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Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010)

 

  1. Rod Taylor, The Catered Affair, 1955.    Jilted! Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine were suffering all the wedding headaches for their daughter Debbie Reynolds and Nielsen - when it was Rod Taylor showing up at the church - in the film of Paddy Chayefsky’s original TV drama. 

  2. Stephen Boyd, Ben-Hur, 1958.  The future spoof star of The Naked Gun movies  tested as Messala opposite Cesare Danova’s Ben-Her when William Wyler (of the original’s 1924 crew)  started earning the first ever director's salary of $1m by trying to find his hero - and villain. Wyler (from the original’s 1924 crew) first thought of Charlton Heston, the star of his previous movie, The Big Country. (He went on to winthe title role, of course).  Wyler then tested Danton, and two Brits: Ronald Lewis and Bill Travers, saw Steve Cochran,Victor Mature -  and Robert Ryan, when Burt Lancaster was to be Judah Ben-Hur. Nielsen takes some believing but is proved with a clip in the documentary Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic, 1993. “In those days I auditioned for everything MGM made while I was under contract. Not for the roles Elizabeth Taylor eventually got, of course. But Mickey Rooney and I were neck and neck for most of the musicals he made!”

  3. John  Gavin,  Psycho,  1959.  Alfred Hitchcock also considered Tom Tryon, Stuart Whitman for Sam Loomis and the  November  30,  1959  start  of  the  low budget, “TV-style” Paramount movie #9401.  Gavin won. Because, as  a  Universal contractee, he was… the cheapest. Hitch kept Rod Taylor for his next one: The Birds. The question remains:  If Nielsen had become Hitchcockian, would  he  still have gone on to create Hollywood's Clouseau - Inspector Frank Drebin? 

  4. Jack Nicholson, The Shining, 1979.
    Judging them solely on Taxi Driver and Mork & Mindy, Stanley Kubrick said Robert De Niro was not psychotic enough while Robin Williams was too much so! Although Kubrick’s only choice was Nicholson, Warner Bros also suggested  Harrison Ford, Christopher Reeve. Plus Martin Sheen (who’d already made it… as Apocalypse Now!). (He later made Stephen King’s Dead Zone in 1983). Or even the funny Nielsen or Chevy Chase  (what were they smoking?) Author King said “normal looking” Michael Moriarty or Jon Voight going mad would work better than Jack. Didn’t matter who was Jack Torrance as Kubrick, usually so blissfully right about everything, had clearly lost it.   He insisted on up to 70 takes for some scenes (three days and 60 doors for “Here’s Johnny!”), reducing Shelley Duvall and grown men, like Scatman Crothers at 69, to tears. “Just what is it that you want, Mr Kubrick?” He didn’t know. He was, quite suddenly, a director without direction. Result: a major disappointment. Not only for Stephen King but the rest of us. Harry Dean Stanton escaped being Lloyd, the bartender. By making a real horror film. Alien.  

  5. Patrick Macnee, Sweet 16, 1982.      Deaf or not, Nielsen was still working at 84.  But the slasher number suffered from schedules, schmedules!
  6. John Vernon, Airplane II: The Sequel, 1982.    Suddenly reborn as a funny man at 56, Nielsen refused to reprise Dr Rumack as (he was shooting the TV series, Police Squad, 1982, being made by the same ZAZ team behind Airplane but not making the sequel. Indeed, the trio - Jim Abrahams and trhe Zucker siblibngs, David and Jerry Zucker - have never even seen it).  Their police comedy led to The Naked Gunfranchise. With Nielsen, of course.  (His sequel substitute, also came from Saskatchewan, Canada).
  7. Johnny Depp, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2004.       Although his humour came frm a different place, Nielsen was not such a crazy idea from director Tim Burton. His 29 other fancies for chocolatier Willy Wonka were his ole Betelgeuse, Michael Keaton. Plus Rowan Atkinson, Dan Aykroyd, Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Chevy Chase, Warwick Davis, Robert De Niro, James Gandolfini, Dwayne Johnson, Ian McKellen, Marilyn Manson, Steve Martin, Rik Mayall, Bill Murray, Mjke Myers, John Neville, Brad Pitt, Peter Sallis, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Will Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ben Stiller, Christopher Walken, Robin Williams. And the surviving Monty Python crew (also up for the 1970 version): John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. Among the five exec producers, author Roald Dahl’s widow, Liccy, wanted her husband’s favourite, for Wonka – Dustin Hoffman. If not possible she voted for UK comics, Eddie Izzard or David Walliams. She was quite happy with Depp… who found Willy’s voice while riffing on a stoned George W Bush!
     




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