Richard Burton

  1. Laurence Olivier, The Beggar’s Opera, 1952.       With a surprising backer in producer Herbert Wilcox (considering there was no choice role for his usual star, his wife, Anna Neagle), Peter Brook planned a verson in black-and-white, with a coarse and virile highwayman.  Burton! “Perfect for the role but the time was not ripe, his name not sufficiently known to make the investors and distributors feel secure.  On the other hand, Laurence Olivier was at the height  of his success, both as an actor and film-maker.”  Brooke sent him a cable: ever been keen on MacHeath? “Fortunately and calamitously this struck too good a note, for apparently (it) had been a project he had been nursing for many years, hoping to act, direct and produce it himself.   His ‘yes’ rejoiced us all and was an early lesson in how one must never celebrate too soon He was furious that he had let his own project slip out of his fingers and so he insisted on  being co-producer as well [and] turned my first film into an ugly battlefield.”

  2. James Mason, Julius Caesar, 1952.   Still tied, contractually, to London’s Old Vic theatre when Orson Welles wanted him for Brutus in a Caesar financed by Egypt’s profligate King Farouk, no less. And, hopefully, said Welles, MGM. No!, Metro had its own plans…
  3. Marlon Brando, Julius Caesar, 1952. However, MGM was similarly thwarted. Indeed, legend insists that Brando only got the gig because Burton couldn’t accept it.  Brando had never played Shakespre before – nor since. A full decade later, the same director, Joseph L Mankiewicz called him up again – for Cleopatra’s Marc Antony.

  4. James Mason,  A Star Is Born, 1953.
  5. Robert Cummings, Dial M For Murder, 1953.      Before making his directing debut, The Ringer, in 1952, Guy Hamilton knew what his second film should be. He’d seen a terrific TV play and praised it to producer Alexander Korda, who bought the rights for a mere £500 (TV had little impact in those days of scanty viewers). As  “the junior contractor,” Hamilton directed all the tests – Burton’s included – and the next he heard was that Korda sold his rights (for rather more than £500) to Alfred Hitchcock. “Well,” said Hamilton, “I knew I wasn’t gonna win this one.” (Cummings was 15 years older than Burton).
  6. Vittorio Gassman, Rhapsody, 1954.       Eight years before La Scandale, this  was set as Burton’s first screen meet with Elizabeth Taylor, until her eye injury (while  replacing Vivien Leigh in Elephant Walk) freed him for The  Robe.  They  had first met at a poolside brunch welcoming the Welshman to Hollywood when she  found him “coarse and self-important.”
  7. Marlon  Brando, Desirée, 1954.       Brando called her: Daisy Ray!
  8. Richard Todd,  The Virgin Queen, 1954.    Or Raleigh and the Virgin Queen  when Burton  was among the contenders for  Queen Elizabeth I’s supposed lover, Sir Walter Raleigh Other potential Walts were Burt Lancaster  and Cornel Wide.  Fox boss Darryl F Zanuck was more busy  securing Bette Davis to reprise her Queen from 1939’s The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. “Mother was thrilled,” said her daughter BD Hyman. “She felt a great affinity for Queen Elizabeth, envied her her power and believed that she and the queen were very much of a kind.” As evidenced by her deftly removing  Raleigh from the title.
  9. James Dean, Giant, 1955.
  10. Robert Stack, Great Day in the Morning, 1955.       Whatever else Burton did as a kid, it was obviously not playing cowboys and injuns. Otherwise how else could a Welshman refuse his first (and only) Western! Producer Edmund Grainger next aimed at Robert Mitchum or (the 25-years older!) William Powell.

