William Holden

  1. Jackie Cooper, What A Life, 1939.     The only time Bill Holden was Billy Wilder’s first choice… it was for the most unpopular guy at Central High!
  2. Ronald Reagan,  Knute Ropckne All American, 1939.    “Win one for The Gipper”  is one of the lines in US cinema. And, good grief, Ronnie Reagan made it happen! Trying to rev up a fast imploding career (he was always stuck as the hero’s best pal), Reagan suggested that Jack Warner should film the story of Knute,  the legendary Notre Dame football coach. “And I could play George Gipp.”  You’re too small! Reagan promptly produced an old photo of him playing college football:  he was actually bigger than Gipp. Bye bye Holden, Robert Cummings, Dennis Morgan, Robert Young.  Oh,  and John Wayne. Not long before Reagan was telling Holden: “Politics is a wonderful second career. You ought to try it.”
  3. Dick Powell,  Christmas In July, 1939.     Holden and Betty Field were first choices for the struggling young couple when Universal signed Preston Sturges to writer-direct his play, A Cup of Coffee, in 1934. Then, his mentor and producer, Henry Henigson, switched base camp to Paramount. Sturges eventually followed, leading to this excllent, if grossly unsung movie. (The play was not produced until 1988).
  4. Richard Denning, Golden Gloves, 1939.    Columbia had this boxing yarn and because of the title decided to get Holden over from Paramount where he had made his name in the 1937 boxing classic, Golden Boy. Neither Par or Bill were interested in keeping him in the ring.
  5. Richard Webb, Hold Back The Dawn, 1940.      Part of the action showed Mitchell Leisen (re)directing part of his 1940 movie, I Wanted Wings. He planned it with his Wings stars, Holden, Brian Donlevy and Veronica Lake. As Holden was away, Leisen respun another Wings scene featuring Donlevy, Lake and Webb – TV’s 1954 Captain Midnight.
  6. Lee Bowman, The Walls Came Tumbling Down,1945.   Change of Broadway columnist turned detective, probing the death of a priest friend. Suicide, says the NYPD. Murder, says Bowman. Aha!
  7. John Payne, El Paso, 1948.    Holden passed the average Western drama to the musical-turned-action star. In 1955, Payne was also the first – indeed, the only – Hollywood actor to option a James Bond book and plan a cinema franchise.
  8. Farley Granger, Strangers On A Train, 1950. Alfred Hitchcock’s first choice for the tennis star being offered an exchange murder deal by Robert Walker.  “You do my murder, I do yours.”  The original ending (put back in Warner’s 75th anniversary DVD) had Granger being recognised by another  stranger on another train… Raymond Chandler’s rejected script had the criss-cross killer arrested and writhing in a straight jacket. Sound familiar?
  9. Gary Merrill, All About Eve, 1950.
  10. John Derek, Scandal Sheet, 1951.   Or The Dark Pagewhen Sam Fuller wrote his first novel – headed towards Broderick Crawford with William Holden or John Payne – before Howard Hawks paid $15,000 for it. After completing Red River, 1946, The Silver Fox planned the Fuller thriller (reporter investigating his editor’s crime) for Cary Grant and Edward G Robinson. Or Grant and Humphrey Bogart!!! Or, Orson Welles and Dennis O’Keefe. Hawks  dropped it. Phil Karlson picked it up to reunite the 1949 stars of All The King’s Men, Derek and Broderick Crawford.

  11. Van Heflin,  Shane,  1952.     A little young (eight years younger than Heflin) for the rancher helped by the traditional Western loner: Montgomery  Clift at the time. Alan Ladd was an afterthought.  Shot during  July-October 1952, the release was delayed due to director Geroge Stevens’ lengthy editing and Paramount losing faith… until Howard Hughes tried to buy it.  At age six, Billy Crystal was taken to the movie by his babysitter – Billie Holliday!  When the kid kept calling “Come back, Shane” as Ladd rode off at the end, her voice of bitter experience  declared: “He ain’t never comin’ back!”
  12. Gene Barry, War of the Worlds, 1952.      The directors changed more than actors: Hitchcock, Cecil B DeMille, finally Byron Haskin.
  13. Desi Arnaz, The Long, Long Trailer, 1953.   Lucille Ball and Arnaz were beaten to the rights by MGM which refused to star the top TV duo, Arnaz and Lucille Ball. “No one will pay to see TV stars they get at home for free.” Hah! The comedy was one of the year’s major hits. And really put Redman’s New Moon Trailers on the map. A 1954 re-hash was thwarted by the divorce of the proposed stars: Rosanne Barr and Tom Arnold. 
  14. Robert Mitchum, She Couldn’t Say No, 1953.     Paramount snapped up the comedy wannabe for Holden, only to find he was too busy.  Rather than wait for him, the suits sold the project to Howard Hughes which meant, who else but Mitchum – in his second RKO movie with Brit import Jean Simmons.
  15. Tom Ewell, The Seven Year Itch, 1954.

