Jean Arthur

  1. Sally Eilers, Pursuit, 1934.   Arthur was selected, albeit tentatively, as the 007-sounding Maxine Bush. Except it was Eilers who helped fly a child out of harm’s way from a guardianship battle in another example of Chester Morris making a B programmer appear to be an A feature.
  2. Jean Harlow, Saratoga, 1937.    The Harlow vehicle suddenly churned into Clark Gable-Joan Crawford… after Paramount refused to loan his future wife, Carole Lombard.  Harlow returned and, with 90% of the film shot, collapsed on-set and died within a week from uremic poisoning. Metro completed the movie with her double, Mary Dees (voiced by Paula Winslowe), after  bad taste thoughts of a re-shoot with Arthur or Virginia Bruce… in the way Crawford took on They All Kissed The  Bride, in 1942, after  Lombard’s air crash death. By chance, the last words from the real and tragic  Harlow on-film are: Good-bye.
  3. Vivien Leigh, Gone With The Wind,  1938.
  4. Joan Blondell, Good Girls Go To Paris, 1938.     Arthur escaped the bad comedy script that became Blondell’s debut at Columbia – 42nd for the studio!  Arthur told the NYTimes  in 1972 she  became an actress “because I didn’t want to be myself.”
  5. Barbara Stanwyck, Golden Boy, 1938.     Director Frank Capra had his eyes on the Clifford Odets play as a movie vehicle for Arthur – as Loran Moon. He then switched to a little something called Mr Smith Goes to Washington. And took Arthur with him.
  6. Bette Davis, Wicked Stepmother, 1988.   As per usual, Davis got top- billing – for 11 minutes only. Because after a week’s work, she took a leave of absence “for a dental appointment.” She never returned… Arthur and Lucille Ball were discussed as substitutes, director Larry Cohen said Davis fretted asbout getting work if people thought she was in bad health. In his wholly stupid rewrite, Cohen had Bette’s cat morphing into… Barbara Carrera!
  7. Rosalind Russell,  His Girl Friday, 1939.  Knowing she was #9 on the list of nine women seen for Hildy Johnson – and that director Howards Hawks  only ever  wanted Jean Arthur – poor Roz Russell kept wailing her insecurities. “You don’t want me, do you?Well, you’re stuck with me, so you might as well make the most of it.” Co-star Cary Grant told her if Hawks didn’t like her, he’d say so.  And he did. In what, from him was the highest praise: “Just keep pushing him around the way you’re doing.”  Her other rivals had been Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Irene Dunne (“too small a role”), Carole Lombard (too expensive), Ginger Rogers (“Never knew it was going to be with Cary”) and Margaret Sullavan. Hawks cleverly changed Hildy from male to female and quickened the dialogue by having actors overlapping each other’s lines – long before Robert Altman was praised for it  from  Countdown, 1966, and for evermore.
  8. Rita Hayworth, Angels Over Broadway, 1939.   Ben Hecht’s scenario was not sure what it was: crime caper or light romance. Arthur knew – and bolted.
  9. Martha Scott, They Dare Not Love, 1940.   Working title: We Dare Not Love…   Columbia won James Edward Grant’s story  for a snip – $10,000  – as an Arthurian vehicle.  She didn’t want to drive.   Scott was loaned from (future Tarzan producer) Sol Lesser – in exchange for Melvyn Douglas  making That Uncertain Feeling
  10. Rita Johnson, The Golden Fleecing, 1940.    MGM planned James Stewart as the hapless insurance man – Henry Twinkle, no less – and tried to borrow Arthur for his secretary but Columbia was not playing ball.