  11. Stanley Baker, Richard III, 1955.  Packing stars into his third (and last) Shakespeare film, Sir Laurence Olivier tried to persuade Burton to join Claire Bloom and the other knights – Sir  John Gielgud, Sir Cedric Hardwicke,Sir Ralph Richardson.  The offered role was Henry, Duke of Richmond – the future King Henry VII.  Not important enough for Burton.  Fellow prince of Wales, Stanley Baker, could not afford to be so fussy.
  12. Kenneth More,  Reach For The Sky, 1956.     “I never found out why he didn’t do it,” said Kenny More of the WWII story of courageous, legless RAF fighter ace Group Captain Douglas Bader  Richard was keen until offered Alexander The Great at four times More’s £25,000! More did not care.  “I was the only actor who could play the part properly. Bader’s philosophy was my philosophy. His whole attitude to life was mine.”
  13. John  Gielgud,  Saint  Joan, 1957.      Learning from Kenny More, Burton dropped Warwick to play  another war-time RAF hero:  Wing o Yeo-Thomas. Joan’s director, Otto  Preminger,  was never that keen on Burton… as  shall be seen. In 1979.
  14. Laurence  Olivier,  The Prince and The  Showgirl, 1957. An early suggestion for Marilyn Monroe before she insisted on Olivier repeating his stage role and helming. Her antics turned  him off directing for 13 years.
  15. Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory, 1957.        Burton was approached about Colonel Dax – not easy to cast as most stars refused the project. Or, LAgents refused to  show the script to their clients. Dirk Bogarde lumped Burton together with fellow Welshman Stanley Baker: “as tiresome as each other.”

  16. Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur, 1958.        
    Sword and sandal epics were in.  And producer Sam Zimbalist, who’d made one of the biggest – Quo Vadis, 1950 –  was back in Rome in charge  of the better (well, William Wyler was directing) re-make of the 1923 silent Ben-Hur, racing chariots and all.  Sam even considered retaining his Vadis trio: Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Stewart Granger. And Sidney Franklin was due to direct Richard Burton as the hero… Friendly rivals Marlon Brando and Paul Newman were up for the titular Judah –  still smarting  from his  1954 debut,  The Silver  Chalice, Newman hated  ancient Rome costumes, or cocktail dresses as he termed them. Sam also short-listed  Burton (from The Robe, 1953),  Montgomery Clift, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson (furious with Universal refusing to loan him out), Van Johnson (no, really!),  Burt Lancaster (an atheist with no interest in Christianity commercials, although he had earlier tried to mount his  own version),  true Brit Edmond Purdom… plus Italians, known and unknown: Vittorio Gassman  and Cesare Danova.  MGM voted Heston, C B De Mille’s Moses in The Ten Commandments, 1954. According to “contributing writer” Gore Vidal, Willie Wyler called Heston wooden. Brando, for one, would not disagree. Judah Ben-Heston  won his Oscar on April 4 1960.

  17. Roger Moore, The Miracle, 1959.         Everything about this one was inadequate.
  18. Audie Murphy, The Unforgiven, 1959.       Surprisingly both Richard and Tony Curtis were considered before John Huston went back to his Red Badge of Courage star; it was the WWII  hero’s  third and last  major  movie  in  a 23-year career of Z Westerns.
  19. Yul Brynner, Solomon and Sheba, 1959.       Brynner, not Burton, finished the royal role after Tyrone Power’s death during Spanish shooting.
  20. John Mills, The Singer Not The Song, 1960.      “Too namby pamby,” said Burton. Not to mention gay as Dirk Bogarde at his most absurd, preening and posing in black leathers,  in  a love him/hate him  desire for a priest, refused by Burton and played by  by John Mills… despite Dirk’s threat. :”I promise you, if Johnny plays the Priest, I will make life unbearable for everyone concerned.”  Especially the public.  . He salvaged much of his reputation in a far better, more honest – and brave – gay drama, Victim, the following year.  Minus Mills.

