Dame Maggie Smith

  1. Jean Seberg, Saint Joan, 1957.     Although a trifle old at 23 for the 19-year-old Maid of Orleans, the tyrannical producer-director-ogre Otto Preminger was intrigued by the British stage-screen actress (Kraft Television Theatre, Lilli Palmer Theatre in the US. He also considered such unlikely Joans as Ursula Andress, Julie Andrews, Anne Bancroft, Claire Bloom, Carol Burnett, Joan Collins, Angie Dickinson, Shirley MacLaine, Mary Tyler Moore, Kim Novak (from Otto’s Man With The Golden Arm, 1955), Debbie Reynolds, Maggie Smith, Liz Taylor and… and Mamie Van Doren!
  2. Samantha Eggar, Doctor Dolittle, 1966.    Considering the racially abusive Dr Rex Harrison (called Tyrannosaurus Rex behind his back) was 57,Fox was none too sure who should be his romantic interest – who was not in the books.   He wanted his My Fair Lady stage co-star because he was furious she was never even considered for the film version. (“Eliza Doolittle is supposed to be ill at ease in European ballrooms. Bloody Audrey [Hepburn] has never spent a day in her life out of European ballrooms”). Or his pal, Maggie Smith, was 33. Hayley Mills was 20. Barbra Streisand, 24, would have punched out his anti-Semitism. “Yes, he was unkind and vitriolic and very mean-spirited,” recalled Eggar, 27, “but he was also very funny.  Until, of course, he turned on me, too.”
  3. Susannah York, Sebastian, 1967.      Impossible to get any of the interchangeables (Michael Caine, Julie Christie, Peter O’Toole, Vanessa Redgrave) which had UK director Michael Powell pleading: “Where, oh where is Maggie Smith?”  Fully booked as well
  4. Samantha Eggar, Doctor Dolittle, 1967.    Considering the abusive Dr Rex Harrison (called Tyrannosaurus Rex behind his back) was 58.  Fox was none tyoo sure who should be his  romantic interest.   His pal, Maggie Smith, was 34. His My Fair Ladystage and screen co-star Julie Andrews, 32.  Barbra Streisand (who would have punched out at his anti-Semitism)  was 25. Hayley Mills was 21. “Yes, he was unkind and vitriolic and very mean-spirited,” recalled Eggar, 28, “but he was also very funny.  Until, of course, he turned on me, too.”
  5. Carrie Snodgress, Diary Of A Mad Housewife, 1970.       US director Frank Perry doubted she could pass as an (ordinary) American housewife.  Learning of a sandwich named after her in Venice,  she asked: “Is it ham?”
  6. Vanessa Redgrave, Mary, Queen of Scots, 1971.    The Scottish queen was always  intended by producer Hal B Wallis for Genevieve Bujold.  She was not keen on another executed 16th Century royal, having already been beheaded as Henry VIII’s second wife, Ann Boleyn, in A Thousand Days.  Wallis next looked over  Smith,Mia Farrow, Jane Fonda, Sophia Loren(!).  Redgrave, first booked for Elizabeth I,  was sixth choice.
  7. Katharine Hepburn, Rooster Cogburn, 1974.       If well enough to reprise his Oscar-winning True Grit marshal, John Wayne wanted Ingrid Bergman as Eula Goodnight, no less. Hal Wallis shortlisted Bette Davis, Maureen O’Hara, (of course!). Plus true Brits Smith, Glenda Jackson, Vanessa Redgrave. But he rejected any comeback for Loretta Young (his producer son Mike Wayne’s godmother) which is when, in trying to avoid two wrinklie co-stars, Duke suggested Mary Tyler Moore. Hepburn won because the script by ex-Duke co-star Martha Hyer (Mrs Wallis, credited as Martin Julien) was a flagrant rehash of Kate’s African Queen – and as pathetic as director Stuart Miller. It was his second feature. The “6ft 6ins somafabitch no-talent, ” as Duke termed him, never made a third.
  8. Elizabeth Taylor,The Driver’s Seat, Italy, 1973.       Maggie was the 1970 plan of Italian maestro Visconti… Count Don Luchino Visconti Di Modrone.
  9. Meryl Streep,Out Of Africa, 1985.      Anthony Harvey, the UK director, and his writer Robert Ardrey wrote an early version for Maggie. Another Brit helmer, Nicolas Roeg, took it over for a spell before it landed in Sundance Valley.
  10. Lauren Bacall, Appointment With Death, 1987 Or: Save The Cannon Group!  The Go Go Boys – Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus – were facing bankruptcy…They had, somehow, won the rights to the Agatha Christie book and hoped for  an instant co-production deal with ILord) John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin, producers of the EMI Christies: Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, Murder Under the Sun andThe Mirror Crack’d. Never happened!  Director Michael Winner kept quiet about shooting in in Israel (to cut costs for the Israeli’s producers) and Bacall, for one was, she said, hoodwinked, She did not reprise, as she expected ted, the pleasures of the Orient Express shoot, co-stars, locations and, above all, style.  “Another loser from Winner,” said Film Review. The SOS failed.  Cannon was bankrupt by 1990. 

  11. Joanna Miles, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, 1990.      For Hamlet’s mother. When  Tom Stoppard’s first hit play was due to be made by UK director John Boorman in 1970. 
  12. Charlotte Rampling, The Cherry Orchard, 1999.      Having directed  it on  stage (with two future theatrical knights, Tom Courtney and Ben Kingsley) in 1966, UK director Lindsay Anderson spent much of his career trying to film the Chekov play. He even talked the dreaded Cannon Films into a deal – which fell apart when  Cannon One,  Menahem Golan,  insisted on Russian locations. With Maggie still aboard (now with Dustin Hoffman as Gayev), Anderson  agreed to  a Prague shoot in 1992. Never  happened – again. Dame Mags is one of less than 20 women to have obtained the Acting Triple Crown – Emmy, Oscar and Tony awards. She collected four Emmies for her most famous TV rôle in Downton Abbey: Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. Like I always say, you can never go wrong with a Crawley…

    Footnote>>> Saw Dame Maggs’ Desdemona opposite Laurence Olivier’s  stupendous Othello at the UK’s National Theatre in London  in 1964 – with Frank Finlay as Iago. They all appeared in the 1965 film version, winning the most Oscar acting nominations of any Shakespeare film.


 Birth year: Death year: Other name: Casting Calls:  12