- Van Heflin, The Strange Love of MarthaIvers, 1945. Lauren Bacall recommended him for his debut.He tested for the secondary part of Barbara Stanwyck's lush of a husband. He beat four others (Montgomery Clift, Richard Widmark, included) and was picked up by Van Heflin in a limo on the first day of shooting."Wow! They must reallythink I'm something."No, there wasa strike picket line at the studio, only way inwas inlimo guarded by studio police.
- Robert Mitchum, Pursued, 1947. A Tale of Two Clefts.. Warner’s chief,Jack Warnerrejected Douglas because of the cleft in his chin! Presumably, Warner approved Mitchum because of the cleft in his chin. The two later co-clefted in Out of the Past but were never close. Due to his endless anecdotes, Kirk saw Bob asa bullshit artist. And for Bob, Kirk was the epitome of movie star arrogance and pomposity.
- Gregory Peck, The Great Sinner, 1948. Oh dear… "The story is inspired by the work of a great writer, a gambler himself, who played for his life and won immortality." And that is the sole demi-credit for the adapted novella The Gambler by the un-named Dostoevsky. Douglas passed and took $15,000 ("deferred, yet!") for the lowly Champion, with an unknown team. Producer Stanley Kramer is nobody, Kirk was told, he used to be a studio errand boy. "So what," said Kirk, "I used to be a waiter." Douglas won an Oscar nomination. Sinner was such a flop that German director Robert Siodmak refused to admit that he had actually made it.
- Dan Duryea, Too Late For Tears, 1948. Producer Hal Wallis refused to loan Douglas as the heavy - slapping the bejabbers out of Lizabeth Scott. Even on the poster!
- James Mason, Caught, 1948. The Los Angeles Times reported in June that Douglas was a "likely" candidate for Robert Ryan’s rôle, Smith Ohlrig. Wrong… Ohlrig went to Robert Ryan. Douglas was, in fact, announced to play Larry Quinada, before it became Mason’s Hollywood debut as the husband that Barbara Bel Geddes knew so little about…
- Robert Ryan, Caught, 1948. Douglas was also offered the sadistic tycoon character – based on the tales German director Max Ophüls told writer Arthur Laurents about Howard Hughes, when they made a disaster called Vendetta, That began in 1946 but was only released (escaped, more like) in 1950, after non-stop inteference from the billionaire producer, using up five directors (Ophüls, Preston Sturges, even actor Mel Ferrer, etc) and an unheard of $4m. Hughes OKed Ryan (as, basically, Hughes) and watched his rushes with relish
- James Mason, The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel, 1951. “The title role will be offered to Kirk Douglas,” reported The The New York Times, February 15, 1950. Mason made it his own - and reprised the WWI German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in a second Fox film, The Desert Rats, 1953. The first film has the worst screen Hitler -Luther Adler was so Jewish, he almost said already...
- Gary Cooper, High Noon, 1951. Carl Forman created Sheriff Will Kane for Fonda - passed over by the suits on being grey-listed for his politics. “Not for me,” said Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Charlton Heston, John Wayne… Gregory Peck found it too similar to his previous Gunfighter(!). And Kirk came thisclose to playing Sheriff Will Kane with Lola Albright as the missus. Cooper was keener. He even cut his fee to wear the tin star - and win the Oscar on March 19, 1953.
- Charlton Heston, The Greatest Show on Earth, 1951. Three years after the Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick threw in the towel, CB DeMille began his old dream of a circus thriller (inspiring a six-year-old Phoenix kid named Spielberg to make movies). CB invited Douglas to be his trail boss - er, circus manager. Or…
- Cornel Wilde, The Greatest Show on Earth, 1951. …the trapeze star, also offered to his great rival, Burt Lancaster. They both passed and then made their own big top numbers: Douglas in The Story of Three Loves, 1952, and Lancaster flying high on his Trapeze, 1955.
- Fred MacMurray, The Moonlighter, 1952. One reunion for another… When Warners could not obtain the Ruby Gentry star and her director, King Vidor, it settled for Double Indemnity’s Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Douglas and Alan Ladd had been in the frame. Cowboys stars Gene Autry and Roy Corrigan did much better - their ranches in Placerita Canyon and Simi Valley were chosen as locations.