    Although Ewell won a Tony for the Broadway role, director Billy Wilder could think only of Walter Mathau for the New Yorker bemused and bedazzled by his neighbour: Marilyn Monroe. Except  Matthau was unknown. Hence some stupid notions from Wilder and Darryl Zanuck, until the head Fox saw sense.  “If I had read the script at the time we were casting,   I’d never have recommended William Holden or anybody else except Tommy Ewell.      No one I can think of can play this particular script… Holden would have been as big an error as Gary Cooper.” And he didn’t have to add that James Stewart would have been, well, simply embarrssing!   Holden made Wilder’s Sunset Blvd, Stalag 17, Sabrina and Fedora during 1949-1953. Wilder still considered him for a sadsack – this  underestimated, unhappy, insecure, proud, complex Holden, “a totally honorable friend who died too young ”

  16. Henry Fonda, Mister Roberts, 1954.  From the outset, Warner Bros agreed that Fonda, the star of 1,600 Broadway performances, was the “only man thought of for the title role.”  Sure, but he was like, kinda too old… and had not been seen since John Ford’s Fort Apache in 1948.    And so, Doug Roberts was first offered to  to Holden.  Being no fool, he passed – “Fonda owned it!” Next target: Marlon Brando!  And Tyrone Power. Ford only agreed to direct if  the studio OK’d Fonda who, like Ford, had served in the US Navy during WWII, not to mention six other Ford films.  Ford was drinking way too much. Some called him eratic. More like paralytic. He even punched Fo was sacked (which didn’t help his drinking) and the Broadway show’s director Josh Logan finished the film.
  17. Yul Brynner, The Ten Commandments, 1954.
  18. Cary Grant, To Catch a Thief, 1954. Grant was not interested, not at all, until “Hitchcock told me I would play opposite Grace Kelly.” Paramount wanted Bill Holden. He and Kelly were so good in the rushes of The Bridges at Toko-Ri in  January.  Besides, John Robie was 34 in the book. Holden was 36 and  poor Grant, way over the hill at 50. So what was Hitch’s attitude.? He just wanted  a holiday on the French Riviera. And he’d choose which friends were coming with him!  So, they improved “Do you want a leg or a breast?” and Grant was back, the undefeated champion… for a further dozen movies.
  19. John Forsythe,  The Trouble With Harry, 1955.     Alfred Hitchcock (or Paramount) aimed to reprise the 1954 team from The Bridges At Toko-Ri: Grace Kelly  and Holden.
  20. Rock Hudson, Giant, 1955.
  21. Frank Sinatra, The Man With The Golden Arm, 1955.    “We suggest you dismiss any further consideration of this material for a motion picture to be made within the Code, ” insisted the Production Code suits. That is when John Garfield owned the drug drama book. Three years after his shock early death, producer-director-ogre Otto Preminger battled the Code – with Holden, Marlon Brando – or Sinatra. Marlon’s agent was slow in passing him the script, Sinatra read quicker – most of it – and snapped it up.

  22. John Wayne, Blood Alley, 1955. 
    Robert Mitchum was fired by William Wellman, director of his first big hit, The Story of GI Joe, 1945. “He’s my favourite actor,” said Wild Bill. “He was on dope, always walking about six inches off the ground. He punched… one of the drivers, knocked him into the bay, goddam nearly killed him.” Holden, Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck were unavailable, Kirk Douglas was working. Burt Lancaster was “no dice” and Fred MacMurray “not big enough.” And so producer John Wayne sang the old song. “Aw, shucks, suppose I’ll have to do it.” Mitchum said only Louella Parsons told the true story. “And they killed her column. The transportation boss weighed 300 lbs. I was supposed to have picked him up and thrown him in the bay. No way.” The truth? “I think Duke Wayne was renegotiating his Warners contract… They agreed, provided he did one more film on his old contract. ‘Wal, we got that picture up at San Raphael.’ Duke [on his honeymoon] said: ‘No, Mitchum’s doing that.’ ‘Was!’ That was the end of that.”

