Sir Alec Guinness


  1. Van Johnson, Brigadoon, 1953.   Guinness in an MGMusical…   And then replaced  by Van Johnson.  Oh, Hollywood !! That was the first Metro plan, after the UK Rank Organisation lost the rights battle.  The  (rather silly) stage hit about the Scottish Highlands  town that comes back to life for 24 hours  once a century became yet (a sillier)  project for Gene Kelly.   Plus Guinness and Kathryn Grayson. Their offers were transfered to Johnnson and  Cyd Charisse. She better legs than the film’s.
  2. Nigel Patrick, Raintree County, 1956.     Guinness and Arthur O’Connell were in the mix for roles opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.  Patrick, another polished Brit, took over  as Professor Jerusalem Webster Stiles, no less.  
  3. Jerry Lewis, Visit To A Small Planet, 1959.     Jerry Lewis??!!! Ina role offered to Guinness? Oh yes, Delphine, it happened.ProducerHal Wallis finally decided to make Gore Vidal’s tale of visiting alien Kreton without Guinness… or indeed, his anagram… genuine class.
  4. John Mills, Tunes of Glory, 1960.      “Initially, I’d been offered the John Mills character but I made the wild suggestion that I should play the hard-drinking, hard-swearing man. The impossible appeals to me more than the obvious.” He suggested Mills for the other officer.
  5. Jeffrey Hunter, King of Kings, 1960.  Pope John XXIII met producer Samuel Bronston and approved the script. – never knowing that scenarist Philip Yordan  saw Jesus as a cowboy…! “Christ was a loner. He’s not much different than my usual character. The Western character. It’s the same character. The man alone.” And, indeed, while Bronston looked over the English Cushing and Alec Guinness, Scottish Tom Fleming (BBC TV’s Jesus of Nazareth in ,1958). Australian Keith Michel, Canadian Christopher Plummer and even Swedish  Max Von Sydow (who became George Stevens’ Christ in 1964) , he signed Hunter, who.had made 16 Westerns, including two for  the guy who recommended him: John Ford. Despite being, at 35, closer to Christ’s age than per usual in Schmollywood epics, Jeff was soon found himself dubbed “I Was a Teenage Jesus”!

  6. Peter Sellers, The Millionairess, 1960.   
    Katharine Hepburn wanted Guinness as her co-star in a film of the George e Bernard Shaw play she playued in Londpon and on Broadway  in the early 50s.  Her Epifania was  the showier role.  “A cross,” said her bipgrapher Charles Higham, “between Katharina  in The Taming of the Shrew and Susan Vance in Bringing Up Baby… although it represented the less attractive side of her character -the bossy, overpowering, crotchety side.” Before she played the role on stage, GBS wanted her in a movie version. She did the stage version first.   The film idea cropped up anew in 1953. With permission from the GBS Estate to change only 20% of the play. “We had had one of the funniest scripts that was ever written. But we couldn’t sell it.  Preston [Sturgess] was over the hill, my career was in the trembles and people wouldn’t finance us… Certainly it was the greatest disappointment of my life.  I still read the script today; it’s just wonderful.  The failure of that project killed Preston. He died of neglect.”    (Much more 20% of the GBS text was changed for the successful Sophia and Peter Sellers version).

  7. David Niven, The Guns of Navarone, 1961.  Writer-producer Carl Foreman aimed high for  his Allied saboteurs in WWII Greece – starting with Cary Grant and Marlon Brando!  Plus Alec Guinness from Foreman’s Oscar-winning Bridge on the River Kwai scenario. The  other way-too-oldies for the mere Corporal John Anthony Miller (not even a sergeant!) were: Finchy, James Mason, John Mills, Kenneth More… even Dean Martin!  Navarone was the 1961 box-office champ., allowing Foreman  to direct his next one, The Victors, 1962.
  8. Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia, 1961.  
  9. Jack  Hawkins, Five Finger Exercise, 1961.    Apparently, one flop with Rosalind Russell – A Majority of One, 1961 – was enough.
  10. Karl(heinz) Boehm, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, 19612.     Asking MGM for Guinness and Peter Sellers, producer George Pal was given… Cinerama!
  11. Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins, 1963.  
    OK, chimney sweep Bert had to sing and dance it up. But he also had to be at home with a Cockney accent. Only a few US stars could manage that. Sadly, Van Dyke was not among them. Nor were Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Danny Kaye…UK author PL Travers didn’t like how books were Hollywoodised and took 25 years to accept Walt Disney’s plan for her governess. She then found the result “vulgar and disrespectful” – and, like most Brits, loathed Van Dyke’s Bert. But then she knew nothing about cinema, having suggested the august (and aged) Alec Guinness, Rex Harrison.  Even Laurence Olivier – To sweep, or not to sweep! Plus Richards Burton and Harris, Peters O’Toole and Sellers. (Only Sellers made sense). Disney wanted Stanley Holloway – busy reprising his My Fair Lady stage role. Loving the movie but feeling miscast, Van Dyke nominated Jim Dale (a Disney star in the 70s) and agreed with Travers about Ron Moody… who would have frightened not only the horses but the kids, as well.

