Paul Muni

  1. Bela Lugosi, Dracula, 1930.   Lon Chaney was dead before the script was ready.  Conrad Veidt was first choice to succeed him. Muni refused to be third.  Also in the vampire mix: John Carradine, William Courtenay, Ian Keith. Enter: Broadway’s  Dracula (during a legendary 1927-1930 run). He refused to be Frankenstein’s monster the following year. Enter: Boris Karloff. Bye bye Bela! That’s the way it goes in Film City…
  2. Ralph Bellamy, Forbidden, 1931. Muni was director Frank Capra’s first choice to co-star with Barbara Stanwyck (after settling her Columbia pay dispute) and  Adolphe Menjou. Bellamy was loaned by Fox. And Production Code chief Joseph Breen complained the film “was basically a glorification of adultery.”  Who’d a thunk it! 
  3. Charles Bickford, This Day And Age,  1932.    Although he called it “The FIRST Great Spectacle of Modern Times,” this is the forgotten  Cecil B DeMille film –  his only gangster talkie. (Close to his 1929 demi-talkie, The Godless Girl). CB wanted Muni as the LA crimelord but he  had a stage gig in Detroit. Or had read the script…  (the gangster was taken down by LA High School students, no less). Lionel Atwill, Walter Huston, Burgess Meredith and  Chester Morris also fled.  
  4. John Barrymore,  Counsellor at Law, 1932.  Muni was keen to reprise his workaholic lawyer from Broadway but his new Warner  deal didn’t fly over Universal airspace. Director William Wyler then chose Barrymore at the beginning of his end… Scenarist DeWitt Bodeen reported this was the first  time that Barrymore was seen to struggle memorising his lines. For one scene,  he went through 56 takes until director William Wyler called it off until the next day when he  got it right the first t ime.  On neither occasion he was plain  drunk.
  5. Wallace Beery, Viva Villa,  1933.  Clark Gable’s was the surprise name in the mix for the Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa – alongside the more expected Muni and Edward G Robinson.  Beery had been  Villa before in the 15-chapter silent  serial, Patria… in 1917. 
  6. Edward G Robinson,Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet,1940.      Edward G finally got a biopic away from Muni, obvious first choice for all Warner bios (Capone, Juarez, Pasteur, Zola). Except the Yiddish Art Theatre discovery refused to play Jews on-screen. (For a long while).
  7. Edward G Robinson, A Dispatch From  Reuters, 1940.      Another Jewish hero…  another Robinson capture.  Exiled US director Joseph Losey called Muni “exactly the kind of actor I can’t stand.  He listens to his own voice, only interested in his  character’s  look,  his movements, gestures and clothes.”

  8.  Humphrey Bogart, High Sierra, 1940.      
    Bogie cabled Hal Wallis
    :  YOU TOLD ME ONCE TO LET YOU KNOW WHEN I FOUND A PART I WANTED…    At Warners, Bogart wanted George Raft’s roles, Raft wanted Edward G Robinson’s and Robinson wanted Paul Muni’s. OK, said Bogart, fire Muni… He fired himself from playing Roy Mad Dog Earle by tearing up his $5,000 per week contract when head Brother Jack Warner reneged on making his pet Beethoven project. Anyway, said Muni, it does not have a message. “That,” said Ida Lupino,” is where the famous line, which Arthur Lyons is supposed to have said, came from: For a few bucks you can have Western Union deliver you one.” (Huston said Muni “didn’t have a very nimble intelligence”). Once Bogie (easily) persuaded Raft it was “not a film for you – they just want your name on the marquee” – Bogart won his dream project (having read the WR Burnett story before anyone at the studio). and soon toppled Muni as Warners’ #1 star.  Bliss!

  9. Edward G Robinson, The Sea Wolf, 1941.      Three in a row.  Muni said it was “rather a precarious proposition” to accept “a story based on a book whose screenplay will be so remote from the original that it may not even be recognisable.”
  10. Spencer Tracy, Tortilla Flat, 1941.     When John Steinbeck refused to adapt his novel for him in 1938, Muni lost interest at Warners – just like George Raft at Paramount in 1935.Steinebeck also refused to pen a script for Tracy unless he got “a lot of money and the right to work somewhere but Hollywood.”
  11. Glenn Ford, The Big Heat, 1953.     Producer Jerry Wald first thought of  going against type and selecting a famous baddy – Muni, George Raft or Edward G Robinson – as the tough cop Dave BannionDirector Fritz Lang had other ideas. 
  12. Kirk Douglas, Lust For Life, 1956.       Even as late as 1945, Muni was still Jack Warner’s first choice for Van Gogh, Hollywood style. Muni only ever wantedtobe Beethoven in his inimitable plodding style – described by Juarez co-star Bette Davis as “sumberging himself so completely [in a role]that he disappeared.”



 Birth year: 1895Death year: 1967Other name: Casting Calls:  12