Robert Cummings

  1. Ronald Reagan, Knute Rockne All American, 1939.     “Win one for The Gipper” is one of the lines in US cinema. And, good grief, Ronnie Reagan made it happen! Trying to rev up a fast imploding career (he was always the hero’s best pal), Reagan suggested that Jack Warner should film the story of Knute,  the legendary Notre Dame football coach. “And I could play George Gipp.” You’re too small to play George Gipp.  Reagan promptly produced an old photo of him playing college football – he was actually bigger than Gipp.  Bye bye Cummings, William Holden, Dennis Morgan, Robert Young.  Oh,  and John Wayne.. And  by the way… Bob Cummings’ Godfather taught him to fly – Orville Wright.  
  2. Vincent Price, The House of the Seven Gables, 1939.   Cummings fell ill and Price was rushed in to be Clifford, brother to George Sanders as Jaffrey (yes, Jaffrey) Pynchon.   Price was another Pynchon, Gerald, in one of the three Nathaniel Hawthorne short stories forming Twice Told Tales, 1963.
  3. Victor Mature, Song of the Islands,  1941.      Once Joan Davis and Alice Faye were bypassed (in ’37 and ’38), it was always going to be Betty Grable as Eileen.  But who for her Irish beau on the tropical isle of Ahmi-Oni? Cummings, Don Ameche, John Payne – or Mature, the new kid on the Fox block, who  looked and sounded as Irish as Cheetah.
  4. Pat O’Brien, Broadway, 1942.  George Raft kept refusing  scripts for films that never happened (Tango, Marriage of Inconvenience, etc). But he could hardly flee from playing… himself!  In a heavily expurgated version of his speakeasy days as dancer, fighter, lothario and best friend of New York hoodlums.   Cummings was nearly the cop until the older, comfier O’Brien proved available.
  5. Richard Quine, We’ve Never Been Licked, 1943.        Yeah, I know, but a  better title than… Texas Aggies.  The future director (The World of Suzie Wong, How To Murder Your Wife, etc) was called up for one of his 30 acting roles to replace  Cummings whose Civil Air Patrol duty prevented him leaving Southern California for Texas locations.
  6. Robert Young, And Baby Makes Three, 1948.      The pitch: a woman about to wed her lover finds she is pregnant by her ex-husband… Yeah, well, that probably explains why Cummings passed.   Unless it was because Henry Levin was directing.
  7. Gary Merrill, All About Eve, 1950.
  8. Dirk Bogarde, Penny Princess, 1952.  There is no comment on  record  from Cary Grant  about refusing this cheese salesman (!)  in the empty UK “comedy” writer-directed by the usually much better Val Guest.  Doubtless Cary   – or Guest’s other lofty targets: Montgomery Clift, Robert Cummings, William Holden and Frank Sinatra    – would have agreed with Bogarde’s summation:  “As funny as a baby’s coffin.”
  9. Robert Stack, The High and the Mighty, 1953.     All aboard the flying Grand Hotel – a DC-4 piloted by John Wayne 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. Director Wild Bill Wellman told his producer – John Wayne, no less – to dump co-pilot Cummings (who was a pilot) and accept Stack from Duke’s production The Bullfighter and the Lady. Duke gave in. He also, amazingly, agreed to composer Dimitri Tiomkin, who had scored Wayne’s most hated, High Noon. Yet this ’53 score became so synonymous with Wayne, it was played at his 1979 funeral.


Actress Marie Windsor said Cummings was known for having a mark on his dressingroom door. “If a woman was taller than that,   she couldn’t get a job. Alan Ladd was the same way.”


 Birth year: 1908Death year: 1990Other name: Casting Calls:  9