James Coburn


  1. Gregory Peck, Cape Fear, 1962.    The double John Sturges whammy of The Magnificent Sevenand The Great Escapefinally liberated  the toothy Nebraskan from the TVineyards (93 roles in five years!) and he found himself up for Peck’s  lawyer – in worse trouble than Atticus Finch ever experienced. 
  2. Clint Eastwood, Per un pugno di dollari/A Fistful of Dollars, Italy-Spain-Germany, 1964. 
  3. Jeffrey Hunter, Star Trek: #1 The Cage, TV, 1964. Given a six month contract, Hunter was the USS Enterpriseskipper Christopher Pike in the pilot but wanted more money for a second pilot in 1965, Where No Man Has Gone Before. Chief Trekkie Gene Roddenberry used footage from The Cagein a two-parter episode, #11 and 12: The Menagerie,in the 1966 first season after Desilu and NBC (not Roddenberry) selected William Shatner as the new Enterptrise captain, James Tiberius Kirk., himself.  
  4. Warren Oates, The Return of the Seven, 1965. Producer Walter Mirisch found it impossible to gather many – any!– of the original Seven,  “for reasons of increased salary demands or unavailability, or simply a desire not to repeat their previous roles.”
  5. Lee Van Cleef, Per qualche dollario in piu/For A Few Dollars More, Italy-Germany-Spain, 1965.
  6. Lee Van Cleef, Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo/The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Italy-Spain, 1966.
  7. Lee Van Cleef, La resa dei conti(The Showdown), Italy-Spain, 1966. He was refusing any spaghetti dish…  Director Sergio Sollima was more than happy with Sergio Leone’s resurrected Van Cleef as Colorado.  (And his stunt double Romano Puppo).
  8. David Niven, Eye of the Devil, 1966.   Pleased with Coburn in Americanisation of Emily, producer Martin Ransohoff,  announced him for this thriller in 1964.  Two years later, he was all booked up. So who do you get if you’ve lost the tough young Coburn -why,  the veteran Niven, of course!! Sharon Tate had a walk on – as Beaiutiful Girl.  But Ransohoff had not noticed her potential until her Bevely Hillbillies TV stint. He then “introduced” her in both Devil and Don’t Make Waves, and made her star in Dance Of The Vampires, Or Roman Polanski did. And then married her in 1968. Nineteen months later, the pregnant Sharon was murdered by the Charles Manson gang.
  9. Gary Lockwood, 2001 : A Space Odyssey, 1968.   Stanley Kubrick looked him over for astronaut Dr Frank Poole in the spiffing sf classic. Also in the frame:   Hugh O’Brien and two MGM contractees, George Hamilton and Rod Taylor.  It is Frank who first senses that HAL, the onboard supercomputer running the spacecraft, Discovery, is, falling apart. And he pays the price for it. (“The film should be shown in a temple 24 hours a day, seven  days a week “- John Lennon).
  10. Charles Bronson, C’era una voltail west/Once Upon A Time in the West,  Italy-US, 1968. “Every time Sergio made a film, he’d come see me – wherever I was. Never had anything on paper. It would  gel in  his mind  as  he told  it  – his brother-in-law translating.  I told him: “No, no, I don’t believe in this harmonica guy. I don’t believe in revenge.”  Telling an Italian that you don’t believe in revenge [laugh] is  like a slap in  the face…” Coburn finally came to heel for the ridiculously titled  Duck, You Sucker! 1971.They became a mutual admiration society. “Wonderful man, Sergio – like he was shooting a movie about making movies!” “Coburn was Clint ,” said Sergio. “With more humour.  I loved the way he threw his knife in The Magnificent Seven… and the way he walked.”

