Ronald Colman


  1. Richard Barthelmess, The Dawn Patrol, 1930.      Legendary director Howard Hawks asked screenwriter John Monk Saunders for an air story for Colman in 1929.   Howard Hughes lost a law suit claiming it was based on his 1930 Hell’s Angels.
  2. Clark  Gable,  Strange  Interlude, 1932.        Colman-Lillian Gish became Gable-Norma Shearer.
  3. John Gilbert, Queen Christina, 1933.      Having refused Colman and  Leslie Howard, Greta Garbo had Laurence Olivier fired after two weeks. “Inadequate.”  All part of her plan to give old lover John Gilbert a career boost, since dropping him in 1931 (from her bed – and Susan Lennox).  “That was nice of her,” said a Gilbert biographer Eve Golden in 2013.  “But it was not doing him any favors.  First of all, it was a bad role.   The production was a horror, and sending him back to MGM was the worst thing that could have happened.”  “An awful part,” said Olivier. “Jack Gilbert made the flop of his life in it.”
  4. Fredric March, Design for Living, 1933.       Ernst Lubitsch, Ben Hecht, Noel Coward – what a creative line-up!  (Well, actually the first two kept just one line from Coward’s play, “For the good of our immortal souls!”). Lubitsch wanted  Colman and Leslie Howard (or Douglas Fairbanks Jr), but  settled for March and Gary Cooper –  using his fluent  French in some scenes. 
  5. Franchot Tone, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 1934.  Gary Cooper was Lieutenant  Alan McGregor.  No question about that! But who should have second  billing as Lieutenant John Forsythe?   There were (at least) seven candidates…  Colman, Douglas  Fairbanks Jr (high-jacked by The Rise of Catherine the Great), Cary Grant (he headlined Gunga Din, a far better three Brit soldiers in India actioner in 1938; better writer, too – Rudyard Kipling!),  Philip Holmes,  Fredric March, Ray Milland and Henry Wilcoxon – involved, as always, with Cecil B DeMille’s latest endeavour, The Crusades. Henry was the English King Richard – his nickname for evermore.  
  6. Errol Flynn, Captain  Blood, 1935.   Robert Donat began  the film but  his asthma forced him to quit. Warner’s first thought was loaning Cary from Paramount. Although it hardly sounded part of his vocabulary, the always histrionic  director Michael Curtiz  protested that  Grant  was “too effete.”  Brian Aherne, Ronald Colman, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Fredric March were in/out/disinterested before  Errol was in like Flynn and became an overnight star.  (Alec Baldwin or Arnold Schwarzenegger  were due for  a re-make in 1994).
  7. Fredric  March, Anna Karenina, 1935.        Ego ruined director George  Cukor’s plan.  Despite who she was and having the title role,  Colman refused to give  top billing to Garbo.  She got  her way and director Clarence Brown.
  8. Donald Woods, A Tale of Two Cities, 1935.       “A dread of dual roles,”  said producer David O Selznick, was the reason why Colman refused  to play Charles Darney as well as the hero Sydney Carton.  “I am glad now that he held out for that,” said DOS, “because a great deal of the illusion of the picture might have been lost had Colman rescued Colman and had Colman gone to the guillotine so that Colman could go away with Lucy!” Colman had hated his dual role The Masquerader, 1932, but happily doubled up for DOS’ 1936 Prisoner of Zenda.

