Margaret Sullavan

  1. Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night, 1933.       Constance Bennett, Miriam Hopkins, Myrna Loy, Sullavan… so many turned it down that Columbia chief Harry Cohn told director Frank Capra: “It’s becoming a trend. If it gets out in the papers, you’ll never cast it.”
  2. Katharine Hepburn, The Little  Minister, 1934.  Universal bought it  for her, but as with Spitfire, Hepburn moved in. “I didn’t really want it until I heard another actress was desperate for the role. Then, of course, it  became the most important thing in the world that I should get it.” Particulalry as the other actress was Sullavan, her agent-lover’s other lover… and future wife.  Such mindless spite resulted  in a  second successive stinker  leading to be labelled as  box-office poison.  Sullavan is said to have danced with joy at her s flop.  Kate’s pal, director  George Cukor,  saw the mess and told her:  “Next time you must walk on terra firma – more firma,  less terra.”

  3. Janet Gaynor, A Star Is Born, 1936.
  4. Katharine Hepburn, Stage Door, 1936.      Hepburn was in talks to star in the Broadway play. But angry with his ex-lover‘s friendship with director  John  Ford, the snazzy agent turned Broadway producer , Lelend Hayward, booked his new lover, Sullavan, into the Broadway hit –  understudied by Kate!  When the film  came around, Sullavan was not only difficult and neurotic as usual, but pregnant, too,  and Kate finally  became Terry Randall … pointless, she said, until Terry was beefed up for her to end her run of turkeys. (Three years earlier, she won an Oscar for the similar Morning Glory). With his penchant for over-lapping dialogue, director Gregory La Cava influenced future Robert Altman and Orson Welles movies.
  5. Bette Davis, Jezebel, 1937.  
    The brothers Warner wanted the play  for Ruth Chatterton – even though the Broadway star, Miriam Hopkins, co-owned the rights and would only sell if she kept the lead. Warner agreed to that. . And, well, Warner just plain lied… Talks switched to  to Sullavan… For a film  directed by one ex-husband, William Wyler, and co-starring  another, Henry Fonda. It was bad enough on-set without her. “Do you think Wyler is mad at Fonda… because of their past,” production chief Hal Wallis wrote to associate producer Henry Blanke on November 4. 1937.  “He is not content to OK anything with Fonda until it has been done 10 or 11 takes. After all, they have been divorced from the same girl and by-gones should be by-gones.”  But that was nothing compared to how Wyler  put Bette  through the wringer….. 
      The big  scene of Bette finally quitting the ball, was scheduled, go take a half-day.  Wyler was not satisfied  until the end of… the fifth day! (Jezebel was 
     released on  March 26, 1938 – my literal birthday). 

  6. Andrea Leeds, Letter of Introduction, 1937.   Change of the (ssh!) illegitimate  daughter of one America’s most beloved actors, played by Adolphe Menjou – and obviously, er, inspired  by John Barrymore.  
  7. Isa Miranda, Hotel Imperial, 1938.     Marlene Dietrich had half-finished I Love A Soldier in 1936, when  Sullavan replaced her – and immediately broke her arm. The Pola Negri re-make was shelved until Paramount toyed with making an exotic star out of Miranda. After two more tries, she went  home to Italy. Sulllavan was the love of James Sterwart’s life. He waited too long…
  8. Joan Fontaine, Rebecca, 1938.
  9. Myrna Loy, Too Hot To Handle, 1938.   Sorry, Margaret, but your planned  co-star, Clark Gable,  and Loy have been voted King and Queen of Hollywood… and if you think we’re going to waste such valuable – and free! – publicity for their fifth (and last) teaming,  you’re in  the wrong biz, honey.
  10. Rosalind Russell, The Shopworn Angel, 1938.   Russell became Dr Robert Donat’s wife, Christine Barrow Manson,  when Sullavan took overver her in Angel gig. Also seen for the King Vidor’s  take on  the classic AJ Cronin novel were, Elizabeth Allan, Geraldine Fitzgerald Greer Garson and Vivien Leigh.
  11. 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 locked out of Warner Bros for doing it in Countdown, 1966… and for evermore.  

