Jason Robards

  1. Richard Burton, Cleopatra,1963.
  2. Tony Bennett, The Oscar, 1965.  Before coming good with The Graduate, The Lion in Winter, etc, New York producer Joseph E Levine had an unhealthy interest in snitty/snotty movies about Hollywood. The Carpetbaggers, Harlow and now the worst…   He wanted  Robards as the oddly named Hymie  Kelly (narrating the sordid tale of his film-star buddy Stephen Boyd). Joe did not get him. Dropping a mere $1m into the $3m pot  apparently did not give him casting rights. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther castigated the result: “another distressing example of Hollywood fouling its nest -professionally, socially, commercially and especially artistically.”  Bennett called it a terrible experience, putting him off “acting” forever.
  3. Ralph Meeker, The St Valentine’s Day Massacre, 1966.  For his first  studio movie, director Roger Corman wanted Orson Welles as Al Capone. Robards was all set to be gangster  “Bugs” Moran (with a real name like George Clarence, Moran  needed a tough-guy  nickname)  when he was suddenly switched to being,  laughably,  the thinnest Capone in Hollywood history. And Ralph became th Meeker Moran.
  4. Jack Palance, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, TV, 1968.    When shooting resumed after a strike, Robards had to leave for a previous commitment – taking his very 1920s’ John  Barrymore make-up with him. Palance settled for looking like a satyr. To paraphrase Hamlet: The best is Palance.
  5. Edmond O’Brien, The Wild Bunch, 1968.

  6. Rod Cameron, The Last Movie, 1970.    
    Aka: The Last Movie or Boo Hoo in Tinseltown! Based on Hopper’s experiences while shooting The Sons of Katie Elder in Mexico (when indigenous natives re-enacted the movie-making), the film won the Critics’ Prize at Venice but The Last Movie was damn nearly The Last Hopper.  Well, he shot it in  Peru – coke capital of the world!  He’d got Stewart Stern, a pal since scripting Rebel Without A Cause,  to write it. They argued, split, but always wanted to work together again. ”He fascinated me,” said Stern, “because he had ideas before anybody else did.” But their stoned, 98 page treatment interested no one. And Hopper refused to risk record producer Phil Spector’s offer of $1.2m to film the new, 119-page script.  Hopper just bided his time… He always intended Kansas, his “stunt  man in a lousy Western,” for Montgomery Clift – but he died in 1966. The role needed an older player. Finally, at 34, Hopper explained: “It was easier doing it myself than explain to another actor what I wanted.” 
    He had tested various hopefuls and considered two of John Ford’s family: John Wayne and Ben Johnson, talked to Jack Nicholson, Jason Robards and… Willie Nelson!! My God, Dennis and Willie shooting in Peruthey’d still be there!   Buried, probably.

  7. Rod Steiger, Giù la testa (UK: A Fistful of Dynamite; US: Duck You Sucker), Italy, 1971.First choice of Sergio Leone (as producer only), was Robards as the Mexican peon caught up in the Mexican Revolution with IRA man Malcolm McDowell. They became Steiger and James Coburn and Leone finally directed after they refused Sam Peckinpah.Flushed with his Oscar and $700,000 per film, Steiger threw his not inconsiderable weight around, turning his bandit Miranda into Pancho Villa and Zapata combined until Leone exploded in Almeria. “I don’t care if you’re called Rod Steiger and you won an Oscar by some mistake… you’re a sack of shit!” Coburn cooled him down. After three days directing him via an assistant (with a sack of horse manure always near the actor!), Steiger became a pussycat… Leone still put him through 25 takes if necessary to get what he wanted. And when he didn’t, the scenes were later dubbed by New York impressionist Will Jordan.
  8. Robert Culp, Hickey & Boggs, 1971.  Wining his first movie screenwriting credit was an event strong enough to carry her off like that.for future auteur Walter Hill to celebrate.   The casting, not so much.  He’d planned it for the gritty Robards and Strother Martin – not the cosy I Spy  TV duo of Culp and Bill Cosby.
  9. Lee Marvin, The Iceman Cometh,  1973. When Robards was injured in a road crash, director John Frankenheimer had the choice of Brando, Hackman or Marvin for Eugene O’Neill’s Hickey. “Secretly, I really hoped to do it with Lee. He has that wonderful face.   That tortured face. And  and he looked like a salesman. He told stories so well in life and he was such a good actor. I loved working with him. It was a really wonderful experience. He was perfect for it.” Even when he wasn’t required,  Marvin was always on the set – “almost like an assistant director, ” said Frankenheimer, “trying to quiet people down while I worked with other actors.” And such  other actors!  Including the last hurrahs of Fredric March and Robert Ryan. 
  10. Jackie Cooper, Superman, 1977.    
  11. Jack Palance, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, TV, 1978.   Robards was both guys in a make-up inspired by John Barrymore’s in 1920, when a strike stalled production. When peace was achieved, Robards had reported to his next gig. Enter: Palance in a make-up resembling… a satyr. 

