Gene Kelly

  1. Robert Cummings, Saboteur,  1941.    Before off-loading both script and director Alfred Hitchcock – to Frank Lloyd Productions for $20,000 – producer David O Selznick  had planned his own version of the espionage thriller.  With a Broadway song ’n’ dance man as the hero as a screen debut for Kelly. Yeah well, not every DOS  project was Gone With The Wind… 
  2. John Hodiak, Marriage Is A Private Affair, 1943.   “WEDLOCK OR PADLOCK?” screamed the ads…   What started as a 1941 George  Cukor project for  Robert Taylor and Myrna Loy at Warners got sold off to MGM where, after  numerous re-writes ordered by the Production Code, Fred Zinnemann was set to helm Kelly and Lana Turner as Theo, the oddly named girl , with many  potential suitors. James Craig, Clark Gable, Gene Kelly.  Lana finally made it with John Hodiak,   for director Robert Z Leonard.  Z wuz  right.
  3. Ronald Harris, Jane Eyre, 1942.   Burgess Meredith  was also tested in February 1942 as John Reed. They  luckily lost the cameo that  became a cough ’n’ spit bit.   Poor Harris was not even credited.  
  4. Tommy Dix, Best Foot Forward, 1942.    When MGM bought the rights from Columbia, it also wanted Kelly back from a loan-out. But Columbia czar Harry Cohn’s plan to co-star the best feet of Kelly (the Broadway show’s dance director) and Rita Hayworth was now transferred to Cover Girl.  As his Metro debut was delayed, MGM agreed to extend the loan of Kelly and and took Dix from the stage hit among five others: including June Allyson, Stanley Donen, Nancy Walker.  Gil Stratton, who was Broadway’s Bud, was rushed into Girl Crazy, with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
  5. James Craig, The Human Comedy, 1942.   In August. Kelly was announced for a straight rôle in William Saroyan script – which he then turned into a best-selling novel.    
  6. George Murphy, Broadway Rhythm, 1943.  First due as the fifth of the Broadway Melody series, for Kelly, Eleanor Powell and Lena Horne. Only Horne remained (via songs filmed for Broadway Melody of 1943) as head lion LB Mayer churned the project into a vehicle for his mistress, singer Ginny Simms. He then axed her MGM deal when she refused to marry him. What a charmer!
  7. James Craig, Marriage Is A Private Affair, 1943.   But a film would be too public – and not good for the public, said the Production Code suits, as Judith Kelly’s novel included adultery, illicit sex and abortion. (Well, Tennessee Williams had a digitin the script!). Warners got scared in 1941, scrapped their Myrna Loy-Robert Taylor
  8. Gregory Peck, The Keys of the Kingdom, 1944.   Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick gave up after two years and sold out to Fox when he couldn’t find the perfect (all too perfect) hero, Father Francis Chisholm. Contenders included Kelly,  Dana Andrews, Joseph Cotten,  Maurice Evans, Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Dean Jagger, Franchot Tone, Spencer Tracy, Orson Welles… plus the most unlikely Catholic missionaries of all: Alan Ladd and Edward G Robinson!  Auteur Joseph L Mankiewicz finally secured Peck in July 1943 for  his second film  – and first Oscar nomination. 
  9. Turhan Bey,  Dragon Seed, 1943.  A production delay allowed Kelly to complete his MGM loan-out for Columbia’s Cover Girl. When he returned to HQ, Metro loaned him again, this time for  a Christmas Holiday at Universal – in a swop to get Bey to take over Kelly’s old Seed role of Lao Et Tan, middle son  of the unlikeliest-looking Chinese family ever spawned by Hollywood. Taped eye-lids for Bey, Hudd Hatfield, Katharine Hepburn, Walter Huston, Aline MacMahon, Akim Tamiroff, Henry Travers…   Insulting! 
  10. John Hodiak, The Harvey Girls, 1945.    The first idea was a drama for Gable and Lana Turner. Then, producer Arthur Freed (like who else) decided it should be a musical – and Gable would be great opposite Judy Garland after her triumph with the song, “Dear Mr. Gable/You Made Me Love You.” Just back from WWII, Gable refused to return to work in a %$#@& musical! He went into the more dramatic Adventure… Kelly was seen but it was Hodiak in a Gable tash.