  9. William  Powell, My Man Godfrey, 1935.   Colman would have buttled superbly but Universal had its eye – and chequebook – on MGM’s Powell. And he scuppered the boats of Constance Bennett, 31, Marion Davies, 38 (!) and Miriam Hopkins, 33 – up for the teenage Irene – by insisting on his ex-wife, Carole Lombard!  Well, she was youngest on the list – at age 27.
  10. Cary Grant, Bringing Up Baby, 1937.  The Three Ms – Fredric March, Ray MIlland, Robert Montgomery – passed on paleontologist David Huxley. Likewise, Ronald Colman and Leslie Howard – who -preferred Alexander Korda’s production of Lawrence of Arabia, which never happened. Cary Grant wasn’t sure he  could  play an intellectual. “Hah,” said director Howard Hawks., “Cary was right on on from  the first day.  This was his kind of role and he  just took to it naturally..”  The trouble, he added, was Katharine Hepburn. Unlike Grant, she was not naturally funny.  Christopher Reeve said he based Clark Kent in his four Superman films on the Huxley role. Grant and Hawks made four more movies, the most Hawks  ever made  with the same actor.  
  11. Brian Aherne, Merrily We Live, 1937. Or Take It Easy, Love Without Reason and Dark Chapter when Coleman was seen for Wade Rawlins, latest in a long line of  ex-cons and bums “rescued”  – as servants – by a dizzy Constance Bennett.  She, like Billie Burke and Alan Mowbray’s stuffy butler number, had been in the previous comedy hit of director Norman Z McLeod.  The Z was for Zenos.
  12. Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Gunga Din, 1938.  “From the pages if history and the pen of Rudyard Kipling…”  The always nervous Grant persuaded producer Pando Berman to let him swop roles with Douglas Fairbanks Jnr and play Cutter. OK, said Berman, And the ex-Archibald Leach renamed him Archibald Cutter. In 1936, Berman had first attempted the tale  with Ronald Colman (or Robert Donat) and Spencer Tracy. In 1937, he wanted Ray Milland and Franchot Tone. By the 60s, Cannon Films’ Go Go Boys – Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus – sought Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Roger Moore for a re-make.
  13. Tyrone Power, The Rains Came, 1938.       Marlene Dietrich and Colman  became  Myrna Loy  and Power for the Fox melo set in a Hollywood version of India – ie California’s Balboa Park. All poor Power had to show for it was the first Worst Actor Award from the Harvard Lampoon. 

  14. Edward  G  Robinson, The Amazing Dr  Clitterhouse, 1938.   Thinking Edward G’s gangster image hardly suited a  shrink joining a gang  (to study the  criminal  mind),  Jack  Warner  mused upon almost everyone from Cary Grant…   to Bette Davis.
  15. Clark Gable, Gone With The Wind, 1938.
  16. Laurence Olivier, Wuthering Heights, 1938.
  17. Laurence Olivier, Rebecca, 1939.
  18. Cary Grant, Gunga Din, 1938.     Howard Hawks joined RKO in 1936 to make Lawrence of Arabia – with Colman as the desert hero.  When the project collapsed,  Hawks still chased him (for a fourth time) for the Kipling tale. Except Hawks lost that, too,  after the flop of his RKO debut,  Bringing Up Baby, 1937.  
  19. Orson Welles, Jane Eyre, 1943.      In April 1942, Hollywood Reporter announced that Colman was out  and Alan Marshal was testing as the new Mr Rochester.  In July, the choice was Walter Pidgeon. Then, GWTW producer David O  Selznick saw the light invited Welles to be the byronic Mr Rochester. By November,  DOS had sold it all  to 20th Century-Fox.  Plus Claudia and Keys of the Kingdom.
  20. Alexander  Knox, Wilson, 1943.   Gary Cooper and Henry Fonda were considered for the White House – and then Ronald Colman and Walter Huston. AlexanderFinally, the Canadian Knox was finally elected as 28th US President Thomas Woodrow Wilson. (Minus any mention of him supporting the Ku Klux Klan). The result was such a major flop that its loving producer Darryl F Zanuck banned everyone talking to about his paean to the “pre-FDR.”      

