Van Heflin

  1. John Garfield,  Four Daughters, 1937.     Micky Borden was written with Heflin in mind. But with his budget slashed after Errol Flyn quit with health problems, director Michael Curtiz could not afford  him (not Burgess Meredith) – and gave Garfield his movie debut, his first Oscar nomination  and the lead in the follow-up,  Daughters Courageous, 1928.
  2. Robert Young, Joe Smith, American, 1941.   “This picture,”  said the credits, “is a tribute to all Joe Smiths.”  Heflin was first in the frame for the hero tortured by enemy agents,  “a man who defended his country.” 
  3. Robert Cummings, Between Us Girls, 1942.     Heflin fell for and proposed to Diana Barrymore and introduced her to director Henry Koster. Diana got the role, Heflin didn’t. Two days later he wed Frances Neal, his third and final wife.
  4. Hurd Hatfield, Dragon Seed, 1943.     Insulting!  Pearl Buck’s book had a point – exposing Japanese atrocities in China.  MGM made it a farce, with the unlikeliest-looking Chinese ever spawned by Hollywood. With taped eyelids for Katharine Hepburn, Walter Huston, Aline MacMahon, Akim, Tamiroff…  Many other failed to pass their  Eurasian tests:  Heflin (a previous lover of the bisexual Hepburn), Edward Arnold, Faye Bainter,  Donald Crisp, Greer Garson, Hedy Lamarr, Frank Morgan, Walter Pidgeon Donna Reed, Edward G. Robinson.  And so, Hatfield made his movie debut as Lao San Tan.  “Of the 33 actors with speaking roles,”  admitted co-director  Jack Conway,  “only three were Oriental.”
  5. Gregory Peck, The Keys of the Kingdom, 1944.     Peck’s breakthrough… Producer David O Selznick gave up and sold the AJ Cronin novel to Fox when he could not find the perfect Father Francis Chisholm. Prospective directors included Nunnally Johnson and Alfred Hitchcock before Joseph L Mankiewicz took over. Between them, DOS and JLM searched for their unorthodox Chinese missionary through Heflin, Joseph Cotten, Maurice Evans, Henry Fonda, Dean Jagger, Gene Kelly, Burgess Meredith, Franchot Tone, Spencer Tracy and Orson Welles… plus the most unlikely Catholic missionaries of all: Alan Ladd and Edward G Robinson! Auteur Joseph L Mankiewicz finally signed Peck in July 1943 for his second film – and first Oscar nomination.
  6. Frank Albertson, It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946.
  7. Richard Basehart,  Tension, 1948.   MGM first aimed the terrible film noir at Basehart as the wimpy chemist planning to kill his wife’s lover – and Robert Taylor as the sardonic homicide cop, Bonnabel. 
  8. Barry Sullivan, Tension, 1948.  Change of cop investigating a murder of the lover of a chemist’s wife…No, no, someone beat beat the chemist (a better role  for Heflin!) to the dirty deed.
  9. Robert Preston, Big City, 1948.   Change of the Protestant priest raising the abandoned Maureen O’Brien with Danny Thomas’ rabbi and George Murphy’s policeman. When the cop bring up Midge with his new wife, rows, songs and tears ensue and everything winds up, of course, in court before a surprisingly benevolent Edward Arnold.
  10. Gregory Peck, Twelve O’Clock High, 1948 .
    The  greatest Hollywood fiction of USAF WWII pilots, often unfairly compared to the  weaker  Command Decision – which js why Peck nearly passed.  “Duke told me he’d turned it down,” recalledPeck.  “And I seized it!”   Just not that fast… Clark Gable was extremely keen on General Savage (he made Command Decision, instead). Peck read it again and  was also won over by director Henry King’s empathy for the subject. King was a pilot, himself, and he would helm five more Peck  films). “A fine film,” said Peck, “much honoured  and  respected,  about the psychological stress of total involvement of these men.” Too honest for such a gung-ho movie-hero as John Wayne. This was Peck’s finest hour; forget To Kill A Mockingbird.   Seeing him glued to his chair in a catonic state of battle-fatigue made one helluva impression on me when I saw it in, hell, I was 11 years old!  It marked me for life.  It also affected Rian Johnson, who called it an influence on his Star Wars:  Episode VII – The Last Jedi, 2016. Others in the Savage loop were Dana Andrews, Ralph Bellamy, James Cagney, Van Heflin, Burt Lancaster, Edmond O’Brien – and three bobs-worth of Roberts: Montgomery, Preston and Young.

