner took over the property from Paramount and aimed it at Davis - as the victim of con-man come (literal) lady-killer Zachary Scott.
- Barbara Stanwyck, Christmas in Connecticut, 1944. Chickens come home to roost for a cookery writer whose columns about her bucolic farming life is all fiction… A surprise role for either lady! (Of all people, Arnold Schwarzenegger directed a TV re-tread in 1992).
- Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce, 1945. Davis declined. Crawford swooped, sweet-talking producer Jerry Wald out of Barbara Stanwyck. Director Michael Curtiz cursed: "Crawford? Her and her shoulder pads." But they won her the Oscar while Davis soon had her first flop in 50 films with the aptly named Deception. Bette always maintained that Crawford (and Miriam Hopkins) lusted after her body, as well as her success. Bette played Joan, or a script based on her - with plenty of her "Bless you!" lines thrown in by Davis - in The Star, 1952.
- Irene Dunne, Life With Father, 1946. The screening was "worse than the Potsdam conference," cabled director Michael Curtiz, who had wanted Bette in the massive Broadway hit. By 1949, she was the highest paid woman in America at $10,285 a week. But after post-synching a line for Beyond The Forest - "I can't stand it here anymore" - she matched it and quit her studio after 18 years. Jack Warner was "relieved to see her go." Mary Pickford won the rights to the Broadway hit, even agreed to test but, hell, she hadn’t made a movie for 13 years! So the Warner suits also looked at Rosemary DeCamp and Rosalind Russell. Curtiz agreed that Dunne had more box-office pull (in her only colour film), although he really wanted Bette.
- Patricia Neal, The Fountainhead, 1948. For novelist Ann Rynd’s sexually repressed (and unintentionally hilarious) ice princess Dominque Francon, Jack Warner short-listed Davis, Greta Garbo, Ida Lupino, Alwexis Smith, Barbara Stanwyck before choosing Lauren Bacall – then dropping her after a ton of letters protested about putting a “Red” in such an anti-Communist tract! (None of the cast appeared to understand their dialogue). New York Times critic Bosley Crowther buried the mess under “wordy, involved and pretentious.” A major flop blamed on Gary Cooper being far too old at 47 for the 20-something architect hero. But not for Neal - off-screen.
- Madeleine Carroll, The Fan, 1948. Lady Windermere’s Fan, that is. By Oscar Wilde. Not that you’d know it from director Otto Preminger’s dullard take on Victorian London society manners and foibles. Warner Bros announced Davis for Mrs Erlynne in 1946 before passing her Fox as Carroll’s farewell film. Wilde’s wit shone brighter in versions made over the years in Argentina, Germany, Hollywood, Mexico, and, of course, the UK… in 1916!
- Jean Kent, The Woman In Question, 1950. The woman was a corpse, a murder victim - seen five different ways by those who knew her: lovers, sister, neighbour, cleaning lady, etc. “I’m deeply honoured,” Jean told UK director Anthony Asquith, “that you feel I could accomplish something that you really wanted Bette Davis for.”
- Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen, 1951.
An RKO reader of potential projects famously called the CS Forrester book a “distasteful and not a little disgusting” tale of a “physically unattractive” couple. “A story of two old people going up and down an African river,” sneered Alexander Korda. “Who’s who’s going to be interested in that?” After Columbia passed on the project for Charles Laughton and his wife, Elsa Lanchester, Jack Warner moved in, buying the rights to the CS Forrester novel for Davis "Marvellous part! “ she said. But I left Warners for good in 1948. Not my largest disappointment, but I was let down." Twice. First, opposite David Niven as Charlie Allnutt in producer Henry Blanke's l938 project. "She fell out with Blanke and told him she refused to be photographed out of doors - a likely story," related Niven. Second, when Michael Powell planned directing it with David Farrar. Mason came next in 1947. Two years on, Davis had another British Allnutt in mind: John Mills. Then SP Spiegel (later reverting to Sam Spiegel) and his Horizon Pictures partner, John Huston, snapped it up. paying $87,5000 plus 10% of any net profits.
- Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951. She had foolishly refused the play, but producer Irene Mayer Selznick still made Bette her #1 Blanche DuBois. Marlon Brando "auditioned" her ("a mercy fuck," he called it). And Tennessee Williams said she'd be perfect: "A fading star playing a fading Southern belle. " Davis said studio chief Jack Warner vetoed her. "It was simply not to be.” No matter, from Broadway onwards, director Elia Kazan had made the piece less about Blanche than Stanley Kowalski. Ironically, it was Bette who presented Brando with his Oscar for On The Waterfront on March 30, 1955.
- Jane Wyman, The Blue Veil, 1951. Davis topped everybody’s list for the lead, yet producer Jerry Wald gave Louise Mason to Wyman... After Garbo refused.
- Shirley Booth, Come Back Little Sheba, 1952. Producer Hal Wallis said only the Broadway star could make the movie. (A rare thought in Hollywood). At least, he said that after Davis agreed with him. She usually complained when beaten to Oscars by actresses who had played their roles on Broadway for two years while she had, for example, created Margo Channing with ten day's notice of starting All About Eve.
