Sir Rex Harrison

  1. Barry K Barnes, Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel, 1937.    Producer Alexander Korda’s contract player,  Margaretta Scott, recalled testing with various would-be Pimpernels.
  2. Ray Milland,  Reap The Wild Wind, 1941.   All hands on deck – and fathoms below – for a boisterous CB DeMille adventure classic… with a change of the foppish lawyer  rival for John Wayne’s lady, Paulette Goddard.
  3. Don Ameche, Heaven Can Wait, 1942.  As it was  scripted  for Rex Harisson or Fredric March in mind, director  Ernst Lubitsch  was furious when head Fox Darryl F Zanuck imposed Ameche on him for “commercial reasons”; ie, he was cheaper. (Actually they got on rather well). The feature  has nothing to do with Warren Beatty’s 1977 film of the same name. The ‘43 film has a similar plot but stems from a Leslie-Bush-Fekete play called Birthday, while the Beatty opus is a re-make of Here Comes Mr Jordan, 1940, based on an unproduced 1938 play by Harry Segal. called  Heaven Can Wait… eventually produced on stage  as Wonderful Journey!   Are we clear?  
  4. James Cagney, 13 Rue Madeleine, 1946.    Ya  cain’t always get wot ya wanna…  Not even if you were Darryl F Zanuck. For his US Amy Intelligence thriller,  the head Fox tried persuade Harrison to play spymeister Bob Sharkey.  finding one of his team (Richard Conte  is a Nazi agent. “He could have been an RAF Wing Commander, wounded and grounded, sent to Washington as a member of the RAF mission.”   Harrison didn’t bite and DFZ also failed to land William Eythe, Glenn Langan or John Payne for O’Connell and Mark Stevens as Lassiter. Not even Jimmy (or director Henry Hathaway) could make it interesting.
  5. Cesar  Romero, The Lady in Ermine, 1947.   The Latin Lover instead of tbe pukka Englishman for a  Hungarian colonel didn’t make much sense.  Nor did the musical. Or not when it was finished by Otto Preminger after the tragic death of Ernst Lubitsch in mid-shoot.
  6. Dana Andrews, The Forbidden Street (UK: Britannia Mews), 1948.   The previous year’s Ghost and Mrs Muir couple, Harrison and Gene Tierney churned into Maureen O’Hara and a peculiarly (and so obviously) dubbed Dana Andrews (for the UK and Brtiish Commonwealth version). His dual role of both husbands, was the sore thumb of the thriller.
  7. Cary Grant, I Was A Male War Bride, 1948.  Harrison instead of Cary Grant, what was producer Sol C Siegel thinking?  Well, he wasn’t looking beyond the Henri Rochard character  being French –  although based on the Belgian Army Major Roger Henri Charlier, the book’s author and its real-life  protagonist. Ann Sheridan (and not Ava Gardner), was the Womenl;s Army Corps officer who wed Grant’s stuffy  Frenchy – and the only way he can travel with her to the US  was by  the joining war bride quota. Therefore, Cary had to disguise himself as herself, long hair, nylons and acting extremely feminine. No, said director Howard Hawks, “Just do it like a man women’s clothing.”  Grant got the message and followed suit in “:the best comedy I’ve ever done.”
  8. Lee Bowman, House by the River, 1949.   Sir AP Herbert’s novella was once on director-ogre Otto Preminger’s wish list. It is doubful he could have persuaded Cary Grant to sully his image as one of the most despicable of (accidental) killers. Harrison was due as Grant’s crippled (well, disabled) brother, helping him hide the body… When Fritz Lang directed – down B Street way! – the real hero was cinematographer Edward Cronjager.  
  9. David Niven, The Elusive Pimpernel, 1950.     Certainly elusive where Sexy Rexy was concerned. Scarlet was removed from the title presumably because of Senator Joe McCarthy. Or Maureen O’Hara.
  10. Maurice Evans, Androcles and Lion, 1951. During three years of bizarre casting of the George Bernard Shaw playlet – everyone from the sublime Chaplin (and Harpo Marx) to the ridiculous Eddie Bracken was imagined for the lead. And Emperor Antoninus Caesar went from Harrison to George Sanders to Cedric Hardwicke to José Ferrer to Evans…  Harrison, of course, played the role opposite Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra in 1962.