  12. John Gielgud, Becket, 1963.  Director Peter Glenville managed to land Richard Burton  and Peter O’Toole for the screen version of the Jean Anouilh play. (A Broadway hit with Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn).  But Guinness was quick to duck the  role of French King  Louis CVII. “I didn’t believe in it as a film.”  That wasn’t Sir John’s concern; he just went, as per usual, with the financial flow. His two scenes led to an Oscar nomination.  Once shooting concluded, Hollywood’s Roger Corman  took over the sets for  his Masque of the Red Death!
  13. Richard Attenborough, Seance a Wet Afternoon, 1963.   Bryan Forbes (the UK’s sharpest writer-producer-director at the time) dallied with changing the novel’s couple – a clairvoyant and her weak husband – to a gay male couple. Courtenay was all in favour. Alec Guinness was not.  Well, he said he’d get back to Forbes about it. Never did. Attenborough and Kim Stanley made the chiller.
  14. John Huston, The Bible: In The Beginning…, US-Italy,  1964.    Huston   was busy enough – directing and narrating as the voice of God – when he asked Chaplin to play Noah. “He couldn’t conceive of being in someone else’s picture.” Guinness, the next choice, was obver booked and ultimatey, realising Noah required a familiarity with animals, Huston added the leader of the lost ark to his chores. So he was God talking to Noah and Noah talking to God.  No wonder Time magazinefamously compared the result to being swallowed by a whale. José Ferrer, The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1964.   Veteran director George Stevens offered a cameo. As Herod Antipas. Guinness was not buying. Not sure how true this is, could be the greatest story ever told.
  15. Peter Lawford, Harlow, 1964. Sir Alec understood trash when he read it…  He was offered, of all roles, Paul Bern, the second husband of Jean Harlow, who committed suicide  on becoming impotent. (Poor Lawford was suffering from the same problem).  Various Bern pals, such as director Henry Hathaway, had other version of the death.  However, one does not leave a note to a  wife, saying “this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation,” before being killed by (a) gangsters or (b) his common-law wife.
  16. José Ferrer, The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1964.   Another version of The Bible… Veteran director George Stevens offered a cameo. As Herod Antipas.  Guinness was not buying. Not sure how true this is, could be the greatest story ever told.
  17. Robert Morse, The Loved One, 1964.   “The motion picture with something to offend everyone…”  It would have been more so if Spanish legend Luis Buñuel had managed to  make it with Guinness in  the mid-1950s. American producer Martin Ransohoff took over the option in 1961  and signed the newly Oscared UK director Tony Richardson, hoping he’d bring his Tom Jones, Albert Finney, with him.  He did not.  And so, the mess began.  With five writers, seven scripts and the Brit poet hero of Evelyn Waugh’s 1948 satire of the American funeral homes busibes, went from Guinness at 50 to Richard Burton, and Peter Sellers at 39, to Alain Delon (!) and Finney, 29, to a Beatles mop-topped Morse at 33- chosen by the author Evelyn Waugh but incapable of a UK accent!  And no one thought Alan Bates, 28, would have been perfect!
  18. Hugh Griffth,  Poppies Are Also Flowers (aka The Poppy is Also a Flower), TV, 1965.  Werner was originally in the international-star-packed TV drama specia, (financed by the United Nations and the Xerox Corporation) about the UN work in curbing  the global flow of illegal opium.  Director Terence Young writer Ian Fleming  (the 007 creator , who died before completing his script) worked for free while all of the  international star line-up  got (from Marcello Mastroianni  and  Angie Dickinson to Rita Hayworth  and Harold Sakata (aka Oddjob), plus narrator Grace Kelly – her first film wok since becoming Princess Grace of Monaco in 1956)  were paid  a symbolic  $1 each. Guinness had been set for Salah Rahman Khan.
  19. Orson Welles, A Man For All Seasons, 1966.         First choice for Henry VIII’s Cardinal Wolsey versus two other first choices: Laurence Olivier and Peter O’Toole.
  20. Donald Pleasence, The Night of the Generals, France-UK, 1966. “Must be  seen to be disbelieved,” declared  Andrew Sarris in  The Village Voice.  The WWII  II whounnit  fell at the first fence – as if Nazis  would bother investigating Warsaw  and Paris sex-crimes by a “general.” (And such an obvious one). Producer Sam Spiegel rounded up a starry cast to bolster such silliness.  Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif weren’t keen but felt they owed him for Lawrence of Arabia. Guinness had been an unlikely choice for General Kahlenberge. Gore Vidal was among the scenarists. Didn’t help.