  11. Fred  Astaire,  Easter  Parade, 1947.     
    Not often someone witnesses the birth of a casting change…  The renowned Broadway/Hollywood scenarist Arthur Laurents told all in his superb memoir. Gene Kelly’s friends were at his place, all very casual, come as you are, and taking turns to play volleyball. Gene’s A team – Kelly, Richard Conte, Stanley Donen – won their first game and Kelly got annoyed at the way the B team of duffers (Laurents, Farley Granger, and Mrs K, Betsy Blair) were  just messing around.  He  trembled with rage,  wanting his guys to have a second outing. The Bs were spoilsports.  “Faggots!” he shrieked, stamping down so hard on the door step  that he broke his ankle.  Unable to dance for eight months, Kelly called up Fred, retired since Blues Skies  in 1946, and he began a 21 film comeback – with an extremely shy Judy Garland. It was only a  “mental retirement,” attested Astaire.

  12. John Garfield, We Were Strangers, 1947.    Forever trying to go straight, song ’n’ dance man Kelly was apparently set for John Huston’s rough sketch (the original title) about the 1933 Cuban revolution. Until Garfield became available. Hollywood Reporter lambasted the endeavour as “the heaviest dish of Red theory ever served to an audience outside the Soviet Union.” Web critic Andrew Schoneberg found it amazing that Huston and other principals were not blacklisted afterwards. “Garfield was… but not as a result of this particular film.” 
  13. Larry Parks, Jolson Sings Again, 1948.   While attending the 1946 premiere of The Jolson Story, Jolson actually overheard someone saying:  “Too bad that Jolson isn’t alive to see this picture.” And he had played himself in the long-shots of the Swanee number! This time he was tested (too old) and Kelly was suggested because of the Communist slurs about Parks. With no plans for a third Jolson movie, poor Parks was black-listed  – ruined! – by such oafs as Senator Joe McCarthy and numbnuts Ward Bond.
  14. Frank Sinatra, In The Good Old Summertime, 1948. MGM had more stars… than they knew what to do with. Example: Andy was Kelly, who became Peter Lawford, who became Frank Sinatra who became Johnson!
  15. William Holden, Sunset Blvd,1949.       MGM refused to a loan deal for Kelly and so director Billy Wilder then looked at an unknown called Brando, Montgomery Clift, Fred McMurray before voting Holden.A perfect choice as a string of flops ruined his Golden Boy fame of ten years earlier. Like Gloria Swanson’s gigolo Joe Gillis, Holden had hit zero – and the bottle.
  16. Howard Keel, Lovely To Look At, 1952.     The B Team (Marge and Gower Champion, Kathryn  Grayson, Howard Keel, Red Skelton) was as  delightful to know as  the A team would have been: Judy Garland, Betty Garrett, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra.  Cheaper, too.
  17. Stewart Granger, Scaramouche, 1952.  Smitten by his successful Three Musketeers in 1948, MGM considered Kelly in a….  Sabatini musical. Then, somebody saw sense. Granger had given in and signed a seven-year MGM contract… as long as he could re-make the 1923 swashbuckler.  Waitaminute, waitagodmanminute – hold da music!
  18. Gower Champion, Give A Girl A Break, 1953.   First planned in 1951 as a typical MGMusical – Fred, Gene, Judy, Ann  Miller – the  project was reduced to B status (old sets, no soundtrack album!), to hopefully inaugurate the next generation of song and dancers: Debbie Reynolds, Marge and Gower Champion, etc. With old time choreography by Kelly and (director) Stanley Donen. (Bob Fosse did his own).
  19. Gordon MacRae, Carousel, 1956.     One-take Frank Sinatra quit as Billy because each scene had to be shot twice (once in 35mm, once in 55mm). Kelly replaced him but did not have the right voice for the Rodgers-Hammerstein score and hey, hey, Oklahoma! had been such a smash, best to reunite MacRae and Shirley Jones, right?  Right!
  20. Tyrone Power, Witness For The Prosecution, 1957.     Passed. Well, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton had the peachier parts.  Also in the Billy Wilder mix: Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, William Holden, Jack Lemmon, even Roger Moore… This was Ty Power’s final movie.  He died on his next project, Solomon and Sheba, in 1958.