  21. Jeffrey Hunter, King of Kings, 1961.   For his Jesus, feisty director Nicholas Ray  worked his way through the Welsh Burton, English Peter Cushing, Australian Keith Michel,  Canadian Christopher Plummer and even Swedish  Max Von Sydow (George Stevens’ Christ in 1964) before voting Hunter. Despite being, at 35, closer to Christ’s age than per usual in Schmollywood epics, Jeff was soon dubbed “I Was a Teenage Jesus.”Producer Samuel; Bronston hated the script. ‘I cannot even understand this, it’s all Thee and Thou and everything else.” 
  22. Frank Thring, King of Kings, 1960. Titles, directors and actors changed what was Son of Man or The Sword and the Cross in 1952, evolved through John Farrow, King Vidor and, ultimately, Nicholas Ray.  Producer Samuel; Bronston hated the script. ‘I cannot even understand this, it’s all Thee and Thou and everything else.” He wanted Burton somewhere. As Herod Antipas or…

  23. Ron Randell, King of Kings,1960.   …Lucius, The Centurion. Burton simply quit when he was refused top billing.  But, Dickie-boyo, you’re not playing Jesus.  Too late. He’d fled. 

  24. Gregory Peck, The Guns of Navarone, 1960.   Writer-producer Carl Foreman aimed high for his Allied saboteurs in WWII Greece – starting with Cary Grant and Marlon Brando! Plus three stars from his Oscar-winning Bridge on the River Kwai script: Alec Guinness (too busy), Jack Hawkins (having cancer treatment), William Holden (too pricey). Plus Gary Cooper (another  cancer victim) from Foreman’s High Noon. In the mix for Peck’s Captain Mallory were Richard Burton, William Holden and Rock Hudson. Peck tried an English accent. He needn’t have bothered. Mallory was a New Zealander. The actual mission the film was based on was Winston Churchill’s worst WWII blunder – so he adored Foreman’s revision and asked him to film his autobiography, My Early Life, which he did as Young Winston i in 1971. Navarone was the 1961 box-office champ., allowing Foreman to direct his next one, The Victors, 1962. 
  25. Jason Robards, Tender Is The Night, 1961.    Producer David Selznick first tried to film F Scott Fitzgerald’s last completed novel  at RKO in 1951,  with his wife, Jennifer Jones and Cary Grant –  who disapproved of  Dr Dick Diver, the shrink falling for his patient.  George Cukor decided on Elizabeth Taylor and Glenn Ford (!), John Frankenheimer voted for Warren Beatty or  Christopher Plummer. Veteran toughie Henry King helming Jones with a miscast Robards was a fiasco.  Other potential Dicks over the years had been Montgomery Clift, Paul Newman and true Brits Dirk Bogarde and Richard Burton.   Hmm, Burton and Taylor – now that would  have worked.

  26. Stuart Whitman, The Mark, 1961.        Whitman’s sole Oscar nomination.  Who would dare play the role today – a pedophile.
  27. Peter O’Toole,  Lawrence of Arabia, 1961
  28. Max Von Sydow, The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1962.      One year  later…   Same story. Same role. Same reply. “Oh, Christ, no!”  (Von Sydow had also been seen for King of Kings).
  29. Stanley Baker, Eva, France-Italy, 1962.       The Hakim producer brothers of Paris  (Raymond and Robert)  offered the gig to Jean-Luc Godard. “I didn’t like the actors they had in mind. I wanted Richard Burton. They thought it was a good idea. I said: There’s the telephone. They said: ‘Oh yes – but you know – maybe he’s not home!’ So I understood that they were not willing.”  Baker soon understood, or so he told me in London, that the Hakims “couldn’t produce a fart out of a tin of beans.”
  30. Stephen Boyd, Jumbo,  1962.     If at first you don’t succeed…  MGM’s  first cast in 1943:  Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland.  In 1947 : Frank Sinatra-Judy Garland  – or Gene Kelly-Kathryn Grayson.  1949:  Frank Sinatra-Esther Williams. 1952:  Donald O’Connor-Debbie Reynolds. 1962: Dean Martin-Doris Day. Finally: Stephen Boyd was Day’s (weak) partner in her last musical.  A flop.  (Cast included a Robert Burton – as Madison. And he played 1968 screens roles to Richard’s 79!).  As for  the  real Burton – “We almost got him, too,” said director Charles Walters.  “But  something in Egypt with Liz Taylor came up!”
  31. Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady, 1963. 
    To protect the  $5.2m  he paid for the rights, Jack Warner wanted star power – like Audrey Hepburn and Cary instead  of Broadway’s original Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins: Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. Warner had  several other Professors in mind. From the inspired (Grant, Noël Coward, Peter O’Toole, George Sanders) to the plain stupid (Rock Hudson as a grumpy English gentleman?). Plus dowdy Michael Redgrave, who had the style but the box-office appeal of George Zucco.  (Who?)  (Exactly!)  Refusing $1.5m, Grant declared:  “Not only will  I not play it, but if you don’t put Rex in it, I won’t go see it.