- William Holden, Stalag 17, 1953. "I'd seen the play... lots of weaknesses. I didn't realise what Billy Wilder would do with the movie. Bill Holden won an Oscar. I was dumb." Particularly as he has just finished Ace in the Hole with the maestro. Holden’s Oscar speech was the shortest in Academy history: "Thank you."
- Michael Wilding, The Egyptian, 1953. Douglas didn’t do supporting roles… ! While shopping at the MGM Store after Marlon Brando split for his New York shrink’s couch, head Fox Darryl Zanuck borrowed a listless Edmund Purdom for the court physician Sinuhe - and picked up Wilding in the same bargain basement for Egypt’s pharaoh Akhnaton. MGM must have been surprised that anyone would be interested in either contract player.
- Marlon Brando, Guys and Dolls, 1955. Producer Samuel Goldwyn was like Robert Redford at the end of The Candidate. He’d won... but what now?He offeredSky Masterson to every guy he knew: Kirk, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Gene Kelly, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum!!ThenCary called his one-time lover Marlon: “ I heard you don’t like Sinatra. Take the role just to piss him off.”“It’s a deal!”Although "heavy-footed with high comedy," Brando insisted on $200,000 for 14 weeks. Sam Goldwyn also gave him a Ford Thunderbird. And the poster line: : Brando Sings!
- John Wayne, Blood Alley, 1955. Robert Mitchum was fired by William Wellman, director of his first big hit, The Story of GI Joe, 1945. “He’s my favourite actor,” said Wild Bill. “He was on dope, always walking about six inches off the ground. He punched... one of the drivers, knocked him into the bay, goddam nearly killed him.” Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and Gregory Peck were unavailable, Douglas was working. Burt Lancaster was “no dice” and Fred MacMurray “not big enough.” And so producer John Wayne sang the old song. “Aw, shucks, suppose I’ll have to do it.” Mitchum said only Louella Parsons told the true story. “And they killed her column. The transportation boss weighed 300 lbs. I was supposed to have picked him up and thrown him in the bay. No way.” The truth? “I think Duke Wayne was renegotiating his Warners contract... They agreed, provided he did one more film on his old contract. ‘Wal, we got that picture up at San Raphael.’ Duke [on his honeymoon] said: ‘No, Mitchum’s doing that.’ ‘Was!’ That was the end of that.”
- Humphrey Bogart, The Left Hand of God, 1955. At his dying RKO, Howard Hughes wanted Howard Hawks to direct the war movie with Douglas and a $1.5m budget. The paltry sumwas no problem but Hawks never wanted to work with Douglas again after The Big Sky, 1951. Didn’t help that he stole Hawks’ lover (and the film’s leading lady), Elizabeth Threatt, throughout the Wyoming location. (Edward Dmytryk directed Bogart).
- Rock Hudson, Giant, 1955.
- Frank Sinatra, Pal Joey, 1956. For an earlier version, it was going to be Pal Kirk with, maybe, Barbara Stanwyck as his sugar mommy. Joey was later changed from a dancer (Broadway’s Gene Kelly) to a singer (Sinatra), so what would Douglas have been? A bastard, said his foes.
- Tyrone Power, Witness For The Prosecution, 1956. Billy Wilder eventually agreed that his Ace in the Hole was “too hard boiled.” Besides, as Marlene Dietrich had a dual role, Kirk would have wanted to play the entire jury. Also in the mix: Glenn Ford, William Holden, Gene Kelly, Jack Lemmon, even Roger Moore… This was Ty Power’s final movie, he died on his next project, Solomon and Sheba, in 1958. (Douglas said of Marlene, an ex-lover: “If we had to invent the ideal woman... we would have to invent Marlene Dietrich.”)
- Tony Curtis, The Defiant Ones, 1957. About the two escaped chained convicts, Billy Wilder said: Brando wanted to play the black convict, Mitchum would refuse to be in any film “with a nigger” and Kirk Douglas wanted both roles… Disappointed with The Wild One, Brando never worked for Stanley Kramer again. Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and Frank Sinatra all refused to co-star with Sidney Poitier. So much for liberal Hollywood…
- Frank Sinatra, Pal Joey, 1957. For an earlier project, it was going to be Pal Kirk with, maybe, Barbara Stanwyck as his sugar mommy.