  11. Joel McCrea, Stars In My Crown, 1949      Decisions, decisions!  In February 1948,  Robert Taylor  was set  for the soldier-turned-clergyman battling the Ku Klux Klan in a small Western township.   In  March, it was Heflin! 
  12. Thomas E Breen, The River/Le fleuve, France-India-USA, 1951.  Among the Hollywood names juggled by the legendary French realisateur Jean Renoir for his final film in English. He also tried for Brando, John Dall, Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, James Mason, Robert Walker, Sam Wannamaker before settling onthe totally useless Breen.
  13. Peter Ustinov, We’re No Angels, 1954.   New Jules among the three cons escaping Devil’s Island: Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray and Ustinov. Most critics appeared astonished by Bogie’s comedic talent. Hadn’t they seen his other work?
  14. James Dean, Giant, 1955.
  15. Kirk Douglas, Lust For Life, 1956.     With eight US films under his belt, French directing icon Jean Renoir spent most of ’53-54 with trying to makehis dream movie – the life of painter Vincent Van Gogh by the son of another master painter, Auguste Renoir. Deals could never be struck.Hardly surprising as he selected, of all acting bores, Heflin,for troubled artist. (Apart from Charles Laughton, Renoir’s choice of Hollywoodians was of the ennui variety: Dana Andrews, Burgess Meredith, Robert Ryan, etc). Renoir went home to direct French Cancan and a stage play (with Leslie Caron).His place on location at Auvers-sur-Oise was suddenly taken by MGM, Vincente Minnelli and, an evenstranger choice, Kirk Van Douglas.
  16. Nigel Patrick, Raintree County, 1957.     When MGM figured this was the next Gone With The Wind in 1949, Heflin was due to be run out of town for being a liberal professor.
  17. Richard Basehart, The Brothers Karamazov, 1957.    Ten years earlier, Heflin had been considered for two plums: (a) Stanley Kowalski in Broadway’s Streetcar Named Desire and (b) Ivan with Robert Taylor as his brother Dmitri Karamazov.  Finally, the plums fell far from the tree.
  18. George Nader, Appointment With A Shadow (UK: The Big Story), 1957.   Snapped up at by Paramount as “a natural for Bill Holden,” the Hugh Pentecost thriller wound up at Universal where the second of five films directed by actor Richard Carlson went from Van Heflin to Jeffrey Hunter to Nader… and oblivion.
  19. Gilbert Roland, Guns of the Timberland, 1959.     During the casting days, Alan Ladd – the star and the producer – mused over Heflin, Tony Martin, Edmond O’Brien and his daughter Alana Ladd. Alana, only, appeared in the film; the second of her four films with Daddy.
  20. Robert Stack, The Untouchables, TV. 1959-1963.     Another plum he let fall off the tree. Van Johnson, Jack Lord, Fred MacMurray, Cliff Robertson or Heflin, NBC Radio’s Phillip Marlowe would have made a livelier Elliott Ness than Robot Stack!

  21. Andrew Keir, Quatermass and the Pit (US : Five Million Years to Earth), 1967.    Quite stupidly Hammer Films hired Hollywooden hasbeen Brian Donlevy as Professor Quatermass in the re-make of the BBC TV serial, The Quatermass Experiment. Moving about, as if pushed around on roller-skates, Donlevy was said to be drunk most of time (denied by director Val Guest). Certainly, he was gruffly monosyllabic. In a word: abysmal! Hammer still thought of appeasing their Columbia paymasters with another US rocket man. Heflin was suggested. Wiser heads prevailed. Keir was perfect and played the Prof again in BBC Radio 3’s five-parter, The Quatermass Memoirs, in 1996.
  22. Salvo Randone, Fellini Satyricon, Italy, 1969.   Fellini’s opening ideas included such names as Pierre Clementi, Gert Frobe, Boris Karloff, Terence Stamp – and Heflin forEumolpe.
  23. Ernest Borgnine,The Revengers,1971.   A Mexican Western memorable only for a jinxed cast. Heflin had a fatal heart attack during shooting(at age 61 on Juy 23,1971), William Holden arrived with Kenyan jungle fever and  Mary Ure simply quit for Broadway.









 Birth year: 1910Death year: 1971Other name: Casting Calls:  23