Claudette Colbert

  1. Helen Hayes,  A Farewell  To  Arms, 1932.        Eleanor Boardman, Ruth Chatterton and Claudette Colbert were all announced for Catherine Barkley in  the first  film of an Ernest Hemingway novel. Eleanor was chosen and  shot some scenes but  Hayes made the movie, although totally  wrong as the nurse who was  (a) tall and (b) English. Fredric March passed the ambulance driver hero to Gary Cooper and Hayes promptly had a major  crush on him.
  2. Margaret Sullavan, Only Yesterday, 1933.       The 1920s unwed mother, also rejected by Irene Dunne, made a star of Margaret in her  debut.  “Perhaps  I’ll  get  used to the bizarre, elaborate theatricalism called Hollywood, but I cannot guarantee it.”
  3. Evelyn Venable, Death Takes A Holiday, 1933.   CC was initially slated for the role of Grazia. Katharine Hepburn was fired from this movie – respun as  Meet Joe Black in 1997, with Brad Pitt inheriting Frederic March’s  Death in human form.
  4. Carole Lombard, Now and Forever, 1934.       In the ex-Honour Bright, Gary Cooper  collectes $75,000  from his rich in-laws  for selling his daughter – Shirley Temple!
  5. Madge Evans, Men Without Names, 1934.    Re-writing delays ruled out Colbert and Fred MacMurray as our Justice Department heroes. Unless, of course, they didn’t fancy the alternate title. Federal Dick.
  6. Kathleen Burke, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 1934:   CC had been top choice for Tania Volkanskaya, until director Henry Hathaway (winning his one and only Oscar nomination) met with both Frances Drake and Kathleen Burke.  Adolf Hitler loved it, saw it three times. And obviously learned nothing
  7. Norma Shearer, Romeo and Juliet, 1936.       Director George Cukor tested her – at 31 she was five years Shearer’s junior. But she was married to the MGM production boss!
  8. Norma Shearer, The Women, 1938.    It was the very devil of a play – well, it lasted 666 performances on Broadway. In 1937, the stage producers (Max Gordon Plays and Pictures Corporation) struck as deal with Gregory LaCava to direct Colbert. Then, MGM pounced. Like a lion. For Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, etc… indeed for 135 women and no men. Even all the animals were female.
  9. Barbara Stanwyck,  Union  Pacific, 1939.       Director Cecil B DeMille used Colbert’s name as bait  when trying to persuade  unknown Vivien Leigh to accept his (four-film) deal. “A better offer than Greer Garson got from MGM,”  commented Laurence Olivier, except  they both knew she was interested only in landing Scarlett.
  10. Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday, 1939.      Knowing she was #9 on the list of nine women seen for Hildy Johnson – and that director Howards Hawks  only ever  wanted Jean Arthur – poor Roz Russell kept wailing her insecurities. “You don’t want me, do you?Well, you’re stuck with me, so you might as well make the most of it.” Co-star Cary Grant told her if Hawks didn’t like her, he’d say so.  And he did. In what, from him was the highest praise: “Just keep pushing him around the way you’re doing.”  Her other rivals had been Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Irene Dunne (“too small a role”), Carole Lombard (too expensive), Ginger Rogers (“Never knew it was going to be with Cary”) and Margaret Sullavan. Hawks cleverly changed Hildy from male to female and quickened the dialogue by having actors overlapping each other’s lines – long before Robert Altman was locked out of Warner Bros for doing it in Countdown, 1966… and for evermore.

  11. Carol Bruce, This Woman Is Mine, 1940.       The producers aimed too high as Colbert could see it was the guys’ movie, not her stowaway’s. Enter: the Broadway musical star. Ironically, Bruce won greater fame as another Julie on another water vessel – in the 1946 stagte revival of Show Boat.
  12. Barbara Stanwyck, The Lady Eve, 1940.    For his deliciously sexy comedy, director Preston Sturges went through various combos for the con-woman chasing an heir to zillions… In 1938, the rascally gal was Colbert. In July, the couple was Joel McCrea and Madeleine Carrol, then Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard. By August, Carroll and Fred MacMurray. In September, Fox loaned Henry Fonda to join Goddard – and they wound up as Fonda and Stanwyck… at her wicked best. And then Sturges claimed he wrote it for her. Oh really!
  13. Ellen Drew The Night of January 16th, 1940.      Ayn Rand was working in the RKO wardrobe department and among the battalions of extras at RKO when the studio bought her play, Woman on Trial. It had a great gimmick – the murder trial jury being drawn from the audience every night. All the movie could offer was Drew, the wondrous Paramount princess, beating Lucille Ball, Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and Barbara Stanwyck
  14. Lana Turner, Somewhere I’ll Find You, 1941.      This nearly became Colbert and Clark Gable’s third teaming. His heart wasn’t in it after the plane crash death of his wife, Carole Lombard, on  January 16, 1942.  On returning to work a week later, Gable insisted on a title change rather than hear Somewhere I’ll Find You yelled by the clapper-boy before each take.  MGM  called it  Red Light (!)… for a wee while.
  15. Paulette Goddard, The Lady Has Plans, 1941. Two of the high Cs on the A List – the French Colbert and English Madeleine Carroll – were in the frame for the cub reporter on the Lisbon trail of stolen top secret WWII plans.
  16. Paulette Goddard, Reap The Wild Wind, 1941.    All hands on deck – and fathoms below – for a boisterous CB DeMille adventure classic. With a battle royale to be John Wayne’s lady, Loxi Claiborne.  Between Colbert, Katharine Hepburn and two survivors of  the Scarlett O’Hara wars, Tallulah Bankhead and Susan Hayward.
  17. Rosalind Russell, Take A Letter, Darling, 1942.     Directors Mitchell Leisen and Preston Sturges needed Claudette at the same time. Sturges won when Paramount insisted she replace Carole Lombard in Palm Beach Story. Leisen got Colbert for his next one – shot on some  of the Sturges sets,.
  18. Geraldine Fitzgerald, Wilson, 1943.       Gary Cooper and Henry Fonda were considered for the White House – and then Ronald Colman with Colbert as his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt. Finally, the Canadian Alexander Knox was finally elected as 28th US President Thomas Woodrow Wilson. (Minus any mention of him supporting the Ku Klux Klan). With Fitzgerald as First Lady. The result was such a major flop that its loving producer Darryl F Zanuck banned everyone talking to him about his paean to the “pre-FDR.”     
  19. Ruth Warrick, China Sky, 1944.   Claudette Colbert, Ellen Drew,  Margo, Maureen O’Hara and Luise Rainer  were early choices to fight over Pearl Buck’s medical hero, Paul Henreid or Randolph Scott. Finally. Warrick and Scott melo-ed.  But New York Times critic Bosley Crowther was adament:  “This is a case where 10,000 words would have been better than one picturen.”
  20. Olivia De  Havilland, To Each His Own, 1946.       Director Mitchell Leisen wanted a fifth film with Claudette.  No, she felt, four was enough to thank him for designing her costumes – and the asses’ milk bath  – in  DeMille’s Sign of the Cross, 1932.
  21. Paulette  Goddard, Suddenly  It’s  Spring, 1947.     Well,  how about this as a fifth? 