- John Wayne, Rio Bravo, 1958,
- Dean Martin, Rio Bravo, 1958.
- Jack Hawkins, The Two-Headed Spy, 1958. Douglas bought General AP Scotland’s autobiography, The London Cage, to play the (typically Hollywood exaggerated) tale of the UK undercover agent rising to the rank of General in Nazi Germany. John Ford agreed to direct in Germany but the 1952 plan ran out of steam. Andre de Toth made it with Hawkins.
- Anthony Franciosa, La maja desnuda/The Naked Maja, Italy, 1958. Two years earlier, Kirk has been Van Gogh, so he was obviously top choice for Goya - the very reason he passed.
- Yul Brynner, The Sound And The Fury, 1958. Brynner wore a wig. Didn’t help. The title came from Shakespeare’s er, Scottish play. And in full, that goes the same way as the film: “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
- Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur, 1959. Dumb again. After Marlon Brando refused, Kirk moved in, leaving "the one-note bad guy" of Messala to Stewart Granger, whose wife, Jean Simmons was also to be cast. Director William Wyler (of the original’s 1924 crew) also studied Italians Cesare Danova and Vittorio Gassman. Plus Montgomery Clift, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Van Johnson (no, really!), Burt Lancaster (why else was Kirk keen!) - and Edmund Purdom, who had picked up another epic dropped by Brando (and Douglas), The Egyptian, 1953. Douglas and Curtis went off to Bavaria to make their own epic, The Vikings (and another, Spartacus, 1959; with a nude Simmons). Judah Ben-Heston won his Oscar on April 4, 1960.
- Dirk Bogarde, The Angel Wore Red, 1961. One of Nunnally Johnson’s few zeros. Everyone seemed to know it would be - Montgomery Clift, Glenn Ford, Rock Hudson, Dean Martin, Paul Newman. Everyone except poor Bogarde!
- Arthur Kennedy, Lawrence of Arabia, 1961.
- Anthony Quinn, Barabba/Barabbas, Italy, 1961. Among US director Richard Fleischer’s early ideas for the Dino De Laurentiis production.
- Steve McQueen, The Great Escape, 1962. Richard Harris quit when the emphasis switched from British Commonwealth POWs to Burt Lancaster and Douglas, who finally became James Garner and Steve McQueen - when US prisoners were moved from Stalag Luft III seven months before the mass break- out on March 24, 1944. McQueen and Garner were already optioned to producer Walter Mirisch for $50,000 a piece while and Kirk cost more than $1m.
- Richard Burton, Cleopatra, 1962.
- Charlton Heston, The Fall of the Roman Empire, 1964. Producer Samuel Bronston offered $1.5m ("nobody had been offered that much"). For that price, he'd rather be Cortez conquering the Aztec empire in Montezuma. "They didn't want to do it. I couldn't understand it. I had a much better script."
- Burt Lancaster, Seven Days In May, 1964. The way director John Frankenheimer saw it, Paul Newman would prevent Kirk’s military coup. The way Douglas saw it, he would save America (in his usual lifts) from a villainous Lancaster - “we work well together.” Frankenheimer balked at Lancaster after a painful two films together, but gave in.
- Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou, 1965.
"My agent badgered and badgered me out of it! A perfect part for me. A star - a so-called star - should've played it. You have the image going for you. You're wearing this black suit, then you struggle, you're over the hill - but the audience has in their minds the image of the perfect gunfighter... Lee Marvin won an Oscar. I'm not so smart!" “Lee was the seventh guy after six turned it down: Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, a whole list,” reported Dan Gurler from the office of Marvin’s agent Meyer Mishkin. (Mishkin had also discovered Douglas). “He worked it for $30,000, something like that.” Director Elliot Silverstein was “concerned that Kirk Douglas, as a major star, would not feel comfortable doing some of the crazy things I was going to ask the actor playing Kid Sheleen to do.” Watching Marvin falling off his motor-cycle in The Wild One once upon a Late Show settled it. He called his producer Harold Hecht: “I’d like you to try and get Lee. You got to try to persuade him.” He did and Marvin won the support Oscar on April 18, 1966. Earlier he had told co-star Jane Fonda: “The only reason we’e in the movie is that we’re under contract and they can get us cheap.”