  23. Burt Lancaster, The Rainmaker, 1956.    Bing Crosby wanted to be Bill Starbuck,  the studio wanted Holden – but tested Elvis!  Soon as the news broke about Holden fleeing the coop, Lancaster proposed a deal with producer Hal Wallis. Burt agreed to Wyatt Earp in Gunfight At The OK Corral, 1956,ifhe could also become Starbuck.  He smelled Oscar in  the air. He wuz wrong. Only his co-star, Katharine Hepburn, and composer Alex North were nominated.
  24. Tyrone Power, Witness For The Prosecution, 1956.  Simply unavailable. Besides, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton had the peachier parts.  Also in the Billy Wilder mix: Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, William Holden, Gene Kelly, Jack Lemmon, even Roger Moore…  Power agreed, passed, and then accepted $300,00 each for  two Edward Small productions: this Agatha Christie number from Billy Wilder and Solomon and Sheba – which killed him in 1958.
  25. 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 Richard Carlson went from Van Heflin to Jeffrey Hunter to Nader… and oblivion.
  26. Raymond Burr, Perry Mason, TV, 1957-1966.    When the overweight Burr agreed to shed 60 lbs to be the LA DA Hamilton Burger, he was the perfect Mason.  Also in the mix for the finest defence attorney in legal history were Holden, Richard Carlson, Richard Egan, William Hopper (he became Mason’s private eye, Paul Drake), Fred MacMurray, John Shelton, William Tallman (given Ham Burger (!), instead). “Wecouldn’t afford a big star,” explained producer Gail Patrick Jackson. No shows did in the 50s – they simply made big stars.Such as two other Mason wannabes: Mike Connors (becoming Mannix, 1967-1975) and Efrem Zimbalist Jr (77 Sunset Strip, 1958-1964).
  27. Marlon Brando, Sayonara, 1957. Marlon Brando was fussier than Holden or Rock Hudson. And  won his three demands.  First, playing his USAir Force major as a Southerner (no one knew why; presumably to make the zero role rather more interesting to him), that the film had a happy ending (unlike the book) and that a   Japanese actress must portray his bride-to-be., Hana-Ogi. After searching for a replacement out  East,  non-actress  Miiko (Seattle-born Betty Ishimoto) was found working at a  travel agency… in Los Angeles.
  28. Trevor Howard, The Roots of Heaven, 1958.      Producer Darryl Zanuck wanted Holden for Morel, possibly the screen’s first conservationists. Not available. Despite his love of Africa. Howard was a rare  John Huston casting error.
  29. Richard Widmark, The Trap, 1958.       Widmark’s Heath Productions did not buy the contemporary Western for The Boss, but once Holden and Alan Ladd spurned the lawyer-hero, Widmark agreed to protect his investment. There are suggestions that villain (who else but Lee J Cobb?) co-produced with Widmark. Neither star accepted such a credit. Writer-directing-producing Melvin Frank and Norman Panama took care of everythng. Explains the comedy touches.
  30. Dean Martin, Rio Bravo, 1958.

