Telly Savalas

  1. Robert Mitchum, Cape Fear, 1962.   For his US debut, British director   J Lee Thompson hunted the perfect, reptilian Max Cady. Rod Steiger was considered,   Savalas “gave a very good test” but more star power was needed opposite Gregory Peck,   the star and (unbilled) producer. “Once we’d seen Mitchum in the role… Peck did what had to be done to get him.”   And big Bob stole it all.   With a leer.
  2. Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke, 1967.  “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Donn Pearce’s novel was snapped up by Lemmon’s company, Jalem, for  the boss to play Lucas Jackson. Except no one, Lemmon included, could see him asas an avatar for Jesus Christ, working on  a tough chain-gang.  Enter : Paul Newman swallowing 50 hard-boiled eggs (swiftly vomitted into a rubbish bin after “Cut!”). Savalas refused to fly home to test for Dragline over a weekend from Dirty Dozening in  London. Kennedy got the best support actor Oscar. So it goes.    
  3. George C Scott, Patton, 1969.
  4. Bryan Mosley, Get Carter, 1970.     MGM wanted more names to back up Michael Caine and Britt Ekland. Debuting UK director Mike Hodges refused and threatened to quit when the Yorkshire businessman Brumby was offered to Savalas, José Ferrer and (much less of a name) Robert Urquhart.
  5. David Janssen, Harry O, TV, 1973-1976.    Busy  Savalas was first choice for the anti-private eye – world-weary, preferring buses to fast cars (let alone chases) and working on his boat: The Answer.  Savalas won Kojak, instead; 117 episodes versus Harry’s 45.   Telly wanted a shorter run. He visibly tired, spoofing the once hard-nosed procedural by sucking lollipops and forever saying:  Who loves ya, baby.  (Why not: Hey now!).
  6. John Wayne, Brannigan, 1974.      First penned as a pilot for Savalas. Producer Jules Levy and Arthur Gardner thought it too good for TV. “And that’s when the name John Wayne came up.” They were wrong. Co-script Christopher Trumbo was the son of the blacklisted scenarist Dalton Trumbo “I only wanna know if he can write,” said Duke. Not that well. Kojak was better.
  7. Gene Hackman, Superman,1 977.
  8. William Holden, Ashanti, 1978.       Kojak passed on the mercenary chopper pilot, – a tad close to his crop-duster pilot the previous year in Capricorn One. James Coburn also fled. Holden accepted the seventh billed cameo in the modern slavery drama to get back to his beloved Africa and his Mount Kenya Safari Club. Co-star Michael Caine called it “the worst, most wretched film I ever made.” Savalas made another stinker with Caine that year: Beyond The Poseidon Adventure.  
  9. Jack Birkett, The Tempest,  1979.      Among UK directing legend Michael Powell’s ideas  for the deformed (and villainous) Caliban during his 25 year dream of filming the Shakespeare play were Malcolm McDowell,  Topol.   And an extremely  keen Savalas  – who loves ya, Prospero baby!  (Well, Powell was planning to shoot it with the Greek title,  Trikimia, on the Ilse of Rhodes in 1975).  According to  Dominic Nolan in The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See book, Derek Jarman felt he’d inherited Powell’s obsession. Hah! He made a (typically) homoerotic job of it  in 1978.  New York Times critic Vincent Canby was unimpressed by the film, “funny if it weren’t very nearly unbearable.” Nor by Birkett: “looks and acts as if he’d been borrowed from Hammer Films.”
  10. Rock Hudson, The Ambassador, 1983.       Who better than Kojak to be in charge of security for the US diplomat!  But he was stuck on another gig.  Hudson  took over – it was his final role.  Robert Mitchum had the title role, originally planned for  Hudson’s best pal…  Elizabeth Taylor. 
  11. Paul Newman, Harry & Son, 1983. LA lawyer Ronald Buck tried to interest Savalas, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn and Jason Robards in his script about a widowed, blue collar father and his ”bookish, sensistive” son.  They all passed. Buck gave a script to Joanne Woodward to interest her (oh, yeah  sure!) in the lady highly smitten by Harry.  She showed it to hubby and he called Buck: “Can I direct?”   It was another two years  before Newman (who lost his own son, Scott, to drugs at  age 28, in 1978) had the rewrite he wanted. But the studios didn’t care. “That pissed me off and I find I wortk very well when I’m pissed off.  So I finally agreed to act in it”- although having sworn off the double chore since Sometimes A Great Notion, when he said simultaneously acting and directing was like  putting a gun in his mouth.


 Birth year: 1924Death year: 1994Other name: Casting Calls:  11