  22.  Katharine  Hepburn,  State  of  the  Union, 1947.  
    Claudette  inexplicably  quit the weekend before shooting was to start on October 12, 1947. Officially, she’d insisted on stopping work each day at 5pm; whereupon Spencer Tracy is  supposed  to have said: “Katie isn’t hamming it up  at the  moment.  But the bag of bones has been helping me rehearse…”  The legend, according to the rarely substantiated sensationalist author  Darwin Porter,  is that
    Colbert’s husband, Dr Joel Pressman, found his wife and Tracy rehearsing – in bed.   Pressman called Tracy’s lady, Hepburn, without realising that she and Claudette had been lovers for the previous eight years. On hearing that news, the doctor struck his wife. Kate drove her to hospital  with  cuts and  bruises… She forgave Tracy but never talked to Colbert again. 

  23. Bette Davis, All About Eve,  1949.
  24. Barbara Stanwyck, East Side West Side, 1949.    MGM bought Marcia Davenport’s novel for $200,000 in September 1947.  For, a year later, Greer Garson, Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert. Two years later, Mervyn Le Roy was directing Baraba Stanwyck, James Mason and Ava Gardner...
  25. Ann Blyth, One Minute to Zero, 1951.   Two months into production and Colbert was laid low with pneumonia – and the 48-year-old was subbed by Blyth, all of … 23.  Go figure.
  26. Bette Davis, The Star, 1952.   Re-run of the All About Eve casting for a star down on her luck.  Whoops, far too close to home for CC. 
  27. Ann Blyth, One Minute To Zero, 1952.    On a snow filled location in Colorado, Claudette was downed by pneumonia. Negotiations with Joan Crawford (another of her lovers) took forever and Ann flew in as the now younger heroine.
  28. Nina Foch, The Ten Commandments, 1954.
  29. Susan Hayward, The Marriage Go-Round, 1959.      Co-playwright Leslie Stevens wanted the same Broadway couple, Colbert and Charles Boyer. Instead, they became Hayward and James Mason. Sole Broadway star reprising was Julie Newmar as the ravishing Swedish woman wanting her US  host, Professor  Mason, to give her baby. Echoing Dietrich and George Bernard Shaw.
  30. Micheline Presle, If A Man Answers, 1961.      David Niven, Nancy Kwan and Colbert suddenly became Lund, Sandra Dee and… well, it was another French star as Lund’s wife delivering The Line: “If you want a perfect marriage, treat your husband like a dog… Husbands often leave home, pets never. There must be a reason.”
  31. Joan Crawford, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962.  Sisters, sisters, such horrendous sisters…  Bette Davis is Baby Jane Hudson, ex-child star, still jealous of her sister Joan Crawford’s better, well longer, career and  deciding to do something diabolical about it.  In case the two bitter enemies couldn’t face working together (Davis even tried to grab the rights and produce the film sans Crawford!), the hag-horrors might have been Ingrjd Bergman and Tallulah Bankhead or Ginger Rogers and Marlene Dietrich, to name just four earlier possibilities. There are more…  Susan Hayward, Rita Hayworth, Kathrine Hepburn, Jennifer Jones,  Agnes Moorhead for the sadistic Jane and Claudette Colbert, Olivia de Havilland, Marlene Dietrich and TV actress Jennifer West in the  mix for the masochistic Blanhe.  (Exactly, Bette and Joan, in fact!)  Oliva replaced Crawford opposite Davis in the sorta-sequel, Hush…Hush,Sweet Charlotte, 1964


 Birth year: 1903Death year: 1996Other name: Casting Calls:  31