  31. Paul Newman,  Rally ’Round The Flag, Boys! 1958.   Something of a comic genius, Leo McCarey directed all the greats,  from  Laurel and Hardy to the brothers Marx. Now, he seemed determined to make a comedy without funny people.  Hence thoughts about Holden and Richard Widmark before booking Paul Newman  and his wife, Joanne Woodward, who are to slapstick what Jerry Seifnfeld is to Shakespeare. Newman made it worse by  trying to (over)act funny instead of playing it straight as per Jack Lemmon. Embarrassing!
  32. Dean Martin, Career, 1958. Producer Hal Wallis bought the James Lee play for Holden and Bette Davis as the friend and agent of Anthony Franciosa’s Sammy Glick-style actor willing to do anything for succes. This was Dino’s fifth straight role after the collapse of Martin & Lewis comedy duo.
  33. Fess Parker, The Jayhawkers! 1958.    Holden passed, giving TV’s Davy Crockett his best Western movie. Joining the  Union  army during the Civl Watr the marauding  Kansas Jayhawkers were known as the  Kansas Redlegs. But that sounded like a comedy film.
  34. Burt Lancaster, Elmer Gantry, 1959.    He gave up any Giant leaps for Holdenkind when trying to persuade MGM to back him as Sinclair Lewis’ fast talking, hard drinking traveling salesman turned preacherman. UA made the movie with Lancaster after the near fatal accident of first choice Pat Hingle.Burt got an Oscar. Pat got a full year of learning to walk again.
  35. Yul Brynner,Solomon and Sheba, 1959.    Producer Edward Small wanted one star for two movies: Witness For The Prosecution and Solomon…   After Ty Power died during the 1958 filming (his father also died filming in 1931), Holden was contacted again. Unavailable. (Power was the original choice for Holden’s 1939 breakthrough inGolden Boy).
  36. Cary Grant, North By Northwest, 1959.   Grant was not interested, not at all, until “Hitchcock told me I would play opposite Grace Kelly.” Paramount wanted Bill Holden. He and Kelly were so good in the rushes of The Bridges at Toko-Ri in  January.  Besides, John Robie was 34 in the book. Holden was 36 and  poor Grant, way over the hill at 50. So what was Hitch’s attitude.? He just wanted  a holiday on the French Riviera. And he’d choose which friends were coming with him!  So, they improved “Do you want a leg or a breast?” and Grant was back, the undefeated champion… for a further dozen movies.
  37. Montgomery Clift, Suddenly, Last Summer, 1959.   Producer Sam Spiegel never really wanted to see Clift  again.  “I don’t want to be near him.” Not after the Denny’s Hideaway steak house  incident during the River Kwai casting, when  Monty actor  mixed pills and creme de menthe, spoke in  non-sequiturs (“the sky is blue” ) and fell, not into his cups, but into Betty Spiegel’s lap. “He could not move. It was as if he was numb.  Sam preferred his River Kwai star, but couldn’t ”Spiegel” (ie  cajole, manipulate or con)  Holden into agreeing.
  38. Frank Sinatra, Ocean’s 11, 1959.    “Forget the movie. Let’s pull the job!” said Frank Sinatra…  He was not the first to hear about the classic heist. Story. Peter Lawford  was told it  by TV director Gilbert Kay, who heard it  from a gas station attendant who…Kay shopped it around. No takers. Four years later, Lawford and his wife, Pat (JFK’s sister), bought an option for $10,000 in ‘58, with William Holden in mind as Danny Ocean, getting his army buddies together to rob the top four Las Vegas casinos in one night! As it was about pals, Lawford next thought of Sinatra’s Rat Pack Which meant Sammy Davis Jr and,  indeed, Lawford, having to get  back to the good graces of Ole Blue Eyes. Gary Cooper got Peter and Frank together again for Never So Few – the film Sinatra dropped Sammy from. Steve McQueen took his place, and almost played the Dean Martin’s Vegas role. The Clan played Vegas by night, and filmed by day. Most of the lesser known Clansters turned up in Lawford’s 1962 debut production, opposite Henty Silva’s murder machine called Johnny Cool. Poor Gilbert Kay didn’t direct that one, either.
  39. Yves Montand, Let’s Make Love, 1960.    Among the legions  rejecting Marilyn Monroe because she was past it – and she was trouble. never on time. Holden, Stephen Boyd, Yul Brynner, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson and old-timers Cary Cooper, Cary Grant, James Stewart all  fled  what was then  called (in their favour) The Billionaire.   Marilyn and Montand took thenew title literally.
  40. Gregory Peck, The Guns of Navarone, 1960.   Writer-producer Carl Foreman aimed high for his Allied saboteurs in WWII Greece – starting with Cary Grant and Marlon Brando! Plus three stars from his Oscar-winning Bridge on the River Kwai script: Alec Guinness (too busy), Jack Hawkins (having cancer treatment), William Holden (too pricey)… and Gary Cooper (another cancer victim) from Foreman’s High Noon. Also In the mix for Peck’s Captain Keith Mallory were Richard Burton and Rock Hudson. Peck tried an English accent. He needn’t have bothered. Mallory was a New Zealander. The actual mission the film was based on was Winston Churchill’s worst WWII blunder – so he adored Foreman’s revision and asked him to film his autobiography, My Early Life, which he did as Young Winston i in 1971. Navarone was the 1961 box-office champ., allowing Foreman to direct his next one, The Victors, 1962.