- James Mason, Lord Jim, 1965. Both arch rivals - Kirk and Burt Lancaster - wrote to auteur Richard Brooks about playing Gentleman Brown. Neither one fitted Brooks’ vision.
- John Wayne, The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965. Dated back to 1955 when Hal Wall is wanted John Sturgis directing Burt Lancaster … now everyone from Charlton Heston to James Stewart were up for John Elder until Duke galloped in for $600,000, a third of the profits and and one-third ownership of the negative. With a month to go to the starting date, Duke told his producer son, Mike, and director Henry Hathway about the golf-ball-sized tumour in his left lung. “I’m gonna have the lung removed… tomorrow morning. Of course you’ll wanna recast - I suggest Kirk Douglas.” Hathaway had survived colon cancer and gave advice. “You’re gonna be as sore as hell” - surgery is no piece of cake, expect to be tired and expect the recovery to take longer than you think. Wayne was operated on September 17, 1964 on for six hours – and a second time, after edema set in. Producer Hal Wallis refused to recast. They would wait. Duke showed up for work on January 6, 1965.
- Stuart Whitman, The Sands of the Kalahari, 1965. Connected with the Stanley Baker production opposite Carroll Baker in 1964.
- Oskar Werner, Fahrenheit 451, 1966.
Producer Lewis Allen took over the project of French realisateur François Truffaut and ran through the Hollywood A List for the top role of fireman Montag. Truffaut had his Euro List and preferred Paul Newman. "He's tres beau particularly when shot in colour and I prefer him to all the box-office stars: Hudson, Peck, Heston, Brando, Lancaster..." (Kirk lost another Ray Bradbury story in 1983). When feeling Ray Bradbury’s story was too important to be shot in English(!), the réalisateur tried his past and future stars, Charles Aznavour, Jean-Paul Belmondo - and Oskar Werner as Montag’s boss. Allen quickly suggested Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift or Sterling Hayden. Producer Sam Spiegel tried muscling in by promising Richard Burton… bossing Redford and loving Elizabeth Taylor! Getting desperate, Truffaut made the mistake of his life by giving the fireman to Werner (originally booked for the fire chief). Any of the others asleep would have been better! The Austrian’s head had been turned by Hollywood since his (and Truffaut’s) Jules et Jim triumph. Werner argued constantly over (his dull) interpretation, refused one “dangerous” scene (as if a fireman would not have to deal with fire) and even cut his hair to ruin continuity. If not for the six years of planning, Truffaut would have walked. Instead, he simply truncated Werner’s later scenes - and used a double, John Ketteringham, in most of them! (Douglas would lose anotherRay Bradbury story in 1983).
- Rock Hudson, Seconds, 1966. Douglas held the rights to David Ely's novel about a corporation giving second chances to jaded, middle- aged businessmen - a new face, a new life. (Science fiction then, now run of the mill in witness protection programmes). Directing wizard John Frankenheimer felt there was a definite Oscar nod if Kirk played both the before and after Tony Wilson. Even with such a carrot, he proved too busy.
- John Randolph, Seconds, 1966. Hudson tested in both roles, but could manage only to be the new face of John Randolph, while Kirk was in Norway shooting The Heroes of Telemark with his young son, Michael, as an on-set "gofer." And I have to confess, I never even noticed him, during my visit to the location. Doh!
- Jason Robards, C'era una volta il West (UK/US: Once Upon A Time in the West), Italy-US, 1968. Douglas was a fan of the first Dollars and forever tried to get Sergio Leone to helm one of his productions. No? OK. I wanna play Cheyenne.”Leone simply refused: that’s for Robards.“And Kirkmade a gesture signalling his admiration for Jason.” Leone was worried whenRobards turnedup dead drunk for their initial meet. His agent begged a second chance. “OK, but if’s he pissed again, he’s gone!” Robards promised to do his drinking at night and was never incapacitated on-set.
- Jason Robards Jr, Hour of the Gun, 1966. The Western began where director John Sturges had left it a decade earlier in Gunfight At The OK Corral. So obviously it was a good plan to try and get Burt and Kirk back together again. No way!
- Rod Steiger, The Ilustrated Man, 1968. In his prime, Douglas bought the movie rights to this Ray Bradbury tale (or, indeed, tales), plus his Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Martian Chronicles. And. Never. Made. Any. Of. Them. Go figure!