  12. Virginia Bruce, The Invisible Woman, 1939.  OK, she’d lost It Happened One Night and Scarlett O’Hara, but things were looking up  for Sullavan, so a quickie re-tread was not what she cherished right now  she  refused to join  rehearsals… with poor John Barrymore John Barrymore stealing the two-reeler with elephantisis (said the New York Times). White of hair and moustache, he had a ball sending up nutty  professors and actors – particularly his brother Lionel! Bruce took over as Kitty – now you see her, now you don’t. Sullavan was hit with a restraint order. She agreed to Back Street to end her Universal contract and sallied forth… into The Shop Around The Corner, etc..

  13. Eve Arden, Ziegfeld Girl, 1940.     Not about one girl but three: Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr and, stealing the show: Lana Turner.  Oddly, no one played  Broadway icon  Florenz Ziegfeld. (William Powell was busy?).   Pidgeon, Sullavan and Frank Morgan were in the mix for his  right-hand men. 
  14. Dorothy McGuire, Claudia, 1941.         “Never what you call a dedicated actress,” she was tired of testing for producer David Selznick. Him, too. He sold both script and McGuire to Fox. By 1947, Sullavan, an alleged nymphomaniac, was Irene Selznick’s first choice for Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway.
  15. Priscilla Lane, Saboteur, 1941.   Hitchcock wanted Sullavan (or Barbara Stanwyck) to help Robert Cummings prove his innocence of the titular crime.  Hitch had to make do with borrowing Warner’s Lane – about as effective as Cummings. Film flopped. Of course! Hitch made sure that he had total control from hereon. 
  16. Ann Gillis, Bambi, 1942.   Tested for the second (young adult) voice of Bambi’s sweetheart, Faline, after being earlier voiced by Cammie King as the young version.
  17. 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).
  18. Bette Davis, Watch on the Rhine, 1942.  Sullavan, Rosemary DeCam[p, , Irene Dunne, Helen Hayes, were shortlisted but Bette won the American wife of a German patriot Paul Lukas hounded by Nazis in Washingtpn DC. It was a support role, almost a thank you to Lilian Hellman for also writing Bette’s 1941 fjlm, The Little Foxes. Bette Davis thanking someone?!
  19. Miriam Hopkins, Old Acquaintance , 1943.         Hopkins was proving troublesome,wanting double the salary of co-star Bette Davis  – her nemesis since their George Cukor stage days.  Warner looked elsewhere (Constance Bennett, Janet Gaynor), before deciding the bizexual Miriam  gave e better bitch. 
  20. Margaret O’Brien, The Canterville Ghost, 1943  A spectral  Charles Laughto nis  one of “the  famous ghosts of England,” created by Oscar Wilde in1887: walled up by his father for cowardice in 1604, until some courage from a descendant sets him. MGM decided in 1939 that James Stewart would  be the kinfolk when GIs are billeted at Canterville Castle during WWII.  With Margaret Sullavan set for  Lady Jessica – played very much younger by kid star Margaret O’Brien in the eventual film. And again, seven years late on NBC TV. Her role was given to Herman’s Hermits singer, Peter Noone, when dipping a toe in the Hollywood waters in 1965. His toe was…under-appreciated. 

  21. Elizabeth Taylor, National Velvet, 1944.     Second choice, behind Katharine Hepburn, when producer Pandro Berman (David Selznick’s assistant at RKO and the man who first joined Fred Astaire to Ginger Rogers) tried to land the rights in 1935. Among British girls interviewed for the role in St Paul, Minnesota, was Shirley Catlin, later the British politician Shirley Williams.  Fearing the effect of an increasing deafness on her (17 movie) career,  Sullavan committed an OD suicide in 1960.
  22. – Celeste Holm, All About Eve, 1950.
  23. Ida Lupino, On Dangerous Ground, 1950.  Also in the snowy mountains frame for the blind Mary were Lauren Bacall, Olivia de Havilland, Faith Domergue Susan Hayward, Wanda Hendrix, Deborah Kerr, Janet Leigh, Teresa Wright, Jane Wyman – and Broadway newcomer Margaret Phillips. RKO chose well. Because, although un-credited, Lupino also co-directed the noir thriller with Nicholas Ray. In all, she helmed 41 films and TV shows during 1949-1968 when Hollywood women were just supposed to pout, pirouette and pucker up.




 Birth year: 1909Death year: 1960Other name: Casting Calls:  23