Fred Astaire

  1. Barry Mackay, Evergreen, 1933.      Jessie Matthews wanted Fred opposite her dual role. RKO would not allow it! When the film was a hit (her biggest), they asked her to be Ginger Rogers’ successor in Damsel In Distress… and she would not allow it!
  2. George Brent, In Person, 1935.  The Fred ‘n’ Ginger film that never was… Instead, It was George Brent and Ginger… Or, indeed, just Ginger.  This is the frolic that made her a star. Solo.
  3. James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1941.   Fred passed and, anyway, Jimmy was the choice of the actual role – Broadway icon George M Cohan.  Cagney trained with Cohan’s own choreographer –  and  won the first Best Actor Oscar given for a musical performance.
  4. Joseph Cotten, Journey Into Fear, 1941.     Universal  planned the WWII thriller for Michèle Morgan and Astaire(!), Fred MacMurray  or Robert Montgomery as the Nazi-hunted US businessman. At RKO, Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten rewrote it for themselves, several back-room staff at Mercury Productions (including Welles’ secretary. Herb Drake)  and Orson’s lover, Dolores Del Rio.  He also  produced and possibly directed some scenes. Rapidly.  Before shooting  off to Brazil to shoot It’s All True, while still editing The Magnificent Ambersons. He lost control of them all – the  affair and his career, included.  Soon as the film opened, Dolores was gone. It was that bad – even at a low 68 minutes. “I designed the film but can’t properly be called the director,” said Welles, adding that the ledge climax was directed by… “whoever was closest to the camera.”
  5. John Payne, Springtime in the Rockies, 1941.    Fred and Ging… no, Fred and Rudy Vallee had the leads before Payne and Cesar Romero. We know this from a December 20, 1941 story outline, found in the 20th Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library.
  6. Mickey Rooney, Girl Crazy, 1943.    The Gershwin brothers’ musical dates back to 1930 and was filmed by RKO in 1932. Seven years later Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell were announced by MGM, (with Van Johnson’s singing debut, future director Richard Quine and Virginia Weidler, the moppet always one step behind Shirley Temple and Judy Garland)  but the project never flew. This second Metro attempt was no better than RKO’s, even with, and for the very last time, Mickey and Judy Garland. Bug-eyed Eddie Cantor had been Metro’s first choice for the ’42 hero. He’s called, Danny Churchill, so, of course, someone had to ask him: “Hiya Church, how’s your steeple?”
  7. Ray Milland, Lady in the Dark, 1943.    Dreaming of re-uniting Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers after a five year break,   Paramount bought the Broadway show  for a then record $283,000. Director Mitchell Leisen lost him, won  her. Milland and Rogers just did not do it.  The magic  returnbed, when Fred and Ginger  did, for their and tenth and final teaming: The Berkelys of Broadway, 1948.
  8. Burgess Meredith, Story of GI Joe, 1943. Pulitzer Prize-winning US WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle was revered by his public as saint, seer and common man. And Pyle needed, said Pyle, an anaemic actor of about 122 lbs. So producer Lester Cowan immediately thought of Astaire and Gary Cooper, then James Gleason or Fred MacMurray. Plus two total amateurs:Pittsburgh radio sports jock, Albert Kennedy “Rosey” Rosewell, and an Ernie clone called John M Waldeck: a streetcar conductor nominated by 1,200 St Louisians. Pyle voted for Meredith, a serving US Army captain at the time. Pyle never saw the film – he was killed during the 1945 Okinawa invasion two months before the premiere.  The movie  remains more famous for Robert Mitchum’s audition. Director William Wellman: “What do you do for a living?” Bob: “That, Dad, is a matter of opinion.”
  9. Walter Brennan, The Princess and the Pirate, 1944.   Hard to imagine as Brennan as a replacement for the elegant Astaire. But then Walter was not always the old galoot who asked directors: “With or without?” (His teeth). No one stood a chance to shine as this was your everyday Bob Hope comedy – meaning, said web critic Dennis Schwartz, one-liner, mistaken identity, sight and drag gags.
  10. Cary Grant, Night and Day,  1946.    Fred refused his pal Cole Porter’s request  to play him in the fictional biopic. Thereafter, Porter answered the query, “Who should be you?” with “Why Cary Grant, of course.”  Warners agreed  after the flop of Rhapsody In Blue with the unknown Robert Alda (Alan’s father) as George Gershwin. And Grant agreed to be the gay composer he knew from his Broadway days for $100,000 and a cut.