  41. Richard Widmark, The Alamo, 1960.      Once forced by his backers into an important role, debuting director John Wayne re-announced his heroes as: himself as Davy Crockett, RichardWidmark as Jim Bowie and Holden asColonel William Travis.2. 
  42. John Gavin, Back Street, 1960.     For the third Hollywood take on Fannie Hurst’s notorious weepie, the married guy with Susan Hayward as a mistress was a battle between Holden, Steve Forrrest, Peter Lawford, Gregory Peck… and “how old Cary Grant?” was just that – “too old.”  In her July 15 column, gossip queen Hedda Hopper stupidly suggested Gavin. Hadn’t the great know-all heard that Hitchcock called him The Stiff the year before during Psycho?). Bet she never mentioned Gavin never made another Hollywood film for six years!
  43. John Wayne, Hatari! 1961.     Or Africa when Howard Hawks first started musing upon a safari saga during his European break… of four years. Paramount could not afford two leading men.   So Duke alone went to Tanganyika,  deep-sixing  Hawks’ idea of Clark Gable/Wayne or Duke/Holden. The co-star role was divided between “the German and the little French guy” – (Hardy Kruger and Gerard Blain.
  44. John Wayne, The Longest Day, 1961. Too exhausted to be Lieutenant-Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort after Satan Never Sleeps, The Counterfeit Traitor, The Lion.   That was the official version. Producer Darryl F Zanuck knew better. Wayne “accepted a cameo role even after he knew the same role had been turned down by another star [Charlton Heston] who considered it insignificant.”
  45. Jason Robards Jr, Tender Is the Night, 1961.  
    Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick wanted the brilliiant auteur Joseph L Mankiewicz for the Scott Fizgerald classic. Fine, said Mank, I want William Holden, “ideal casting for any Fitzgerald hero, including Gatsby,” as the dashing Dick Driver. OK, said DOS. He then  revealed his wife, Jennifer Jones, who hadn’t made a film for five years, ,would be Driver’s  emotionally troubled wife, Nicole. Mank did not feel she as up to it and voted Woodward. No way, rasped DOC, and anyway,  using Jones was the reason for the fjlm. Mank quit. DOS then tried John Frankenheimer, who wanted Natalie Wood as Rosemary. No., said DOS, she might overshadow the missus. (Might? Trigger could do that.)  Next? Old-timer Henry King, who’d made a hit of  Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing with Jones and, ironically, Holden.  King dreadfully miscast Jason Robards Jr as Driver.  John Hustion started the shoot and quit due to the usual DOS interference. ”On my fllms, I think of myself as the conductor of the orchestra…” Selznick added:  ”The director is my first violinist.”  Said Huston: “What Selznick really wants is piccolo player!”

  46. Richard Burton,The Night of the Iguana, 1963.   Nipping in quick, producer Ray Stark paid $500,000  for the new Tennessee Williams play – before it opened as his last  Broadway hut in 1961.  The main character is the Reverend T Lawrence Shannon, reduced to  being a Mexico tour guide after bejng defrocked for calling God a juvenile delinquent. So who should be Shannon: Stanley Kowalski or Brick Pollit? Aka Marlon Brando from A Streetcar Named Desire or Paul Newman from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  (He’d also been another Williams sad-sack in Sweet Bird of Youth).  Also up for the Rev were, Richard Harris, William Holden, Burt Lancaster (too close to his Oscar-winning Elmer Gantry, 1959), Christopher Plummer and, surprisingly, James Garner  – “Just too Tennessee Williams for me!” there was more tenson off-screen as among those putting Puerto Vallarta on the tourist map, were…  Elizabeth Taylor living with Burton, whose agent was her first ex-husband, Michael Wilding. Plus Ava Gardner’s old, “platonic bedmate,” Peter Viertel, was also around as he was now wed to co-star Deborah Kerr! To help avoid friction, John Huston gifted each star with a gold-plated pistol, complete with bullets engraved with the names of the other stars, so the right bullet could be used (or, aimed, at least!) on the right target!  It worked well. Nary a discouraging word.  Except from the critics.  

