Yul Brynner

  1. Anthony Quayle, Oh…  Rosalinda!!, 1955.        A passing thought by UK director Michael Powell for the Russian general in his updated Die Fledermaus.  Brynner came from the Actors Workshop in New York, where he suggested a fellow actor  should try TV directing.  That was Sidney Lumet! Brynner was his assistant before taking over the the Siamese throne…
  2. Kirk Douglas, Lust For Life, 1955.   Before Kirk Douglas got interested,  Irving Stone’s biography of the painter Vincent Van Goh had been set for Spencer Tracy in 1946, Yul Brynner in 1953 and Jack Palance  in 1954.  
  3. Marius Goring, Ill Met By Moonlight, 1957.       Michael Powell tried again, pleading to Rank chiefs that the hero, Dirk Bogarde, needed stellar back-up otherwise “he’d be at sea…  doctor at sea!”
  4. Gary Cooper,  Love in the Afternoon,  1957.      Director Billy Wilder’s exotic mid-aged roue was based on the Aly Khan – until the research proved too boring. Enter: Cooper, cringeworthy old for chasing Audrey Hepburn. They were 56 and 28..! So  he had a face lift in 1958. Too late.  He was dead three years later.
  5. James Mason, North By Northwest, 1959.     Brynner was Alfred Hitchcock’s first  thought for his suave villain, Philip Vandamm.  Curd Jürgens was second.  Then Mason arrived… performed perfectly (as usual)… and once shooting ended  in December, had a “severe” heart attack.  He was back at work, as Sir Oliver S Lindenbrook in Journey to the Centre of the Earth,by the following June.

  6. Kirk Douglas, Spartacus,  1959.  
    After  losing  Ben-Hur, Kirk Douglas created his own epic – from Howard Fast’s book –  just as Brynner’s  company   announced  the   same  story,  via  Arthur Koestler’s Gladiators.  In February 1958, Douglas’ merger-proposal was greeted with a “next from United Artists” ad in Daily Variety of Brynner in costume. Which certainly gave Kirk some ideas...

    You be Spartacus

    I’m Spartacus!

    Yul be lucky! 

    By September, Brynner and director Martin Ritt were talking merger. Too late. Tony Curtis was already begging Douglas to join Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov. And, on October 29, 1958 – not realising Kirk’s stars would  be  soon  squabbling and upstaging each other –  UA backed down.                                                                                                                    
    Images: © UA, 1958 and Universal, 1959]


  7. Yves Montand, Let’s Make Love, 1959.      Norman Krasna wrote the zillionaire for him. Yul passed. All  Hollywood men passed –  Stephen Boyd, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, William Holden, Rock Hudson, Gregory Peck, James Stewart.  They did not want Marilyn Monroe stealing a film from them in a script tweaked (in her favour) by her husband, Arthur Miller.  Marilyn and Montand took the title literally.
  8. Anthony Quinn, Barabba (Barabbas), Italy-US, 1961.      Brynner was not interested in hanging on a cross as The Bible’s most famous thief. Not at all. Producer Dino De Laurentiis sent his Hollywood director Richard Fleischer to Paris to persuade him. It took a full day, but he managed it. Several days later, Dino says: “We no use Yul Brynner. He crazy. He want a fortune. He really think he is King of Siam. How you like Tony Quinn…?” (He was also a king – Beckett’s Henry II – on Broadway at the time!).
  9. Rex Harrison, Cleopatra, 1962.
  10. Paul Newman, A New Kind of Love, 1963.        Paramount offered to buy him out of Broadway’s The King and I for three months to make Melville Shavelson’s (empty) comedy.

  11. Omar Sharif, Genghis Khan, 1964.    When used to paying fading Hollywood stars a mere $200,000 per movie, producers Irving Allen and Cubby Broccoli felt Brynner was way too pricey.  Sharif accepted less. And then exploded on hearing that the weekly $25,000 per week that  Eli Wallach was being paid to be The Shah of Khwarezm, added up to more than his salary .
  12. Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music, 1965.    Shooting started on my birthday, March 26.   Although everyone thought it too saccharine to bother with.! “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, Maximilian Schell an Oscar Werner were lucky to lose Captain GeorgVon Trapp. Keith Michel was first reserve if Plummer proved (as he soon wished) unavailable. Despite all his badmouthing, Plummer and Andrews became good friends.
  13. José Ferrer, Cervantes, (US: The Young Rebel), 1966.  Two years earlier  producer  Ely Landau had booked   Alain Delon, Anthony  Quinn 9or Yul Brynner) and Ava Gardner for his peek at the early  life of the Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra. But the bad bio-pic was finally produced by the Salkinds, Michael and his son Alexander, with Horst Buchholz, José Ferrer and Gina Lollobrigida. Michael had produced the 1932 Spanish film of Don Quixote.
  14. Omar Sharif, Genghis Khan, 1965.       Irving Allen, a US producer based in London,  refused his “astronomical” fee.
  15. William Daniels, The Graduate,1968. 
  16. Maurice Evans, Planet of the Apes, 1967.
  17. Tom Baker, Nicholas and Alexandra, 1970.    Rasputin!   Yul Brynner was keen. Lawrence of Arabia, himself, Peter O’Toole, was not.  Anyway,  the Lawrence  producer, Sam  Sp[egel,  only  had eyes for Brando as  Russia’s infamous “mad monlk,” Rasputin.  And, oh boy, the dull  film really needed star power. Despite Sam’s track record, Columbia wouldn’t  give jhim enough money any.  (So no Julie Christie, Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly, either!).  Laurence Olivier, already booked for  Count Witte, recommended Baker, part pf his National Theatre troupe…. And the future fourth Doctor Who, 1974-1981.  Said The Guardian’s Derek Malcolm: “irredeemably dull, a traipse through one of the most extraordinary events the world has known with the gait of a brontosaurus.”
  18. Lee Van Cleef, The Magnificent Seven Ride! 1971.    Not many film franchises in those days (excepting Tarzan), so Brynner refused to come back a third time (after passing Guns of the Magnificent Seven to George Kennedy). This proved the  fourth and last of the original Seven movies.

  19. Donald Pleasence, Halloween, 1978.   
    Hitchcock fan auteur John Carpenter searched high and low for his shrink, Dr Sam Loomis. Peter O’Toole and the Hammer horrors, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee versus Charles Napier, Lawrence Tierney, Abe Vigoda. The $300,00 shoestring budget couldn’t afford any of them! Same for Lloyd Bridges, David Carradine, Kirk Douglas, Steven Hill, Walter Matthau… even such off-the-wallers as John Belushi, Mel Brooks, Yul Brynner, Edward Bunker, Sterling Hayden, Dennis Hopper, Kris Kristofferson… and Dick’s brother, Jerry Van Dyke. Pleasence said he only made the film because his daughter told him to! She’d loved  Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 He also told Carpenter he’d never read the script, nor Loomis. “Only later,” said Carpenter, “after [we] became close friends, did I realise he was finding out how much I loved the movie I was making.” Incidentally, Loomis was named after John Gavin’s Psycho character; his screen lover was Janet Leigh, mother of Carpenter’s heroine, Jamie Lee Curtis. So it flows.

  20. Kabir Bedi,  40 Days At Musa Dagh, 1982.      MGM also considered Charlton Heston, of course. The Anglo-Indian actor won when an Armenian business consortium  took over funding the saga of the Armenian independence struggle against the Turks, circa 1919.
  21. Peter O’Toole, Svengali,  TV, 1983.     Announced as Brynner’s first tele-film in 1980. 

 Birth year: 1915Death year: 1985Other name: Casting Calls:  21