Sir Noel Coward

  1. Charles Boyer, The Garden of Allah, 1936.    For Marlene Dietrich’s ex-monk lover, producer David Selznick had several peculiar, milque-toast suggestions: Coward, John Gielgud, Ivor Novello
  2. Robert Newton, This Happy Breed, 1944.    Coward was the head of  the family on stage but  director David Lean made it clear  he was wrong for the  film. And good only “with a cigarette holder and a dressing-gown.” Lean felt he was never really forgiven, although they worked on two more films. Both without  Coward starring!

  3. Orson Welles, The Third Man, 1949. 
    A perfect movie… Producer David O Selznick was a parody of his  former Gone With The Wind glory. Full of fatuous notions like Coward as the titular Harry Lime… and why don’t  we call it Night Time In Vienna!   Director Carol Reed wanted no one but Welles, who, stupidly, took the $100,000 salary instead of 20% of what proved the biggest hit of his bizarre career. Some regard it still as the  finest British movie. Fearful of catching something in the the Vienna sewers, Welles was doubled in the underground  chase by Reed’s assistant director – and future Bond-maker – Guy Hamilton. Can’t quite  hear Coward delivering Welles’ classic line (all he wrote, despite outlandish claims to the contrary).  All together now…  “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” 

  4. Dennis Price, Oh… Rosalinda!!, 1955.    Coward proved impossible as the English colonel, director Michael Powell tried for David Niven and settled for Price.
  5. Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957.    Colonel Nicholson changed as often as directors.: Ronald Colman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Gielgud, Cary Grant, Charles Laughton, James Mason, Ray Milland, Laurence Olivier, Eric Portman, Anthony Quayle, Ralph Richardson – and Spencer Tracy, who bluntly told producdr Sam Spiegel  that the mad Colonel had to be an Englishman. In his proposed version, Howard Hawks wanted Coward “to play a fairy that thought of marvelous ways of killing the enemy.” (It was his future Hatari! stars, Gérard Blain, who “detected a submerged homosexual” in Hawks – as if his continual male love stories were not clue enough).
  6. Moray Watson, The Grass Is Greener, 1960.    When it was set for the Rex Harrisons and himself, Cary Grant wanted Coward as his butler.  The death of Rex’s wife, Kay Kendall, from  myeloid leukemia, caused various changes – and the butling Watson was the  only one of the West End cast in the movie.
  7. Ralph Richardsobn, Exodus, 1960.   Producer-director-ogre Otto Preminger lost The Master as General Sutherland but won him five years later for the more flamboyant (more Coward!) Wilson in the kidnap drama.
  8. Joseph Wiseman, Dr No, 1962.

  9. Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady, 1964.   
    To protect the  $5.2m  he paid for the rights, Jack Warner wanted star power – like Audrey Hepburn and Cary instead  of Broadway’s original Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins: Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. Warner had  several other Professors in mind. From the inspired (Grant, Noël Coward, Peter O’Toole, George Sanders) to the plain stupid (Rock Hudson as a grumpy English gentleman?). Plus dowdy Michael Redgrave, who had the style but the box-office appeal of George Zucco.  (Who?)  (Exactly!) Refusing $1.5m, Grant declared (as he had about Robert Preston when offered The Music Man): : Not only will  I not play it, but if you don’t put Rex in it, I won’t go see it!

  10. Richard Hayden, The Sound of  Music, 1964.    Two years before the musical reached Broadway in 1959, Paramount secured  rights to the story of the Trapp Family Singers – for Astaire’s Funny Face partner, Audrey Hepburn. She was not interested, When Fox took over the rights (for $1m-plus !), Astaire was asked to be Captain Von Trapp’s pal, Max Detweiler. So were the impeccable Danish pianist-comic Victor Borge and The Master, aka Noël Coward and Hal Holbrook.   Fox got worried when numerous directors walked (well, Gene Kelly danced). William Wyler signed on  but proved too deaf for a musical. Robert Wise changed his mind and had the biggest triumph of his career with his second musical about a girl named Maria.  Critic Pauline Kael famously tried to bury “the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat” but it  saved Fox from the near bankruptcy  of the Cleopatra debacle.

  11. Patrick Cargill, The Countess From Hong Kong, 1967.    Coward & Chaplin – the mind boggles!   Plus Marlon Brando & Sophia Loren – and runneth over!   Peter Sellers tried to win the role of Brando’s snooty valet, Hudson,  who weds Countess Sophia to satisfy US Immigration.   Finally, Charlie Chaplin  decided his script was too top heavy with stars. The biggest was  Brando, and he called Chaplin the nasty, sadistic asshole from Hell. “And I’m being kind.”  The only real “real glimmers of comic talent or spirit,” said New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, “was provided by  Charlie, himself, as a sea-sick steward.


 Birth year: 1899Death year: 1973Other name: Casting Calls:  11