  47. James Garner, The Americanisation of Emily, 1964.    Holden quit when veteran ace director William Wyler was sacked (after trying to mess up Paddy Chayefsky’s script). Pus Holden wasn’t happy with co-star Julie Andrews and wanted his current lover, the French Capucine, to be Emily…. which is not a French name!  Garner (from  the new director Arthur Hiller’s secondmovie, The Wheeler Dealers, 1963) was already booked for Lieutenant Commander Paul “Bus”  Cummings, and was simply promoted Lieutenant Commander James Monroe Madison.   

  48. Richard Harris, I Tre Volt/Three Faces of a Woman, Italy, 1964.     The ex-Empress Soraya of Iran  was given full script approval by producer Dino De Laurentiis.  “Her contract was so tight,” said Harris, “various people [Holden, Gregory Peck, George Peppard] refused to star with her.”
  49. Dirk Bogarde, Darling, 1965.      “Nobody wanted the part – they said it was a drag,” reported Bogarde.  “They told me: ‘Oh we tried to get Holden but he wasn’t available.’  They always tell me quite honestly, very nicely: ‘I’m taking you for somebody else.”
  50. John Wayne, The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965. John Wayne’s lung cancer was discovered in September, 1964. He immediately told director Henry Hathaway: “Get Kirk.” (Douglas). No, Hathaway would wait for Duke’s recovery.  Even so, Holden and Robert Mitchum were first reserves in case Wayne couldn’t make… what proved a slow-moving Western. What else when the star needed an oxygen tank… and his stunt-double Chuck Roberson doing his horse-riding in long shots.

  51. Jack Hawkins, Poppies Are Also Flowers (aka The Poppy is Also a  Flower), TV, 1965.  The UN planned six telefilms about its work by Kubrick, Preminger, etc.  Only this one  was made  when Terence Young gave up a third Bond gig to work with 007 creator Ian Fleming on this star-studded (Yul Brynner, Angie Dickinson, Rita Hayworth, Omar Sharif) battle to stop heroin flowing into Europe. Fleming died before completing the script. Everyone else died on-screen.
  52. Peter O’Toole, The Night of the Generals, France-UK, 1966.  “Must be  seen to be disbelieved,” declared Andrew Sarris in  The Village Voice.  The WWII II whodunnit  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. Holden  was an odd choice for Peter O’Toole’s general.  Gore Vidal was among the scenarists. No, really!
  53. David Niven, Casino Royale, 1966.

  54. Burt Lancaster, The Swimmer, 1967.  
    Burt called it: “Death of a Salesman in swimming trunks.” (Seventeen pairs, his only wardrobe for the film). He  went into serious  training to match his old nickname, The Build, for novelist John Cheever’s tragic hero, who suddenly decides to swim home via the pools of his Connecticut friends and neighbours.  Burt was no great swimmer but producer Sam Spiegel praised his “perception and courage and an intense interest in  films that go beyond the obvious and ordinary.”  Hah, said Burt. The whole film was a disaster, he told  Take 22 magazine.  “Sam had promised me, personally promised me, to be there every single weekend to go over the film, because we had certain basic problems – the casting and so forth. He never showed up one time. I could have killed him, I was so angry with him. And finally Columbia pulled the plug on us. But we needed another day of shooting – so I paid $10,000  for it.” Montgomery Clift (!), Glenn Ford, William Holden, Paul Newman and George C Scott had all been in the swim for what became Spam’s fourth consecutive flop. Minus David Lean, Spiegel was  a zero.