  12. Klaus Kinski, Fitzcarraldo, Germany, 1982.
    Director Werner Herzog dropped his usual star for “a figure of genuine charm, warmth and humour,” adding “that paranoid schizophrenic [Kinski] never showed a spark of humour in 170  films.”  As usual, Kinski called Herzog crazy.     “I am Fitzcarraldo. Do what you like – in the end, I’m still him.”  And he was. After five weeks’ shooting in Peru.   Robards fell ill.  “Ill…? Damn nearly died!” he growled at me in Cannes. Herzog SOSed “the baddest dude among actors.” Kinski replied: “Fuck you!” Two days later, he opened a bottle of champagne and signed on. As Mick Jagger had no time to re-shoot,  his  role was cut from the film. 

  13. Robert Mitchum, That Championship Season, 1982. Auteur Jason Miller’s 1989 game-plan.  Mitchum was the only non-stage star in the final team.
  14. Jonathan Pryce, Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1983.    Director Sam Peckinpah’s idea in 1972, Robards played a kindlier character in Jack  Clayton’s  bedevilled Disney version.
  15. Paul Newman, Harry & Son, 1983.   LA lawyer Ronald Buck tried to interest Robards, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, even Telly Savalas in his script about a widowed, blue collar father and his ”bookish, sensistive” son.  They all passed. Buck gave a script to Joanne Woodward  to interest her (oh, yeah, sure!) in the lady highly smitten by Harry. She showed it to hubby and he called Buck: “Can I direct?”It was another two years  before Newman (who lost his own son, Scott, to drugs at  age 28, in 1978) had the rewrite he wanted. But the studios didn’t care. “That pissed me off and I find I work very well when I’m pissed off.  So I finally agreed to act in it” – although having sworn off the double chore since Sometimes A Great Notion, when he said acting an directing simultaneously was like  putting a gun in his mouth.
  16. Gene Hackman, No Way Out, 1986.  For his excellent thriller (labyrinthine and ingenious, said Roger Ebert) the under-praised Aussie director Roger Donaldson tried all ages for the villain politico. From James Caan and Al Pacino at 46 to Gregory Peck at 70. Plus James Coburn, Sean Connery, James Cromwell, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Mitchum, Donald Moffat, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Jason Robards, Donald Sutherland and Jon Voight.   Hackman was 56.
  17. Jack Nicholson, Ironweed, 1987.    Up for novelist William Kennedy’s hobo,  Francis Phelan
  18. John Mahoney, Article 99, 1992. M*A*S*H comes home – and fights the scandal of Veterans’ Administration health care. A Pearl Harbour survivor, Robards was a well decorated war veteran, awarded the Navy Cross (second-highest Navy honour) for his WWII  service.
  19. Raymond Burr, Delirious, 1990.   He’d lost him for Perry White in Superman, 1977, and here again for his second film as a director. Tom Mankiewicz – Dr Mank, script doctor and writer of Bond and Superman – wanted Robards as a typical soap villain  His agent said Mr Robards would love it.  For $750,000 s week. The schedule was ten weeks. The budget did not have $7.5m going spare.  OK, he’d try a TV idol of his youth.  “Mr Burr is not interested in doing films,” snapped his agent. “He does six Perry Mason movies a year and that’s all. Forget it.” Mank did not. He got Burr’s address (not the vineyard or his island off Fiji) and sent him the script. Plus a note: “I understand you don’t want to do movies but it could be so much fun if you would do this.”  Five days later the phone rings and an unmistakable voice agreed. “Well, this could be a great deal of fun, couldn’t it?  When are you starting?”
  20. Robert Duvall, Falling Down, 1992.  “You’re angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven…?”  On his last day on the job, LAPD Sergeant Lester Prendergast  finds a guy, known only by his car number-plate, D-FENS, melting down, dangerously.  He’s Michael Douglas, in a Spartacus  buzz-cut, glasses and, finally, his  very own Cuckoo’s Nest.  Duvall won the cop from Robards, Gene Hackman, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier.

  21. Jack Warden, A Dog of Flanders, 1999.    Bad  health  ruled him out of the fifth screen version of Ouida’s classic novel.
  22. Martin  Sheen, The West Wing, TV, 1999-2006.  Hardly surprising that creator Aaron Sorkin first thought of Poitier for his US President.  “Those talks didn’t get far,” Sorkin recalled.  Poitier’s fee was too high for the planned four appearances per season.  Next in line for POTUS: Robards, Alan Alda, John Cullum, Hal Holbrook. Then producer John Wells remembered  Sheen had played JFK (and RFK) and would be the perfect Josiah Bartlett (named after a signatory of the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence). In fact, he ruled from his first entrance and was quickly written (front and centre) into all 154 episodes.
  23. James Coburn, The Man From Elysian Fields, 2001.   Second time Robards pulled out of a film with Mick Jagger;  a Jagger production, this time.




 Birth year: 1922Death year: 2000Other name: Casting Calls:  23