- Anthony Quinn, Across 110th Street, 1971. His famous friends were all doing it, so why not him? So, Quinn was going to sit this one out. And simply produce the blacks v Mafia thriller, bloody enough for Scorsese or Tarantino. Harlem, however, disliked his ideas - Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr, Sidney Poitier, even Douglas, Burt Lancaster or John Wayne as the top cop. Too Hollywood! Not street enough! Quinn switched invites to Paul Benjamin, Antonio Fargas, Yaphet Kotto and took over Captain Mattelli, himself. So much for relaxing…
- John Wayne, Rooster Cogburn, 1974. The idea was fair - a sequel to True Grit. But if Wayne proved too ill, what would be the point of someone else in his titular Oscar-winning rôle? Marlon Brando topped producer Hal Wallis’ eye-patch list of Charles Bronson, Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, George C Scott and some of Duke’s old co-stars: Douglas, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn. This was director Stuart Miller’s second feature. The “6ft 6ins somafabitch no-talent, ” as Duke termed him, never made a third.
- Peter O'Toole, Man of La Mancha, 1974. Kirk offered to pay $1m towards the rights with Paramount chief Charles Bludhorn. Hissafest investment, Douglas felt."After all, he owned the studio.We went to see the play.Charlie decided not to do it.Endof that project."
- Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, 1974.
- Michael Caine,The Man Who Would Be King, 1975.
- Klaus Kinski, Le chanson de Roland, France, 1978. Set for the 1968 version of the veteran French realisateur Jean Delannoy.
- Donald Pleasence, Halloween, 1978. The Hitchcock fan auteur John Carpenter searched high and low for his shrink, Dr Sam Loomis: Peter O’Toole and the Hammer horrors, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee versus Charles Napier, Lawrence Tierney, Abe Vigoda. The $300,00 shoestring budget couldn’t afford any of them! Same for the kinda obvious Lloyd Bridges, David Carradine, Kirk Douglas, Steven Hill, Walter Matthau… and such off-the-wall surprises as John Belushi, Mel Brooks, Yul Brynner, Edward Bunker, Sterling Hayden, Dennis Hopper, Kris Kristofferson… and Dick’s brother, Jerry Van Dyke. Loomis, incidentally was named after John Gavin’s character in Psycho; his screen lover was Janet Leigh, mother of Carpenter’s heroine, Jamie Lee Curtis. So it flows.
- Rex Harrison, Ashanti, 1978. Michael Caine confessed he made the modern slavery drama for the money. Nothing wrong with that; an actor never knows when (or if) any next job is coming from. However, Douglas, James Coburn, Steve McQueen, Telly Savalas refused Swiss producer Georges-Alain Vuille’s funds - to their credit.Rex Harrison, Ashanti, 1978. Michael Caine confessed he made the modern slavery drama for the money. Nothing wrong with that; an actor never knows when (or if) any next job is coming from. However, Douglas, James Coburn, Steve McQueen, Telly Savalas refused Swiss producer Georges-Alain Vuille’s funds - to their credit.
- Richard Crenna, First Blood (aka Rambo), 1982.
- Jonathan Pryce, Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1983. Another Ray Bradbury story this way went! Before his son, Peter, produced it at Disney, he arranged for Kirk to star and produce."I kept waiting - a year - but Spielberg would never give me a start date." Nor didhis otherdirector choice: David Lean.
- Armin Mueller-Stahl, Music Box, 1989. Very keen- but rejected by Costa-Gavras ( “I turned down Spartacus!”)for the old Hungarian modelled on scripter Joe Eszterhas’s father, who was similarly accused of war crimesafter the movie.
- Richard Harris, WrestlingErnestHemingway, 1994.Both veterans tested...
- David Kelly, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2004. Tim Burton looked at a dozen possible Grandpa Joes. Kirk’s Spartacus co-star, Peter Ustinov, died before replying to Tim’s offer. Also considered: Douglas, Albert Finney, Richard Griffiths, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Lloyd, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Paul Newman, Max von Sydow, Eli Wallach, David Warner. Burton finally gave the role to Kelly (“in three minutes,” said Kelly) on running into him at Pinewood studios for a costume fitting for another film.