- Rita Hayworth, Miss Sadie Thompson, 1953. Three years earlier, the UK’s Rank Organisation tried to buy the rights to the W Somerset Maugham story from Mary Pickford. With Davis in mind for the ex-hooker.
- Mercedes McCambridge, Giant, 1955.
- 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 Davis, Joan Crawford, 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, Davis would have won it.
- Claire Trevor, Marjorie Morningstar, 1957. For the Morgensterns - parents of Natalie Wood’s starstruck Marjorie - Jack Warner wanted Davis and Edward G Robinson. What they said about it has never been recorded. Unless you know different.
- Carroll Baker, The Miracle, 1958. “The only thing I've never played is a nun!” Well, Davis came close back in the 40s, when Warner’s Technicolor-tested her as the young nun and then canceled the project. Until Baker grabbed it for being as faraway as possible from her 1955 breakthrough. Baby Doll.
- Carolyn Jones, Career, 1958. Producer Hal Wallis bought the James Lee play for Davis sand William Holden as the agent and friend of Anthony Franciosa’s Sammy Glick-style actor willing to do anything for succes. Jones was quite a Davis lookalike and exchanged roles with Shirley MacLaine to sink her teeth - and those eyes - into Shirley Drake.
- Eleanor Parker, Home From The Hill, 1959. Davis and Clark Gable - Jezebel and Rhett Butler - were first tagged as the parents of half-brothers Georges Peppard and Hamilton. Then Scarlett and Rhett!
- Katharine Hepburn. Suddenly, Last Summer, 1959. Gore Vidal (who adapted the Tennessee Williams play) pushed for his New York friend Joanne Woodward to play Catherine Holly - opposite Bette Davis as the dreadful Violet Venable. Neither producer Sam Spiegel or his director Joseph L Mankiewicz, agreed. Sam explained why: “Baby, Davis has played it,” Sam told him, “Hepburn hasn’t. “In other words,” Vidal understood, “you would know that Bette Davis would cut out the girl’s brain and you wouldn’t think that Katharine Hepburn - such a healthy person - would… Shrewd Sam.” Vidal made sure he got Bette a good part ("then cut to nothing") in The Scapegoat - more directed by co-star Alec Guinness than the alcoholic Robert Hamer. Sure that Summer would win Oscars, Tennessee Williams insisted on adding his name to Vidal's credit. "Happily, the reviews were so bad that he immediately regretted what he had done."
- Lilian Gish, The Unforgiven, 1960. "I will never be below the title..." And she never was up to her final film, opposite Gish, in fact: The Whales of August, 1986. When Gish (90) was praised for a fine close-up, Bette (then 78) hissed: "She ought to know about close-ups. Jesus, she was around when they invented them!"
- Mary Astor, Return To Peyton Place, 1961. Joan Crawford was also considered for miserable (what else?) matriarch Roberta Carter. Bette always said she liked Astor. Mary was not sure about that.
- Geraldine Page, Sweet Bird of Youth, 1962. Written for Davis but... In 1963, Page married one of the cast: Rip Torn. Their New York brownstone bell-push read: Torn Page.
- Majorie Bennett, 4 For Texas, 1963. Bette passed on the Sinatra Clan’s Miss Emmeline in order to make Dead Ringer (on Warner shelves since 1944) for her 1942 Now Voyager co-star turned director, Paul Henreid. ednreidf
- Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins, 1963. During the 20 years of trying to persuade UK author PL Travers to let him film her supercalifragilisticexpialidocious book, Uncle Walt first saw Mary as being older. Such as Davis, Angela Lansbury (both made later Disney films) or Broadway’s Mary Martin. Then, Disney saw Julie singing her Camelot songs on TV’s Ed Sullivan Show. And signed her for his finest hour - eight Oscars! Bette would have scared the kids bald. As she did in her own horror version the following year: The Nanny!
- Ingrid Bergman, The Visit, 1964. "Ingrid was simply too young and too pretty." Same could be said of...
- Ava Gardner, The Night of the Iguana, 1964. Bette's hopes to repeat her 1961 Broadway creation were dashed by Huston's younger casting. Ava once met Davis in Madrid and said she was a great fan. "Of course, you are, my dear," said Bette. "Of course, you are!"
- Lila Kedrova, Zorba The Greek, 1965.
- Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf, 1966.
“My biggest heartbreak!” Playwright Edward Albee wanted her and sold his rights only after Warners promised to star Davis-James Mason. “He nseemed absolutely right... and to watch Bette Davis do that Bette Davis imitation in that first scene [‘What a dump!”] - that would have been so wonderful.” Davis had been rehearsing the role for years in her fourth brawling marriage to Gary Merrill. But they turned into Davis-Henry Fonda. Then, Richard Burton sat up one night reading it - twice - and woke up Liz. "I don't think you're old enough to be Martha. And I'm sure you haven't the passion or the power. Anyway, you'd better play it to stop anyone else doing it - and cause a sensation." Albee’s last word: “Taylor was quite good and Burton was incredible. With Mason and Davis you would have had a less flashy and ultimately deeper film.” (Also in the loop: Ingrid Bergman, Patricia Neal, Rosalind Russell).
