Joan Leslie

  1. Betty Field, Kings Row, 1941.     Ida Lupino (and Olivia de Havilland rejected the neurotic Cassandra that Bette Davis craved.  (She suggested Field for the part). Leslie, Laraine Day, Katharine Hepburn, Marsha Hunt, Priscilla Lane, Adele Longmire, Susan Peters, Gene Tierney were also seen for “the town they talk of in whispers,” full of murder, sadism, depravity  And worse that had to be axed from Henry Bellamann’s 1940 novel: sex (premarital), sex (gay), incest, suicide…  Peyton Place 16 years before Peyton Place!
  2. Joan Fontaine, The Constant Nymph, 1942.   Arriving for  lunch at Romanoff’s, director Edmund Goulding stopped by Brian Aherne’s table to chat with his pal.  (He’d starred in the 1933 UK version).  Goulding said it was impossible to find the lead girl. He’d tried Bette Davis,  Wendy Barrie, Olivia De Havilland, Jennifer Jones, Joan Leslie, Eve March, Merle Oberon, Margaret Sullivan. Head brother Jack Warner craved A Star. “She has to be consumptive, flat-chested, anemic, and 14!” “How about me?” said the the freckled miss sitting with Aherne.  “Who are you?” asked Goulding, somehow not recognising his friend’s wife in a leather flight suit and  pigtails (they had just flown into LA from their Indio ranch). “Joan Fontaine.”  “You’re perfect!”  She was 25. So what!  She signed next day and called it “the happiest motion-picture assignment of my career.” Oscar nomination, included.   Well at 25, she was, remember, playing a 14-year-old infatuated with Charles Boyer (in her husband’s ’33 role).
  3. Michèle Morgan, The Chase,  1946.  Trying to escape from her Warner Bros prison, Joan Leslie signed up to be Lorna Roman (ironically the wife of that Warners staple, a gangster) in the Nero production at United Artists. The Warner brass yelled foul and issued a restraining order to stop her working for any other company, although Warner was doing precious little to improve her roles.  Her contract, signed as a mjnor,  had three years to run except she maintained  she had the right to quit, if she wished,  on reaching the age of consent. One year later an LA court agreed and she continued as a free agent until retiring, after 90 screen roles, to raise twin daughters.   A decade later, Michèle Morgan played a similarly unhappy wife in her French film, Retour de manivelle
  4. Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday, 1952.   Frank Capra (and George Stevens) wanted Liz Taylor, William Wyler liked Suzanne Cloutier (the future Mrs Peter Ustinov) for the runaway Princess Ann.   A further 28 actresses were seen, the good, bad and risible – like the current sex-bombs Yvonne De Carlo Diana Dors, Gina Lollobrigida, Sylvana Mangano, Shelley Winters.  Apart from, perhaps, Vanessa Brown, Mona Freeman and Wanda Hendrix (even though  her real name as Dixie), the Hollywood hopefuls  – singer Rosemary Clooney(George’s aunt), Jeanne Crain, Nina Foch, Janet Leigh, Joan Leslie, June Lockhart, Dorothy Malone, Patricia Neal, Barbara Rush – were soon discarded, lacking the stature of Euro-royalty. Idem for the Euros – Swedish Bibi Andersson, and the French Capucine, Leslie Caron, Jeanne Moreau. Which left several perfect Brits Claire Bloom, Joan Collins, Glynis Johns, Kay Kendall, Deborah Kerr, Angela Lansbury, Moira Shearer, and, of course, Audrey, … soon gracing the Time cover, hailed by the New York Times as a “slender, elfin and wistful beauty, alternately regal and childlike” with, added Variety, a “delightful affectation in voice and delivery, controlled just enough to have charm and serve as a trademark,” (And, Indeed, it did for evermore).
  5. Coleen Gray, Riding High, 1949.    Director Frank Capra was sorely disappointed by his 1934 film, Broadway Bill. He was right. It really did not work because Warner Baxter (as the trainer of the titular race horse) was scared of horses!  Which explains why he re-spun it 15 years later with Bing Crosby. His love interest was Coleen. And not Geraldine Brooks, Mona Freeman or Joan Leslie.
  6. Ellen Drew, Man In the Saddle, 1951.    Her first movie after the birth of twin daughters was a Randolph Scott Western. “Such a gentleman, and so devastatingly good looking, ”  she told Mike Fitzgerald.  “A charmer with beautiful eyes. I compare him to Gary Cooper, but Cooper had more versatility. Randy was so at ease on the set.” So was Joan when the producer let her  choose her role. “We thought it more interesting if I played against type and portrayed the heavy, giving Ellen the good girl” – in her final film.


 Birth year: 1918Death year: 1973Other name: Casting Calls:  6