  11. Dan Dailey, Mother Wore Tights, 1946.     Fox and director Walter Lang wanted Astaire or James Cagney for song-and-dancer Frank Burt.   Betty Grable wanted John  Payne – and got Dailey. She was not annoyed, she made four films each with them. 
  12. Robert Montgomery, June Bride, 1948.  After the flop of Winter Meeting, 1947, Bette Davis kept the faith with the same unknown French director Bretaigne Windust (better on stage) for one of her  (and hids) rare comedies.. She wanted Jack Carson or Dennis Morgan as her fellow journalist . The suits wanted Fred Astaire (she would have ate him up and  spat him out). Finally, “JL” (head bro Jack Warner) borrowed MGM’s Robert Montgomery . Because he was big at the box-office.  As Bette used to be…. She now needed shoring up.  And frankly, JL didn’t know what to do with her anymore.
  13. Dan Dailey, My Blue Heaven, 1949.   Fox tried hard – again! – to get to Fred or James Cagney as a song ’n’dance team with Betty Grable. Betty, they didn’t mind, but not the fact that the couple couldn’t have kids. 
  14. Gene Kelly, An American In Paris, 1950.     Surprise, surprise – shock even! Astaire was MGM’s first choice for the Allan Jay Lerner script – until the suits realised Kelly was more into ballet than Fred. And made it all his own
  15. Bob Fosse, Give A Girl A Break, 1953.     First planned in 1951 as a typical MGMusical – Fred, Gene, Judy, Ann  Miller – the  project was lowered to B status (old sets, no soundtrack album), hopefully innaugurating the next generation of song and dancers: Debbie Reynolds, Marge and Gower Champion, etc. Kelly and  (director) Stanley Donen handled the choreography – Fosse did status (old sets, no soundtrack album!), inaugurating the next generation of song and dancers.
  16. Danny Kaye, White Christmas, 1953.  “Paramount proudly presents the first picture in VistaVision…”  When Bing Crosby needed a partner as Fred Astaire did not like the script and Donald O’Connor’s  back was out.,  Cary Grant almost turned down To Catch A Thief because of his interest in joining Vera-Ellen in this musical – not a patch on his previous Irving Berlin-Bing Crosby musicals in the 40s –  like  Holiday  Inn,  1942,  when  Crosby  first sang  “White Christmas”.
  17. Spencer Tracy, The Desk Set, 1957.  Scenarists Henry and Phoebe Ephron (parents of Nora,  writer of   ) adapted the Broadway success so suit Tracy and Hepburn.. Except Spence was not so keen. Hepburn suggest Astaire and the head Fox Buddy Adler exploded: “Look. If it comes down to that, I don’t even want Hepburn.  I want Hepburn and  Tracy or I don’t want either of them.” Usualiy nervous once a start date was announced, Spence threw in the towel. But he was right. This eighth of their nine films was far from Adam’s Rib or Pat and Mike.
  18. Sammy Davis Jr.,Porgy and Bess, 1958.  Columbia’s hated  czar, Harry Cohn, wanted – incredibly – to do it in black-face.  With Fred  as  Sportin’  Life opposite Al Jolson’s Porgy and Rita Hayworth’s Bess!!!  Said the Gershwin brothers:  “Get outa here!”  Columbia gave up and sold its rights to Fox who wanted Cab  Calloway and then sold it all to be Samuel Goldwyn’s final production.  Frank Sinatra put considerable pressure on Goldwyn and his director, Otto Preminger, to cast Sammy Davis.
  19. Dan Dailey, Pepe, 1960.     Plan A, circa 1958, was Fred and Judy helping to bolster the titular Cantinflas, the Mexican comic from Around The World In 80 Days. Finally, Fred was not even one of the 80 Days-style guest stars.  Garland was heard but not seen when singing ‘Faraway Part of Town’ on the radio. 
  20. Robert Preston, The Music Man, 1962.    Mentioned in early talks as Broadway’s Preston, after 30-plus films,was said to be no great shakes in movies. Gene Kelly tried to buy it for himself.