  21. Alan Marshal, The White Cliffs of  Dover, 1943.       Not many movies, at MGM or elsewhere, were based on a poem… Colman  owned all rights to Alice Duer Miller’s work (“The white cliffs of Dover, I saw rising steeply/Out of the sea that once made her secure…”) and planned a 1940 film with Bette Davis –  for free, both of them – with all profits going to  the UK and US Red Cross.  Nobody saluted, so  he sold his rights to MGM film-maker Clarence Brown who selected  Marshall and Irene Dunne.
  22. Gregory Peck, The Paradine Case, 1946.       For the lawyer defending murder suspect Alida Valli, Alfred Hitchcock suggested Colman or Joseph Cotten. Producer David O Selznick preferred Shakesperians Maurice Evans or Laurence Olivier (or Alan Marshal, James Mason). They compromised, inexplicably, upon Mr Cardboard. “I don’t think Gregory Peck can properly represent an English lawyer,” Hitch warned.  True.  But to finish his Selznick contract and move on to a life of less interference, Hitch gave in.
  23. William Powell, Life With Father, 1946.     Warner Bros rejected Mary Pickford. “No one  knows her,”  screamed the suits, “she’s been retired for 13 years!” Yet, afterer musing on Colman and Fredric March, it was OK that Powell had been off-screen for the nine years since the tragically early death of his lover, Jean Harlow. 
  24. David Niven, The Other Love,  1947.        Change of medico for Barbara Stanwyck’s seriously ill concert pianist.
  25. Larry Keating, When Worlds Collide, 1950.  Wandering star Bellus is is on a collision course with earth…  Unusually, the initial  script (by Jack Moffitt)  came complete with a cast list. Producer George Paul rewrote both.  Moffitt’s choices were too pricey: Colman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Susan Hayward. 
  26. Robert Newton, The High and the Mighty, 1953.       When he explained to the media in 1953 that he’d be producing four films a year and starring in one or two, he said he was putting James Arness under contract – and Colman into the air-disaster movie. Only Arness made the Batjac payroll.

  27. Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1956.   
    When  producer Sam Spiegel suggested making contact again with Guinness, director David Lean  replied: “I’d been under the illusion that you were lining up Ronald Colman for Nicholson. I always thought [Ralph] Richardson was the next best to Charlie [Laughton]. Alec Guinness,  I am still against in that I don’t think he will give us  the ‘size’ that we need.”  Next on the list: Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Gielgud, Cary Grant, James Mason, Ray Milland, Laurence Olivier, Eric Portman, Anthony Quayle, Ralph Richardson – and Spencer Tracy, who bluntly  told Spiegel that the mad Colonel had to be an Englishman. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch a stiff-upper-lip British colonel for two and a half hours,” said Guinness. Spiegel took him to dinner. “He was very persuasive.” Of course, he was. In the 50s/60s,  to “Spiegel” was  LA slang meaning to cajole, manipulate or con. That’s how producer Spiegel won his deals, casts, women – and Guinness.   “I started out maintaining that I wouldn’t play the role and by the end of the evening, we were discussing what kind of wig I would wear.” 

  28. Yul Brynner, The Brothers Karamazov, 1958.       Producer Samuel Goldwyn named him to co-star in the 30s’ Hollywood debut of Anna Sten, star of the German  version, 1929.   After  a two-year  English language course, she was to be Sam’s Garbo. Instead, she became a much ridiculed Nana, due to its emasculation of  Zola and her own poor English.  She was no Garbo, nor Dietrich,  more of  a Tara Birell or Gwili Andre. And who among us remembers who the hell  they were?
  29. Anthony Perkins, Green Mansions, 1958.      A stop-go project since 1933 at RKO. A decade later, press agent turned producer James B. Cassidy won the rights. He planned an unknown for Rima, the jungle sprite (up for Pier Angeli, Leslie Caron, Dolores Del Rio, Yma Sumac, Elizabeth Taylor and finally Audrey Hepburn over the years) and Colman or Fredric March as the Abel in her thrall.
  30. Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia, 1961.










 Birth year: 1891Death year: 1958Other name: Casting Calls:  29