Clifton Webb

  1. Fred Astaire, Dancing Lady, 1933.    A singer (opera) and dancer from childhood, Laura’s future Waldo Lydecker (not forgetting, Mr Belvedere), Webb  was signed by MGM as to rival RKO’s Fred Astaire.  When Webb demanded equal billing to Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, the studio sent for Astaire. And so, Webb’s planned musicals – Dancing For Love, Maytime, This Time It’s Love, with Judy Garland, Jessie Matthews, Robert Montgomery, etc – never happened..
  2. Claude Rains, Notorious, 1945.    Some Enchanted Movie…!    Surprisingly, Alfred Hitchcock, thought of Broadway’s South Pacific musical star, Ezio Pinza, to play the Nazi masterspy bejng investigated by US agent Cary Grant and their – yes, their – lover, a nymphoish Ingrid Bergman.   George Sanders and Clifton Webb were also in the frame.
  3. Tom Conway, One Touch Of Venus, 1948.       Worried that Webb was the only solid name in her plans to film the Broadway hit musical in 1943 (with Mary Martin and Frank Sinatra), Mary Pickford pulled the plug and sold her rights to Universal where, ironically, it promptly became a vehicle for… Ava Gardner. She ignited with Sinatra in 1949 and wed during 1951-1957.
  4. Robert Douglas, The Fountainhead, 1948.       Jack Warner promised novelist Ann Rynd too much – never cutting her loquacious script, and headlining (a far too old) Gary Cooper as her youngarchitect hero. But he would not sanction Webb as the villain – Douglas was better used to such characters, albeit usually with a rapier in the hand.
  5. William Powell, Dancing in the Dark, 1949.     Way back in December 1945, head Fox Darryl Zanuck sent a memo to producer  George Jessel, suggesting the musical about a conceited movie idol turned lowly talent scout  was perfect for Webb. Three years later, Zanuick changed his mind: “He is now so identified as Mr Belvedere that I am afraid he must play either Mr Belvedere or big dramatic roles where there can be no comparisons made.”  Dark was a terrible film proving that only MGM could make musicals, not  Fox. 
  6. George Sanders, All About Eve, 1950
  7. Monty Woolley, As Young As You Feel, 1951.  A Paddy Chayesky tale of, mandatory retirement at 65 – something that Woolley (rather than the first planned Webb), fights against. Myrna Loy passed Lucile McKinley to Constance Bennett who cattily said of her young co-star, Marilyn Monroe: “Now there’s a broad with a future behind her!”  Jealousy, thy name is Bennett.
  8. Jack Buchanan, The Band Wagon, 1952.        Before reframing his career as a viperish curmudgeom, Webb had been a Broadway song ’n’ dancer. Yet he refused to join the Fred Astaire, because Fred was the maestro and Webb wasn’t.The role? Jeffrey Cordova, a flamboyant director based on, well, take your pick: José Ferrer, George S Kaufman, Orson Welles. The choices? Vincent Price, Edward G Robinson or Webb – wh preferred the lead rôle of America’s March King, John Philip Sousa, in Stars and Stripes Forever. Gradually, Cordova became Buchanan – the UK Fred Astaire opposite the US Astaire. Imagine Webb singing “Triplets” – oh, the horror!
  9. Fred Allen, O Henry’s Full House, 1952.       Tied up with Stars and Stripes Forever, Webbhad to passSam ‘Slick’ Brown” to (the funnier) Allen in The Ransom of Red Chief  – cut from the otherwise  sprightly collection of five O Henry short stories. (It was  put back for the TV screenings in  the 60s).  Given the script had just four stories, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther argued that the title should have been… O Henry’s Four of a Kind.
  10. James Mason, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1959.       Ill-health stopped the Jules Verne tale becoming the third partnership of waspish Webb and journeyman director Henry Levin.   Mason took over Professor Lindenbrook and had little time for his co-star, the diva-esque Arlene Dahl.

 Birth year: 1891Death year: 1966Other name: Casting Calls:  10