  21. Max von Sydow, Hawaii, 1966.        Director Fred Zinnemann’s choice when prepping the film eventually made by George Roy Hill. Both actors were perfect for the Reverend Abner Hale as it is difficult to say which is the more boring.
  22. Milo O’Shea, Ulysses, 1966.  “He could play Leopold Bloom so much better than I could,” said Alec Guinness about Peter Sellers.The theatrical knight was planning an earlier version of James Joyce’s 540,000 words of streaming consciousness-but only if Sellers joined him. Later, Wolf Mankowitz adapted the James Joyce classic for Sellers – his then pal and business partner – as Leopold Bloom, Diane Cilento as his wife, Molly, and Peter O’Toole as Stephen Dedalus in Dublin on June 16, 1904. Keeping the faith with the Joyce text, Barbara Jefford (as Molly) was the  first person to use the F word in a UK film – one reason, among the many why tjhe BBC demanded 29 cuts before  a tele-broadcast (director Joseph Strick refused))  and the Irish  censors reused to pass the film for release until the year 2000…!
  23. Rex Harrison, Doctor Dolittle, 1967.  Guinness, Peter Sellers, Jack Lemmon, Peter Ustinov  – none of them  singers, but then  nor was Harrison – were up for the top-hatted doctor who wished he could walk, talk, grunt, squeak and squawk with the animals. Harrison was so abusive to cast and crew (and anti-Semitic, said co-star Anthony Newley) that he was known as Tyrannosaurus Rex
  24. Maurice Evans, Planet of the Apes, 1967.
  25. James Mason, Mayerling, 1967.   For his re-make of Anatole Litvak’s 1936 version of the true and tragic love story of Austria’s Crown Prince Rudolf and Baroness Mary Vetsera,  007 director Terence Young tried to win Mel Ferrer, Marcello Mastroianni or Oskar Werner as his prince and Alec Guinness as Rudolf’s father, Emperor Franz Joseph I. In the end, Omar Shjarif became  Rudolf and Papa  was James Mason.
  26. Trevor Howard, Ryan’s Daughter, 1970.    Every film has a legend. You can believe this one. Or not. Robert Bolt composed a new take on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary for Sarah Miles – and Father Collins for Sir Alec. A devout Catholic, Guinness wrote  to director  David Lean, with a lengthy list of his objections to how the priest was  written and what he was doing. Lean wrote back: “Thank you for being so frank.” And telephoned Trevor Howard…  Both Brit stars  had worked with Lean since the 40s.
  27. Dirk Bogarde, Mort a Venezia/Death in Venice, Italy, 1971.     “I was far too young,” said Bogarde, “but Visconti was convinced.” Or he was after John Gielgud, Guinness, even Burt Lancaster, refused what became director Luchino Visconti’s (and Bogarde’s) wet-dream masterpiece.
  28. Trevor Howard, Ludwig, Italy-France-Germany, 1972.     One Hitler was also enough… and Luchino Visconti finished up with an ideal Wagner.
  29. Albert Finney, Murder on the Orient Express, 1973.  Agatha Christie’s favourite adaptation… Director Sidney Lumet – with final cut for the first time, following his Serpico triumph – said that like Dame Agatha, it was about nostalgia. He wanted Hollywood 30s’ glamour and once his mate, Sean Connery, agreed to be Colonel Arbuthnot, the rest rushed in. Lauren Bacall. Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave (who would play Agatha in 1977), Richard Widmark and Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, himself, instead of the otherwise engaged Alec Guinness and Paul Scofield – probably put off by the final tour-de-force whodunnit-speech of eight pages or 27 minutes and 57 seconds!  As Finney was in a West End play every night, he was collected each morning by an ambulance and the long make-up transformation into Poirot started inside and ended at Bray Studios… while he slept in his pajamas!
  30. Vladimir Antolek-Oresek, Lancelot de lac (US: Lancelot of the Lake), France-Italy, 1974.    Part of realisateur Robert Bresson’s plan for his scenario in 1965. Vladimir’s King Arthur in the mini-epic was his one and only screen role.