  11. Franco Nero, Il mercenario (US: The Mercenary),Italy-Spain, 1968. Any spaghetti Western! Even an Alberto Grimaldi tortilla Western production directed by t’other Sergio … Corbucci.   Promised a role based on his Our Man Flint, Jim wasn’t happy with Nero having top billing.
  12. Robert Redford, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, 1968.
  13. Elliott  Gould, M*A*S*H,  1969. Director Robert Altman  planned James Garner and Coburn. Or, Garner, certainly. Producer Ingo Preminger had seen The Dirty Dozenand preferred Donald Sutherland… who suggested Gould.
  14. Marlon Brando, Queimada/Burn!,1969  A great admirer of Battle of Algiers, 1966, Brando was keen on joining another Gillo Pontecorvo political trip. As usual, he took some courting, so much the director started talking to Coburn – who in turn talked to Brando about Pontecorvo. “I kinda like him,. He’s got those blue, sincere eyes, so I guess he must be sincere.” The more he talked,  the more Coburn realised Brando would do the film. He did and made life hell for Old  Sincere Blue Eyes. 
  15. Warren Oates, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, 1973.    Our hero Bennie – “He had to die,”insisted director Sam Peckinpah – was first offered to Coburn. He hated the script and wondered why on Mexican earth, Sam wanted to make it.  “Sam isa great filmmaker[and]  his own worst enemy.” Peter Falk was still shooting Columbo and so Oates flew to Chalco and based Bennie on… guess who.  Even borrowing Sam’s shades.
  16. Gregory Peck, The Omen, 1975.   Up again for a Peck part  – the  US amabassador in London  parenting The Antichrist – “It’s not a child! “-  in the surprise horror hit. 
  17. Rip Torn, The Man Who Fell to Earth, 1975.   He was was too highly-priced for such a modest production.  Would he also have displayed his willy like Torn did in some… er, torn… bed scenes with his students in the Nic Roeg classic.  
  18. OJ Simpson, The Cassandra Crossing, 1976. When he was still America’s favourite football player, OJ got his wish. “I’m not looking for parts that call for a black cat… or action parts with a lot of runnin’  around. The guys I want to be like are character actors.” Before playing this priest, OJ surprised his (first) wife by attending church with her every Sunday
  19. Jeff Cooper, The Silent Flute,1978.  Lost all interest in the mystical martial arts story he had created with pal Bruce Lee after the superstar’s shock death in 1973. And refused to watch the David Carradine version.
  20. William Holden, Ashanti, 1978.  First, Telly Savalas passed on the mercenary chopper pilot – not unlike his crop-duster pilot the previous year in Capricorn One.  Then, likewise, Coburn. Holden accepted the seventh billed cameo in the modern slavery drama  to get back to his beloved Africa and his Mount Kenya Safari Club. Co-star Michael Caine called it “the worst, most wretched film I ever made.”

  21. Rutger Hauer, The Osterman Weekend, 1982. His producers stopped Sam Peckinpah his favourites  – and insisted on the 16-year younger Dutchman. And so Sam’s s expected comeback proved his final disaster.
  22. Tony Curtis,  Othello, The Black Commando, 1982.  First time Iago got top billing. Coburn’s image remained on posters (of Cannon, who else?) even after Curtis took over in the Max H Boulois film.
  23. George Peppard, The A Team, TV,1983-1986.  First choice for the 98 episodes of Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith. Coburn made tele-films, and guested  in  series, but never searched for a series of his own.
  24. Charlton Heston, The Colbys, TV, 1985-1987.    Coburn, Burt Lancaster and  Gregory Peck were top choices to head up the Dynasty spin-off as billionaire patriarch Jason Colby. Fortunately, they passed because before Ben-Hur turned soap star, Heston had been contemplating running for senator!
  25. Gene Hackman, No Way Out, 1986.  For his excellent thriller (labyrinthine and ingenious, said Roger Ebert) the under-praised Aussie director Roger Donaldson tried all ages for the villain politico. From James Caan and Al Pacino at 46 to Gregory Peck at 70. Plus James Coburn, Sean Connery, James Cromwell, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Mitchum, Donald Moffat, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Jason Robards Donald Sutherland and Jon Voight.   Hackman was 56.
  26. Garry Marshall, A League of Their Own, 1991.   Long-time ball fan, director Penny Marshall had never heard of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1943-1954) until seeing a 1987 PBS documentary. She swiftly contacted the makers to join her Hollywood writers to use their title for a fictional comedy-drama version.  Penny staged baseball tests for about 2,000 actresses – if you can’t play ball, you can’t play the Rockford Peaches.  (Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Lori Petty were best). Also on the plate for the AAGPBL founder were James  Coburn, Paul Newman, Max Von Sydov (!) and the too expensive Christopher Walken. Garry Marshall is Penny’s brother;  she also cast his daughter, Kathleen Marshall, as ‘Mumbles’ Brockman, and her  own daughter Tracy Reiner as relief pitcher ‘Spaghetti’ Horn.
  27. James Woods, Hercules, 1996.The directors had no idea who should voice Hades.  “Why don’t you ask Jack?” suggested their Philoctetes, Danny Vito. Nicholson was keen. For his nomal fee – between $10m and $15m. Disney offered… $500,000.  Hence talks began with David Bowie, James Coburn, Willem Dafoe, Phil Hartman, Michael Ironside, Michael Keaton, Martin Landau, Broadway’s Terrence Mann, Ron Silver, Kevin Spacey and  Rod Steiger. Then, John Lithgow got the gig and recorded it all. Next thing he knew, Jimmy Woods was adlibbing Hades to glory with Robin Williams/Aladdin bravura.  And made it a growth industry with the TV series and  various video games. 
  28. Richard Farnsworth, The Straignt Story, 1998.  This tme both Coburn and Peck (plus John Hurt, Jack Lemmon) lost out on David Lynch’s moving  – and true – odyssey of Alvin Straight, who drove a John Deere lawn mower from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his dying brother.  “I was on a [walking] stick and my agent said: Guess what, this role has two sticks.” After a hip-replacement,  The Old Grey Foxwas unsure of his agility. Wierdo director David Lynch said  only three others were capable of the role: John Hurt, Jack Lemmon and Coburn –  an inspired choice as Jim was finally Oscar-nominated that year for playing his age in Affliction. 



 Birth year: 1928Death year: 2002Other name: Casting Calls:  28