  11. Alec Guinness, The Captain’s Paradise, 1953.   “Rex Harrison told me the part had been offered to him,”  reported Guinness, “and I’m sure he would’ve been more suitable.”
  12. Alec Guinness, The Swan, 1955.   First sexy Rexy, then boring Joseph Cotten were up for  Prince Albert – Guinness’ Hollywood debut. And Grace Kelly’s tepid finale before playing the story for real  – the film opend in  the US on April 18, 1956, the day of her marriage to Monaco’s Prince Rainier.  Their son is… Prince Albert!  (Also the name  of a penile device sex toy). 
  13. Kenneth More, The Admirable Chrichton, 1957.    Producer Alexander  Korda bought JM Barrie’s play for Harrison – or Laurence Olivier. Neither wanted to buttle. And the new #l UK star signed up four days before Korda’s death.
  14. James Stewart, Bell  Book and Candle, 1958.  Five years earlier, producer David O Selznick bought John Van Druten’s play for Mrs DOS: Jennifer Jones.  They tired of it and sold out to Columbia czar Harry Cohn which meant Susan Hayward (opposite Rex Harrison). Ultimately, Cohn made a deal with Paramount – it could have Novak opposite Stewart in Hitchcock’s Vertigo,  as long as Jim rang the  Bell with Novak at  Columbia. And all the time, Cary Grant had been been pushing for it for himself and his third wife, Betsy Drake. MCA arranged the deal for Stewart –  Stewart –Lew Wasserman’s favourite client. Neither news delighted Cary, who quit Wasserman  by 1960 for suggesting a Grant TV series  – produced by MCA, of course. (Cary never did TV).  This was  Stewart’s worst casting since Rope (when he also stood in for Cary).  Harrison, also listed, might have proved better.
  15. Cary Grant, The Grass Is Greener, 1959.  Grant invited the Harrisons to be  the titled English couple and he would be the US millionaire.  Following his wife Kay Kendall’s death from leukaemia, Harrison withdrew. Grant became the Earl, Robert Mitchum the millionaire.
  16. James Mason, Lolita, 1960.  
  17. 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.

  18. Robert Mitchum, What a Way to Go!, 1963.  A certain Louisa May Foster takes her shrink through her five late husbands – every one a laugh. (If only). Prepared for Marilyn Monroe before her tragic death, I Love Louisawas given to Elizabeth Taylor with Marilyn’s Marlon Brando. Or Richard Burton (of course), Tony Curtis, Brad Dexter, Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant, Rex Harrison, Rock Hudson, Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen, Marcello Mastroianni, David Niven. Even Brad Dexter, the Magnificent Seventh that everyone forgets. Finally, Shirley MacLaine wed Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, Dick Van Dyke… but not Frank Sinatra who wanted   $500,000 or no show.  Oh and Dean Martin as a department store mogul called Lennie Crawley, no less. This is where I usually say: And you can never go wrong with a Crawley. Not this (terrible) time!  “An abomination,” said The New Leader critic John Simon.

  19. Peter Sellers, The World of Henry Orient, 1964.   “Sexy Rexy” or bot, Harrison  was just too old to be the classical pianist chased by  teenagers.  At the time of his death, Sellers had been due to re-make Rex’s orchestral conductor from Unfaithfully Yours, 1948.

  20. Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music, 1964. Shooting started on my birthday, March 26.   Although everyone thought it too saccharine to bother with. Certainly, Germany’s Oskar Werner refused yop have anything to do with such a soft  treatment of Nazis was way too soft – a match for The Young Lions! “Yul Brynner was one of several people wanting to be The  Captain,” recalled director Robert Wise.  “I told  his agent his  name  would  be at the bottom of my list. He’d have been better on the other side!” Driven to drink by it all, Plummer hated everything. The film  – he called it S&M or The Sound of Mucus.  The co-star – working with  Julie Andrews  (or Ms Disney as he called her)  – was akin to “being hit over the head with a big Valentine’s Day card, every day.”   So maybe Brynner, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Bing Crosby, Peter Finch, Rex Harrison, Walter Matthau (!) and Maximilian Schell were lucky to lose Captain Georg Von Trapp. Keith Michel was first reserve if Plummer proved (as he soon wished) unavailable. Despite all his badmouthing, Plummer and Andrews became good friends.  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. 

  21. Jack Hawkins, Masquerade, 1965.    In an earlier life,  Harrison had been booked for an earlier versiopn ofespionage writer Victor Canning’s 1955 novel, about trying to grab Arab oil.   Nothing has changed.
  22. Marlon Brando, A Countess From Hong Kong, 1966.  First designed  30 years earlier  (!)  as Stowaway for Paulette Goddard (then Mrs Chaplin) and Cary Cooper, now played by Sophia Loren and Brando – both bitterly disappointed by the genius directing.  Charles Chaplin, at 77 . “Probably the most talented man the medium has ever produced,” said Brando. That was before trying to work with him on the set, when he was the  nasty, sadistic asshole from Hell.  “And,” added Brando, “I’m being kind.”
  23. Dirk Bogarde, Sebastian, 1967.    Director Michel Powell felt the essential insanity of his profession when trying to persuade “this charming shit” – in frock coat, stovepipe hat, carrying a blue-yellow macaw called Polynesia – to play acryptographer whose brain worked about 200 times faster than normal. “He was trying to postpone my film another six months… so that he can play Doctor Dolittle.”
  24. David Niven, Casino Royale, 1967.
  25. Anthony Quinn, The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1968. Habemus papam!” “We have a pope!”  But which one?  Richard Burton, Rex Harrison or and you won’t believe this – Ernest Borgnine or Lee Marvin? For Pope Kiril I, the first  Eastern Rite priest to be elected Pontiff (in  400 years) from the Morris West novel which predated by a full decade  such the election of an East European pontiff, in Karol Wojtyla, Pope John-Paul II.  Quinn survived all the Zorba the Pope taunts and “a kind of mental illness experience that people get when they are overcome by religion.”  Marvin was the sole contender to refuse the because he was not satisfied with the script.  And he was right., It was an almighty flop for MGM, barely screened in the UK  at all!
  26. Trevor Howard, The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1968.    Rex was Michael Powell’s Lord Cardigan when placing the Cecil Woodham-Smith book, The Reason Why, in a list of projects, dated March 1952.