  31. Edward Fox, Soldaat van Oranje (Soldier of Orange), Holland-Belgium, 1977. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven needed a few Brits for his true WWII tale. Guinness and David Niven stepped away. They could have written this 1997 comment by the New York Times critic Janet Maslin. (Maybe fhey did!).  “The film’s two main English characters, an officer (Edward Fox) and his trampy, ridiculous assistant (Susan Penhaligon), are so weirdly caricatured that they may make a great comic impression on American viewers.”
  32. Trevor Howard, Meteor, 1979.      In the loop for Sir Michael Hughes in the last of the disaster movies (a $22m bummer) were: Howard, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen Peter Cushing, Michael Hordern, Gordon Jackson, John Mills, Kenneth More, Anthony Quayle… and four UK knights: Sirs John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, John Mills and Ralph Richardson. (Hordern was knighted in in 1983, Quayle in 1985).  
  33. John Gielgud, Arthur, 1980.      The studio wanted a US name. But brand new auteur Steve Gordon knew exactly who was perfect. Dudley More as the titular rich drunk man-child and Hobson, his butler, played by Gielgud, Guinness or David Niven. Gordon got his way, made a big hit, but never a second film – he died at 44 in 1982. Sir John won an Oscar. His real name was… Arthur.
  34. Michael Hordern, The Tempest, TV, 1980.       He quit after the producers disliked his idea of basing his Prospero upon the ageing Tolstoy. (Prospero was played by Helen Mirren in Julie Taymor’s 2010 version).

  35. Ben Kingsley, Gandhi, 1982.
    He has the saintliness required,” agreed director Richard Attenborough when trying to make the film… in 1963.  “He thinks he can only play Gandhi from the age of 35 onwards.” Probably because he was 39 when first asked – in 1953 by Gabriel Pascal, the only UK producer born in what was then Transylvania.  Next helmer, David Lean,  asked Alec after River Kwai.   “I’ll never be quite small enough, quite thin enough. You must have  an Indian, preferably a Hindu.” Lean had to abort his version of Gandhi’s life – and begin Lawrence of Arabia , with Guiness (replacing Laurence Olivier) as Prince Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi, future king of Syria and Iraq,  Glimpses of what  Sir Alec’s  Gandhi could have  been were visible when Alec  played an Indian  – superbly – in  Lean’s final film,  A Passage To India,  1984.  (The fifth Lean-Guinness collaboration during  1946-1983, after:  Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, The Bridge on the Rivcr Kwai, Doctor Zhivago). 
  36. Trevor Howard, Gandhi, 1982.   After passing on the Mahatma, Guinness was announced by Richard Attenboropugh for Judge Broomfield in 1980.  But…”  if we can’t get Alec, let’s give Trev a  call… “

