Laird Cregar


  1. George Lessey, Moon Over Miami, 1940.   When Cregar fell ill, Lessey took over as Robert Cummings’ playboy father in the second re-tread of 1938’s Three Blind Mice.
  2. John Carradine, Western Union, 1941.    Delayed  by another movie, Cregar had to quit and (of all people)  George “Gabby” Hayes took over as Doc Murdoch – promptly fell ill and Carradine carried on.
  3. Monty Woolley, The Man Who Came To Dinner, 1941. When the comedy tickled director Howard Hawks’ fancy, he wanted Cary Grant as the titular critic Sheridan Whiteside However, public  insisted that  only Woolley could and should play his famous stage role. Orson Welles wanted to direct and play Whiteside. (And he did so in a 1972 TVersion). Bette Davis wanted John Barrymore, but he could no longer remember his lines. Tests of Robert Benchley and Laird Cregar were respectively deemed “too mild-mannered” and “overblown and extravagant,” by producer Hal Wallis. (Probably why Charles Coburn refused to test at all). Director William Keighley also saw Charles Laughton (he made two terrible tests) and  Fredric March. And Grant was still around – “far too young and attractive,” said Wallis.  Anyway, acerbic or no, causing havoc or not, who’d be upset if Cary Grant suddenly came to dinner?   (Robert Morley, who refused the Broadway production, was the UK’s  stage Whiteside during 1941-1943).
  4. Walter Huston, Swamp Water, 1941.     Cregar, Huston and Dean Jagger were lined up for hunter Thursday Ragan in Jean Renoir’s first US film since fleeing his Nazi-occupied France. As usual, Hollywood had scant respect for anyone who was better than Hollywood. Head Fox Darryl F Zanuck dared complain that the master réalisateur of La Grande Illusion, La bête humaine La règle du jeu – revered as the greatest film-maker by Chaplin and Welles – was too slow!! He was fired, then asked to stay. Soon as the film was finished, Renoir quit Fox. “He’s not one of us,” declared DFZ. Bah! On the Oscar night of April 8, 1975, Renoir received an honorary Academy Award for his career. One of his stars, Ingrid Bergman, picked it up for him. I know because I was there, backstage.
  5. Akim Tamiroff, Dragon Seed, 1943.     Insulting!  Pearl Buck’s book had a point – exposing Japanese atrocities in China.  MGM made it a farce, with the unlikeliest looking Chinese ever spawned by Hollywood. Taped eyelids for Hepburn, Walter Huston, Aline MacMahon, Akim Tamiroff… Charles Laughton was deemed doable as Wu Lien and then left for The Canterville Ghost. Cregar and Sydney Greenstreet were inevitably seen as his replacement but failed Eurasian make-up tests. (Likewise Edward Arnold, Fay Bainter, Donald Crisp, Greer Garsopn Van Heflin, Hedy Lamarr, Frank Morgan, Walter Pidgeon and Edward G Robinson for other roles).
  6. George Montgomery, Coney Island, 1943.   As close to the real Coney as the Eiffel Tower was… Carny operators Cregar and Pat O’Btrien plus showgirl Alice Faye were Fox-churned into Montgomery, Cesar Romero and what Variety called “a 95-minute audition of Betty Grable’s chassis and legs – in color.”
  7. George Sanders, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1944.     As the film came from an Oscar Wilde book,  the suits considered  the American  revered for playing Wilde on stage. But Sanders also showed up for the scene-stealing misogynist Lord Henry Wotton. Well, he had Oscar Wilde’s best lines. Cregar died and Herbert Marshall and Basil Rathbone (too typed as Sherlock Holmds) were seen before Sanders.
    for the scene-stealing misogynist Lord Henry Wotton. Well, he had Oscar Wilde’s best lines. Cregar died and Herbert Marshall and Basil Rathbone (too typed as Sherlock Holmds) were seen before Sanders.
  8. Clifton Webb,  Laura,  1944.     Fox chief Darryl Zanuck and director Rouben Mamoulian started filming with Creger (6ft 3in… in almost every direction)  as  the  bitchy Waldo Lydecker opposite John Hodiak in the Dana  Andrews part. “The performances were  appalling,”  said  director-ogre Otto Preminger taking over the film and going for a less obvious heavy.  “Otherwise, the audience will know right away and there will be no chance to suspect Gene Tiernery.” (She was the screen’s  first murder victim to become a suspect…) Zanuck was not so sure about Webb  – “he flies”  (gay) – but he became a surprise star at  age 53 as  the ex-bouncer Cregar died at 28 from the results of  a crash diet.  (Orson  Welles was  set  for  a 1970 re-make that, par for the Wellesian course,  never happened).
  9. Vincent Price, Dragonwyck, 1945.     The set was more akin to a hospital ward… Original director Ernst Lubitsch fell ill and quit. Alec Craig caught flu, fellow actors Albert Van Antwerp and Cregar, Gregory Peck’s successor in the lead role, had heart attacks – fatal in Cregar’s case. Price lost 30 lbs for the role – an odd move considering Cregar’s girth.
  10. Errol Flynn, Kim, 1950.    Fourth time lucky for MGM’s desire to film the Rudyard Kipling classic 1900 adventure  about Kimball O”Hara, the orphaned  son of a British soldier  in the 1886 India under British rule. Kim posed as a Hindi beggar boy to help the UK Secret Service spy on Russian agitators.  Irving Thalberg won the rights for MGM in 1934 and a year later, the ex-Little Lord Fauntelroy, Freddie Bartholomew, was selected opposite Lionel Barrymore as his Indian mentor, Mahbub Ali the Red Beard, in 1935.  The project was shelved for another Kipling tale, Captains Courageous, with Spencer Tracy and young Freddie – announced as Kim again in 1937, opposite Robert Taylor as Red Beard.  After various delays Mickey Rooney (like who else) was the 1942 hero  in a typically Metro all-stars  line-up of John Carradine, Laird Cregar (as Lurgan Sahib) , Cedric Hardwicke, Basil Rathbone, George Sanders, Akim Tamiroff and Conrad Veidt  WWII killed that as the script was too pro-British Empire and anti-Russia. Finally, MGM’s Boy With Green Hair, Dean Stockwell, was Kim opposite  (a way too old and hardly Indian)  Errol Flynn. He quit King Solomon’s Mines to be Red Beard, because he didn’t fancy living  in a tent in Africa, while he had a hotel in Lucknow…  where Stockwell was doubled by a local kid


 Birth year: 1916Death year: 1944Other name: Casting Calls:  10