  27. Peter O’Toole, Goodbye Mr. Chips, 1969.    
    “All set,” said producer Arthur  P Jacobs, after making Doctor Dolittle together. Jacobs and director Gower Champion visited Rex  in Paris. “Marvellous day, he says – you know the way he talks…  He gets us Bloody Marys and then he says, ‘Now let me tell you why I’m not going to do Mr Chips.’  That’s the first we heard about it.  It was all set…” Created for him or not, Harrison – obviously and quite correctly –   saw it as a warmed-over  My Fair Lady. For the musical v of  the 1938 classic which won British Robert Donat an Oscar for his portrayal of the gentle schoolmaster, Mr Charles Edward Chipping, almost every possible Brit was rapidly contacted. From Albert Finney  to Peter  Sellers, by way of Richard Harris, Christopher Plummer and Paul Scofield. Mrs Chips was important, too, and the couple went from Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn or the Doctor Dolittle‘s Rex Harrison-Samantha Eggar to Camelot’s Richard Burton-Julie Andrews or  Burton-Lee Remick…or surprise, surprise, Elizabeth Taylor. Plus Burton-Petula Clark, except he turned down “a singer!” (What was Julie Andrews?).  Finally, gloriously, the Chips became Pete ‘n’ Pet.

  28. Zero Mostel, The Great Bank Robbery, l969.    Rex + Melina Mercouri became Kim Novak + Mostel. And they = zero!
  29. Trevor Howard, The Battle of Britain, 1969.    Last minute change forAir Vice Marshal Keith Park. Howard was doubled when seen jumping out of the Hurricane because, as director Guy Hamilton said, “You don’t have elderly actors jumping out of elderly planes.”
  30. Robert Stephens, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, l969.  Once he lost the two Peters – O’Toole and Sellers as Holmes and Watson – Billy Wilder’’s most expensive movie just… collapsed. Stephens was a terrible Holmes, Nicol Williamson would have been no better and Wilder summarily dismissed any idea of Charlton Heston. Or even Rex Harrison – although he had been Wilder’s choice for a ‘50s Broadway musical version anda 1963 filmusical.  Stephens was far from funny. He even attempted suicide during the production, following the end of his marriage to Maggie Smith.
  31. Albert Finney, Scrooge, 1970.     “I was asked to do a play and the film, but for purely medical reasons they said you can’t [do both].It was the first time in my life that I had to turn down a film.” Firstrejected by Richard Harris, ex-husband of thesoon-to-be fifth Mrs Harrison.

  32. Laurence Olivier, Nicholas and Alexandra, 1970.  
     First rumoured for Tsar Nicholas, Harrison was not interested in being the lesser Count Witte.  Really not interested.  He told producer Sam Spiegel:  “I don’t play bit parts.”  Spiegel called Olivier – who accepted… and suggested Tom Baker for Rasputin.  Didn’t help. The film was Spiegel’s  fourth of six consecutive flops.  He needed David Lean more than vice-versa.

  33. Michael Jayston, Follow Me! 1971.   As the Burtons were coming and  going about filming Peter Shaffer’s 1962 play, The Private Ear, one  Universal suggestion in 1969  was…  Marcello Mastroianni as the detective hired by Rex Harrison to keep an eye on his possibly unfaithful wife – to be played by Mastroianni’s lover at the time. Faye Dunaway.  They became Topol, Michael Jayston anf Mia Farrow in director Carol Reed’s final film. Chicago critic oiger Ebert shredded it: “The actors actually manage to make this look worse than it sounds (and I am not being very easy on it).”
  34. Jack Gwillim, Clash of the Titans, 1980.   Too tiny! That was Harrison’s reply to an invite to play Poseidon. Pardon – what didja say? Oh right… No such thing as tiny roles… Yes, but the suits wanted him around in case Laurence Olivier’s ill-health made him give up Zeus.

  1. Footnote>>>  

    Saw Harrison’s Henry Higgins opposite Julie Andrews as Eliza Dolittle in the the post-Broadway West End production of My Fair `Lady at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1958 – with, of course, Robert Coote and  Stanley Holloway. A brilliant evening! No wonder it . ran in London for five and a half years.

 Birth year: 1908Death year: 1990Other name: Casting Calls:  34