  21. Marlon  Brando, Guys and Dolls,  1956.
    The reason Kelly quit MGM…  There was talk of Bing Crosby, Kirk Douglas, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Kelly Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum… even Bob Hope, but producer Samuel Goldwyn wanted a great musical star as Sky Masterston. Kelly was eager. Nick Schenck,  MGM’s corporate chief, would not loan him, despite  Kelly and his agent,  the  mighty Lew Wasserman, flying to New York to beg Schenck to reconsider… OK, Sam would go for a great actor. Brando refused until Joe Mankiewcz cabled:  UNDERSTAND YOU’RE APPREHENSIVE BECAUSE YOU’VE NEVER DONE MUSICAL COMEDY. YOU HAVE NOTHING REPEAT NOTHING TO  WO.RRY ABOUT…  NEITHER HAVE  I. LOVE, JOE. Once he bagged Brando, MGM made it up with Goldwyn and distributed the musical …      And Kelly left Metro…   two years before his pact ended.

  22. John Rait, The Pajama Game, 1956.  Frederick Brisson, Robert E Griffith and Hal Prince bought the 7 Cents novel for a stage musical  about a pajama factory strike.  They  immediately started courting Kelly, Cary  Grant and Van Johnson  – surely onewould agree to Broadway and Hollywood!  No ? OK, they’ll discover a new star. And did. Rait was wrong! NotA-Star calibre.
  23. Frank Sinatra,  Pal Joey, 1957.      Columbia’s much loathed  chieftain Harry Cohn hoped to repeat the Cover Girl team: Hayworth and Kelly.  MGM wanted too much money for Kelly’s second  loan-out in 17 years.  Sinatra’s company made a highly sanitised version of Kelly’s original Broadway triumph… but Frank delivered a knock-out classic live rendering of The Lady Is A Tramp.  As for being billed  between Rita Hayworth   and her Columbia successor, Kim, Novak, Sinatra opined: “That’s a sandwich I don’t mind being stuck in the middle of.”
  24. Tony Randall, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1960.    Set for a musical version  planned  in 1952 alongside Danny Kaye as the other con man
  25. Robert Preston,  The Music Man,  1962.      Knowing an actor-proof piece when he saw one, Kelly tried to buy the rights for himself. So did Bing Crosby. Would have been a bigger hit with either one.
  26. Stephen Boyd, Billy Rose’s Jumbo, 1962.   If at first you don’t succeed…  MGM’s  first cast in 1943:  Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland.  In 1947 : Frank Sinatra-Judy Garland  – or Gene Kelly-Kathryn Grayson.  1949:  Frank Sinatra-Esther Williams. 1952:  Donald O’Connor-Debbie Reynolds. 1962: Dean Martin-Doris Day. Finally: Stephen Boyd was Day’s (weak) partner in her last musical.  And after all that, it flopped!  .
  27. Jason Robards, Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1983.       Science fiction giant Ray Bradbury wrote his script for Gene Kelly in 1952, after falling for “the greatest musical ever made,” Singin’ in the Rain. Kelly loved the story but could never find backing. Bradbury then turned his scenario into a book – dedicated to Kelly.
  28. Bob Hope, A Masterpiece of Murder, TV, 1986.   A third pairing of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly was  first choice for this no -ong ‘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.






 Birth year: 1912Death year: 1996Other name: Casting Calls:  28