  55. Marlon Brando, Reflections In A Golden Eye, 1967.   Marlon Brando had been first choice for UK director Tony Richardson’s plan (with Jeanne Moreau) in the early 50s. But now Brando was sixth… after Montgomery Clift, William Holden, Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, Patrick O’Neal. Or. in fact, seventh, as another Brit,  Michael Anderson, wanted  Burt Lancaster in 1956 as the same Major Weldon Penderton, the sexual mess, married but fancying the pants off Private Williams  (when he had them on). Out of work for four years or so, Clift was uninsurable. “Bessie Mae”(Elizabeth Taylor)  put up the $1m bond money for a 60s version, with Burton directing and playing Lieutenant-Colonel Langdon. But nobody, including Clift, felt he could act anymore.  Brando was superb.
  56. Jack Palance, Monte Walsh, 1970.   Howard Hawks, The Silver  Fox, was asked to film the Jack Schaefer end-of-the-Wild-West-era novel in 1969.   Sure, if John Wayne is the old cowpoke – and if they could secure a good partner for him, something they’d failed at for Hatari!    Someone like Holden or Robert Mitchum. They could not.
  57. Timothy Bottoms, Johnny Got His Gun, 1971.      Director Mitchell Leisen tried to film Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo’s book when published in 1939. Took a few more wars to make it possible… for Trumbo to direct it. himself.
  58. Gregory Peck, The Omen, 1975.    Charlton Heston, Roy Scheider and even Dick Van Dyke (!) were not keen on a movie about the devil. And   Holden had enough demons of his own. Not having worked inbfive years, Peck cut his fee for 10% of the take – highest pay-cheque of his career. Consequently, Holden rushed into the sequel!  As Peck’s brother, Damien’s uncle. 
  59. Peter Finch, Network, 1976.   
    “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore…”  Both director Sidney Lumet and writer Paddy Chayefsky came from the golden age of US TV – and pulled no punches in detailing where the medium was going (down the drain. Indeed, their fictional USB fourth network became, well, Fox.  After tenuous thoughts about real TV News anchors (John Chancellor and the venerable Walter Cronkite),  the film’s Oscar-winning writer Paddy had a wish list of real actors  for the unhinged news anchor Howard Beale: Henry Fonda said “it’s too hysterical” (his daughter, Jane, was up for Faye Dunaway’s Oscar-winning role),  Glenn Ford,  Cary Grant, Gene Hackman, William Holden (as news exec  Max Schumacher, he went to bed with Dunaway, instead), Walter  Matthau, Paul Newman, James Stewart (appalled by the script’s bad language!). Plus George C Scott, who refused because he had once been “offended” by Lumet! (Yet his final film was Lumet’s  final film, Gloria, 1998).   Lumet had just the one name – and this proved to be Finchy’s farewell, winning the fjrst posthumous Best Actor Oscar. Lumet was with Peter when he died. They were in the Beverly Hills Hotel, awaiting a joint interview, when  Finch collapsed and died soon after in hospital, never regaining consciousness from his heart attack.    His performance won the first posthumous acting Oscar. Ironically, the second was also for an Aussie,  Heath Ledger, for The Dark Knight… 33 years later.

  60. Robert Mitchum, That Championship Season, l982.    Planned in 1980 and  delayed so long that playwright Jason Miller’s first choice as coach had died – in a drunken fall.
  61. Richard Widmark, Who Dares Wins (US: The Final Option), 1981.   Holden died from injuries after a fall on November 16, weeks before being due to play the US Secretary of State in the (alleged) tribute to the UK’s SAS regiment, a model for “special services”  around the world. (Title is the SAS  motto). However, said iconic critic  Roger Ebert,  this “is our old friend, the Idiot Plot.” Two years later, Lloyd lost  another star, Richard Burton – on the eve of starting Wild Geese II.
  62. James Mason, The Verdict, 1982. An alcoholic  Paul Newman is  up against veteran  hot-shot lawyer Ed Concannon in a Boston malpractice court case.  Stars chased both roles. Of course, they did . Sidney Lumet was directing a David Mamet scenario!   Holden and Burt Lancaster were keen on Concannon.  Paul Newman was actually set to play him opposite Robert Redford, until he sundanced away, not happy with playing an alky and Newman won an Oscar nod in  the top role. As for Mason, keen to work with Lumet again. grabbed the role after deciding against  Newman pal, Mickey Morrissey, taken over by Jack Warden.  PS: How’s this for a coincidence. In 1924, William Collier Jr made a movie called The Verdict.  His role was…Jimmy Mason.
  63. Pat Hingle, Batman, 1988



Alec Baldwin always preferred Bill Holden: “You’ve got to bring three things to a leading man’s role:  masculinity, sensitivity, intelligence.  In some people there’s a little too much in  the mix of one or the other.  With Holden. it was always the perfect mix.”











 Birth year: 1918Death year: 1981Other name: Casting Calls:  63