  21. Jackie Gleason, Papa’s Delicate Condition, 1963.   Fred’s MGM contract was over.He’dtalked retirement again (he’d quit in 1946-1948) until Paramount offered a two-movie deal.  He did Funny Face and was back in a semi-retired mode when Papa rolled.
  22. Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins, 1963.    OK, Bert the chimney sweep had to sing and dance it up. But he also had to be at home with a Cockney accent. Only a few US stars could manage that. Sadly, Van Dyke was not among them. Nor were Fred, Cary Grant or Danny Kaye. Of the others in the mix, Jim Dale and Ron Moody would have been less execrable. Van Dyke blamed everything on his accent coach, J Pat O’Malley (a frequent Disney toon voice). “His British accent was even worse,” complained Van Dyke. Yet he still booked O’Malley as his father in a 1964 chapter of The Dick Van Dyke Show.  
  23. Richard Hayden, The Sound of Music, 1964.  Two years before the musical reached Broadway in 1959, Paramount secured re-make  rights to Germany’s 1956 Die Trapp-Familie – for Astaire’s Funny Face partner, Audrey Hepburn. She was not interested, When Fox took over the rights (for $1m-plus !), Astaire was asked to be Captain Von Trapp’s pal, Max Detweiler. So were the impeccable Danish pianist-comic Victor Borge and The Master, aka Noël Coward.  Fox got worried when numerous directors walked (well, Gene Kelly danced). William Wyler signed on  but proved too deaf for a musical. Robert Wise changed his mind and had the biggest triumph of his career with his second musical about a girl named Maria.  Critic Pauline Kael famously tried to bury “the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat” but it  saved Fox from the near bankruptcy  of the Cleopatra debacle.
  24. Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, 1970.   
    The legend insists that Fred was in Wonka frame.  News to director Mel Stuart and his producer, David L Wolper… Way too old at 72, said Stuart when he finally heard about Astaire’s interest  in the eccentric chocolatier.  Author Roald Dahl’s original choice to play his eccentric chocolatier was BBC radio Goon Spoke Milligan.   Next? Spike’s co-Goon Peter Sellers was too expensive. LA’s choice, Grey, was “not physically imposing enough.” Ron Moody would have frightened the horses – and the kids. UK comic Frankie Howerd was into two film farces. Jon Pertwee was wed to Doctor Who. Carry On stars Sidney James and Kenneth Williams were keen. One by one, all  six Monty Pythons  (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones Michael Palin) were judged not international enough  (and Howerd, Milligan and Pertwee were?!)  Cleese, Idle and Palin were offered the 2005 re-hash; Chapman having died and  Gilliam and  Jones turned director.  Ironically, after shooting was  finished  in Munich, Germany, the studio and locations were then taken over for Liza’s Cabaret, 1972,  co-starring…  Joel Grey.

  25. Don Ameche, A Masterpiece of Murder, TV, 1986.   A third pairing of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly was  first choice for this no-song ‘n’ dance trifle about an old private eye joining forces with an older master crook to and solve  some art thefts… and murders.   Ameche made it with Bob Hope in his first film for 15 years.
  26. Vincent Price, The Whales of August, 1986.  After a row with UK director Lindsay Anderson, John Gielgud upped and quit his role of fhe Impoverished gent, Mr Maranov – opposite fellow old-timers, Bette Davis and Lilian  Gish.  Fred Astaire and Pau Henreid were contacted before Anderson considered the Price was right…


 Birth year: 1899Death year: 1987Other name: Casting Calls:  27