Richard Arlen

  1. Joe Penner, College Rhythm, 1933.    Bit of a switch from dour Arlen to the radio comic Penner, famous for a variety of catchphrases: “You nasty man,” “Don’t do that” and, above all, “Wanna buy a duck?” He made 22 more comedies (mostly shorts) and died from a heart attack at a mere 36.
  2. Chester Morris, The Gay Bride, 1934.   MGM first planned a Red Dust reunion of Gable and Jean Harlow for this fast-moving comedy about a gold-digger widow and a bodyguard. When Gable quit – the script was shredded by the new Production Code – potential successors included Arlen, Ricardo Cortez, Russell Hardie, Lyle Talbot. Finally, the couple was Morris and Carole Lombard… who wed Gable in 1939.
  3. Richard Cromwell, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 1935.  Change of Richard for  Lieutenant Donald Stone in the  Boys’  Own Paper style  adventures of three British army officers   (led  by the exceedingly British Gary Cooper!) on India’s Northwest frontier.   Arlen plus Doug Fairbanks Jr and Henry Wilcoxon formed dir4ector Henry Hathaway’s first frontal attack.
  4. Bud Abbott, Buck Privates, 1940.  

    Who’s on  first, indeed? Abbott & Costello were nearly Arlen & Devine…   a couple of Western  character actors (370 screen roles between them) rather than a proven comedy duo. But Dick & Andy  were chosen  wfor  Universal’s military conscription comedy. (Think Ben Johnson and Jack Elam as Martin & Lewis!).  Then, one suit had the bright notion of building the film around Bud & Lou’s famous Army drill routine – 2 1/2 minutes in the script, but five minutes on screen because of their ad-libbing. Most of their work was improvised. (Legend insists that the Japan showed the sketch to its soldiers prove how stupid the US army was!)  Because of the duo’s debut flop, One Night in the Tropics, this one had a B-budget of $180,000 and  a 20-day shoot on existing sets.  It made $4m! Therefore, their next release, Hold That Ghost, was shoved aside for In the Navy, just as Ride ‘Em, Cowboy was delayed to complete the conscript capers with Keep ‘Em Flying. No wonder comic Milton Berle quipped in 1941: “Things are slow in Hollywood. Abbott & Costello haven’t made a picture all day.” (In 1954, when Costello was too ill for Fireman, Save My Child, the duo was substituted by another unlikely coupling: Hugh O’Brian & Buddy Hackett).

  5. Brian Donlevy, Wake Island, 1942.     Arlen, Richard Denning and B-cowboy star Buck Jones suddenly became Brian Donlevy, Robert Preston and Macdonald Carey in director John Farrow’s brutally unvarnished rendition of US Marines gallantly losing their Pacific isle garrison in the two weeks after Pearl Harbour in December 1941.
  6. John Harvey, Pin Up Girl, 1943.      It was a Fox film. It was made during WWII.  So who else could the title role  go to but the US forces’ favourite  pin-up. (It even made full  use of her most famous cheesecake shot).  So who cared who played the guy… Arlen, Harvey, Don Ameche or James Engler. Nobody was watching the guys. 

 Birth year: 1898Death year: 1976Other name: Casting Calls:  6