  11. Mary Martin, Kiss the Boys Goodbye, 1940.     Best joke was off-screen. Subject: Searching for a Scarlett O’Hara-style Southern belle to replace a musical’s leading lady. So who better than Arthur. She’d actually tested for Scarlett. Story ges she enjoyed the jape – but was tied to The Devil and Miss Jones. (Nothing to do with Georgina Spelvin).
  12. Ruth Hussey, Our Wife, 1940.   How a screen couple evolves…  Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in 1938 became Grant and  Loretta Young in ’39,  Grant and Rita Hayworth in ’40… finally, Melvyn Douglas and Ruth Hussey. Not the same chic-to-chic at all.
  13. Barbara Stanwyck, Ball of Fire, 1941.      Spurned by Ginger Rogers, Sam Goldwyn ran into another implacable wall when the often foul-mouthed  Columbia boss, Harry (or King) Cohn, refused to release Arthur to be… Sugarpuss O’Shea! Also falling by the wayside: Lucille Ball and Carole Lombard. 
  14. Bette Davis, The Man Who Came To Dinner, 1941.  Eight guys  were seen for the titular and  acerbic critic, Sheridan Whiteside  – the first time that  Cary Grant and Orson Welles were considered  for the same role!   But just five ladies for Maggie Cutler (based on Dorothy Parker).  Jean Arthur, Bette  Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Myrna Loy  and Rosalind  Russell.  It was Bette who wanted  John Barrymore as Whiteside, but he could no longer remember his lines. The suits ran for safety to the Broadway play’s star, Monty Woolley, which  did not delight Davis.  “For me it was not a happy film to make… I guess I never got over my disappointment in not working with the great John Barrymore.” In their boom(ing) days, the Burtons were due for a re-make. But who would  want Burton for dinner?
  15. Mary Martin, Kiss the Boys Goodbye, 1941.   Officially, it was listed  by Paramount as a Jean Arthur Vehicle. Except she was stuck at RKO making The Devil and Miss Jones. And so Martin, the future Broadway
  16. Jane Wyman, The Lost Weekend, 1944.      Director Billy Wilder managed to loan Wyman from Warner Bros for his Paramount drama. What Head Brother, Jack Warner, put down as “that drunk film” won four Oscars – actor, script, director and film – on March 7, 1946.
  17. Irene Dunne, Anna and the King of Siam, 1945.       After The Impatient Years flopped  in 1944, Arthur wanted to return  to Broadway.  Garson Kanin was in the middle of  writing a play for her, when he did the right thing and shot off to WWII. Keeping herself free for his return, she gave up  Anna during a two year wait for Born Yesterday.  Then, when she finally read it, she was extremely disappointed!  Also up for Anna: Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Vivien Leigh, Myrna Loy and Merle Oberon.
  18. Donna Reed, It’s A Wonderful Life1946.
  19. Rosalind Russell, A Woman of Distinction, 1949.      Arthur, Russell, Joan Fontaine and Loretta Young were up for the slapsticky romcom with Cary Grant – well, no, it was Ray Milland in the end. Fine, but he was no Grant and this was no Bringing Up Baby.

  20. Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday, 1950.   
    Billie Dawn was writer Garson Kanin’s gift to Arthur . Yet, she  got cold feet and quit  Broadsay,  leaving  Judy Holliday a scant three days to learn the role.  “I don’t know why [Garson] Kanin ever thought I was right for it,” she  told Guy Flatley in the New York Times, May 1972.  “He said something about the junkman being Harry Cohn, my boss at Columbia, who put me on suspension for two and a half years…   I almost found the perfect way of killing  him without getting caught.”  After the long wait, she passed on the play and, later, the film. “I suppose I’m a snob, but I wanted something more ladylike. I could’ve played the part, but I could not have given the performance that Judy Holliday gave.”  And Cohn’s “fat Jewish broad”  won the Best Actress  Oscar. King Cohn had preferred Alice Faye, Paulette Goddard, Gloria Grahame, Celeste Holm, Evelyn Keyes, Marie McDonald, Marilyn Monroe, Jan Sterling, Lana Turner  –  anyone other than “the fat Jewish broad,”  the understudy who had made the play a hit. Katharine Hepburn waged a campaign to change Cohn’s mind, by virtually turning Judy’s support role in Spencer Tracy and Hepburn’s Adam’s Rib into a most elaborate screen test . An act of generosity unsurpassed in Hollywood history.  Cohn gave in, gracefully. “Well, I’ve worked with fat assess before!”  He paid a  meagre $4,500 to the actress who   did the impossible – and wrested Oscar from Bette Davis in All About Eve and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd on March 29, 1951 Judy also won  Kate for a lover – Hepburn’s final lesbian  affair at a  mere 43.

  21. Dorothy McGuire, Friendly  Persuasion, 1956.     On  quitting Columbia,  the  studio  he’d  made, Frank Capra suggested this script for Arthur and the “very interested”  Bing Crosby. His  ex-Liberty Films partner William bought  it for Gary Cooper and McGuire.
  22. Bette Davis, Pocketful of Miracles, 1961. Directing legend Frank Capra never knew this would be his final  film. Or he would have tried harder… and dumped Glenn Ford who seemed determined to ruin his own production. Jean Arthur, Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn were run up the flagpole but Shirley Booth had always been his choice for Apple Annie. Trouble was, she watched Capra’s original 1933 movie, Lady for a Day, and it scared her. Impossible, she said, to improve upon or even match May Robinson’s Oscar-nominated performance…Oh yeah, snarled Bette.
  23. Ida Lupino, Junior Bonner, 1971.    She had not made a film since Shane, some 20 years ago…  Then, she had been young Brandon De Wilde’s Ma, now Sam Peckinpah wanted her to be the mother of his hero, Steve McQueen.  She found it easy to pass on the “beaten-down old woman.” Some 21 years earlier, Arthur and Lupino had both been in the mix for Billie Dawn in  Born Yesterday.
  24. Liv Ullmann, Lost Horizon, 1972.      “Oh, if I really wanted to go back, I could. I’ve been approached by Ross Hunter to take the part of a  lady missionary” –  in his musical re-make of the 1936 classic.   But no, she saw it as a deadly part. The disaster was rapidly known as Lost Investment.  Said Arthur: “I don’t want to do anything unless it’s a lot of fun.”  So no comeback? “If this were in England and there were Margaret Rutherford roles to be had, that would be great.”  


 Birth year: 1900Death year: 1991Other name: Casting Calls:  24