  37. Trevor Howard, The Missionary, 1982.     Scenarist-star Michel Palin was turned down, even after  his “grovelling letter” to Guinness about the film he often called “Mish.”   OK, let’s give Trev a call.”… 
  38. James Mason, Dr Fischer of Geneva, TV, 1985.    When a Joseph Losey project for Guinness fell apart, his intended co-star Dirk Bogarde suggested Graham Greene’s new novel – until that fell apart, too.
  39. Sydney Walker, Prelude To A Kiss, 1991.     Harboured no secret desire to be kissed by Alec Baldwin…? Walker repeated his stage role of the mysterious old nam who kisses newlywed Meg Ryan – and takes over her personality. Baldwin was the husband searching for Meg and having to kiss the old timer to find her.
  40. Denholm Elliott, A Murder of Quality, TV, 1991    Obviously, Guinness was asked to reprise his definitive UK spymaster George Smiley for a third time. Twice was evidently enough. Anthony Hopkins (fromThe Looking Glass War, 1969, also by John le Carré) also passed, disliking certain script changes. Elliott refused with three days to go as returning to the UK from Spain would have caused a heavy tax bill. “What if we double your fee?” Aha! And Elliott became the fourth Smiley after Rupert Davies, James Mason and Guinness; Gary Oldman was fifth in the movie Tinker Tailor… in 2011. Alas, this Quality was strained a was the last Le Carré book made for TV until the brilliant Night Manager some 25 years later!

  41. Alec McCowen, The Age Of Innocence, 1992.     One Alec is (almost) as good as another when one talks of Guinness and McCowen.Sir Alec was first choice for an “admittedly small” role in Martin Scorsese’s surprise version of Edith Wharton’s 1921 Pulitzer Prize-winner. Not difficult to turn down the offer of $10,000“to be in New York for a month at my own expense.”
  42. Burgess Meredith, Grumpy Old Men, 1993.   “Too near the bare knuckle.”Inhis published diary “of a retiring actor,” Guinness revealed he rejected “a handsome offer… a slap-up part” for various reasons including his wife’s health, his difficulty memorising so many lines. Plus: “I am weary ofTV, cinemaor theatrical fare set in Old People’s Homes.”
  43. Gore Vidal, With Honors, 1994.   Oscar-winner Joe Pesci had some control over the casting. To play the villainous Harvard professor, the producer suggested four English actors and the new-to-acting Vidal (scenarist for Guinness’ The Scapegoat, 1959). According to Vidal, Joe exclaimed:”Why do we always have to get an English asshole for this sort of part when we have one of our own.” (Vidal had adapted Daphne Du Maurier’s The Scapegoat for Guinness and Bette Davis in 1959).
  44. Michael Gough,The Cherry Orchard, Greece-France-Cyprus, 1999.     When Guinness – at 82 – was asked by Greek director Michael Cacoyannis to be Firs, the 80-year-old butler, it was to be shot in Germany in 1995. (Lindsay Anderson had asked him to be Firs in a version that collapsed in Russia). Four years later, his good friend Micky Gough (“he taught me to play mah-jong”) took over the role on location in… Bulgaria .In 1995, Interview Day was Sir Alec’s 62nd and final film in 50 years.
  45. Robert Sheehan, The Umbrella Academy, TV, 20191. Village of the Damned Meets X-Men… Six survivors of the academy’s superheroes set out to save the world in as many seasons as Netflix allowed Marvel to make. SLG, Andrew Durand  and Tommy Savas were seen before the Irish Sheehan won Klaus Hargreeves/Seance. 
  46. Michaël Youen, Iznogoud (Iznogoud – Caliph Instead of the Caliph), France, 2004.   The Grand Vizir of the Caliph of old Baghdad was co-created in French comicbooks by René Goscinny (of Asterix fame). He also co-wrote rthe first movie script with auteur Pierre Tcherina in 1972 – “no deal – just for fun” – aimed at top French screen comic Louis de Funès, Vittorio Gassman, Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. (The 2004 version aimed much lower).
  47. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies, 2014.      Over to Steven Spielberg:  “In 1964 or ’65, when it was better known and closer to the incident, Gregory Peck… asked [MGM] to finance a screenplay about the spy swap [Russia’s Rudolf Abel for U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers]. Peck sent the script to Alec Guinness and got him to agree to play Abel. MGM decided not to go ahead and make the picture because of the tension.” Spielberg fell for Rylance in Broaday’s Twelth Night – winning a third Tony award for the UK actor.



 Birth year: 1914Death year: 2000Other name: Casting Calls:  47