- Jo Van Fleet, Cool Hand Luke, 1967. Hell, guys, Luke's mother, is a bit part. Haven’t you heard... I am never below the title! Worse - during 1965-1974, Bette was banned by J Edgar Hoover from ever guesting on The FBI series. (Nearly his mother when he was seen for East of Eden, Van Fleet was just eleven years older than her screen son, Paul Newman).
- Susan Hayward, The Valley of the Dolls, 1967.
- Beryl Reid, The Killing of Sister George, 1968. Now the West End stage stars were filming their roles.
- Geraldine Page, Whatever Happened To Aunt Alice? 1969. Although (or because of?) lacking Bette, the third opus was more hilarious than Baby Jane and Sweet Charlotte.
- Mae West, Myra Breckinridge, 1969. Bette Davis' eyes were contemptuous of the Gore Vidal book, the Fox offer and the role of agent Letitia Van Allen. Looking like a Loony Tune of herself at a possible 76, Mae (who had not filmed for 26 years and insisted she never played anyone over 26!!!) filled in - after insisting on musical numbers, and Letitia being changed to Leticia. “For obvious reasons.”
- Alida Valli, Lisa and the Devil, Italy-West Germany-Spain, 1973. After the 1972 global triumph of Baron Blood, producer Alfredo Leone told Mario Bava the could direct whatever he wanted. He chose Lisa, a pet project for a decade - always with the dream of Davis playing The Countess. She passed to Valli and co-star Elke Sommer loved it all. Particularly Bava - “everything to me: father figure, lover figure.”
Lucille Ball, Mame, 1974.
“I wrote Darryl Zanuck and said I'd pay for my own test! Even bought a dress for it! But Lucille Ball has already been signed. I was offered the wonderful part of Mame's friend... I don't think Miss Ball wanted me.” In the 20s, they were pupils at John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School in New York, until Lucy was sent home for being “ too shy to be an actress.”
- Bea Arthur, Mame, 1974. And so Arthur (future star of TV’s Golden Girls) reprised her 1966 Tony Award-winning Broadway role… just to work with director Gene Saks, her husband. In 2008, she admitted the film was "a disaster." And then some...
- Katharine Hepburn, Rooster Cogburn, 1974. If well enough to reprise his Oscar-winning True Grit marshal, John Wayne wanted Ingrid Bergman as Eula Goodnight, no less. Producer Hal Wallis shortlisted Bette Davis, Maureen O’Hara, (of course!), Loretta Young. Plus true Brits Glenda Jackson, Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith. Then, Duke trying to avoid two wrinklies, suggested the less elderly Mary Tyler Moore. “We should talk to Bette Davis, too,” memoed associate producer Paul Nathan, “although she’d turn over the raft and beat the hell out of Wayne.” Raft? Well, the script by ex-Duke co-star Martha Hyer (Mrs Wallis, credited as Martin Julien) was a flagrant rehash of Hepburn’s African Queen. Exactly why (a) Hepburn won and (b) Davis passed. She’d always wanted to play Rose Sayer, but Euolal was no Rose. The scenario was as pathetic as director Stuart Miller. It was his second feature. The “6ft 6ins somafabitch no-talent, ” as Duke termed him, never made a third.
- Gloria Swanson, Killer Bees, TV, 1974. Swanson's sole tele-film after an "absolutely terrified" Davis called director Curtis Harrington: "I can't, I won't do it. I go into shock if I'm stung by a bee and my doctor has warned me I could be killed if I get stung." As if any bee would dare touch The Queen Bee!
- Marian Waldman, Black Christmas, Canada, 1975. First choice for the comic relief - an alcoholic house mother hiding booze in the toilets of director Bob Clark's campus terrorised by psychopathic killings.
- Faye Dunaway, The Disappearance of Aimee, 1976. Bette's plans to film the 1926 story was thwarted in the 40s by the Production Code, making it impossible to depict how evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson's six-week disappearance was not any kidnapping but trysting with a married lover. Thirty years on, she played Aimee's mother in the NBC tele-film and hated Dunaway almost as much as the star they had both played - Joan Crawford.
- Barbara Stanwyck, The Thorn Birds, 1983. The 1980 movie plan turned into a ten-hour mini-series. Yawn! Orson Welles also yawned about Davis. “I never could stand looking at Bette Davis, so I don't want to see her act.”
- Shirley MacLaine, Steel Magnolias, 1988. Davis caught the off-Broadway play – all gossipy one-liners at a Louisiana beauty parlour - and immediately tried setting up a movie. She would be Ouiser Boudreaux, of course, with Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor as Claire and Truvy. Producer Ray Stark had other (and younger) plans..
- Patricia Arquette, Ethan Frome, 1993. "The fourth Warner brother" suggested to the studio in 1947 that Bette should play Mattie opposite Gary Cooper or Gregory Peck. Jack Warner told her he "hated costume stuff," hiding the (obvious) fact she was simply too old at 39, and looking it, after giving birth to her daughter, BD Sherry.