  32. Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins, 1963.      OK, chimney sweep Bert had to sing and dance it up. But he also had to be at home with a Cockney accent. Only a few US stars could manage that. Sadly, Van Dyke was not among them. Nor were Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Danny Kaye…UK author PL Travers didn’t like how books were Hollywoodised and took 25 years to accept Walt Disney’s plan for her governess. She then found the result “vulgar and disrespectful” – and, like most Brits, loathed Van Dyke’s Bert. But then she knew nothing about cinema, having suggested the august (and aged) Alec Guinness, Rex Harrison. Even Laurence Olivier – To sweep, or not to sweep! Plus Richards Burton and Harris, Peters O’Toole and Sellers. (Only Sellers made sense). Disney wanted Stanley Holloway – busy reprising his My Fair Lady stage role. Loving the movie but feeling miscast, Van Dyke nominated Jim Dale (a Disney star in the 70s) and agreed with Travers about Ron Moody… who would have frightened not only the horses but the kids, as well.
  33. Peter O’Toole, Becket, 1963. Director  Peter Glenville managed to land Burton  and Peter O’Toole for the screen version of the Jean Anouilh play.   (A Broadway hit with Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn). Being older, Burton felt, he was better suited to King Henry II (like Olivier and Eric Porter beforehand) ) and O’Toole should tackle the titular, Archbishop of Canterbury (murdered in 1170).  Besides, said Burton, the  media would d have a great time roasting him – Mr Scandal! –  for playing a saint. O’Toole had been due to play the king in London’s West End but Lawrence of Arabia intervened He enjoyed Henry II so much, he played him again four years later in The Lion in Winter…opposite Katharine Hepburn’s Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.  
  34. Paul Newman, What a Way to Go!, 1963.  A certain Louisa May Foster takes her shrink through her five late husbands – every one a laugh. (If only). Prepared for Marilyn Monroe before her tragic death, I Love Louisa was given to Elizabeth Taylor with Marilyn’s Marlon Brando. Or Richard Burton (of course), Tony Curtis,Brad Dexter, Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant, Rex Harrison, Rock Hudson, Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen, Marcello Mastroianni, David Niven. Finally, Shirley MacLaine wed Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, Dick Van Dyke… but not Frank Sinatra who wanted  $500,000 or no show.  Oh and Dean Martin as a department store mogul called Lennie Crawley, no less. This is where I usually say: And you can never go wrong with a Crawley. Not this (terrible) time!  Steve McQueen and Charlton Heston were up for Hubby #2, Paul Newman’s American in Paris artist. Sounded like a reprise for Gene Kelly. Except he was Hubby #4, described as a song and dance man about to break into Hollywood – what at age 51! Yes, the movie was that bad.  “An abomination,” said The New Leader critic John Simon.

  35. Robert Morse, The Loved One, 1964.   “The motion picture with something to offend everyone…”  It would have been more so if Spanish legend Luis Buñuel had managed to  make it with Guinness in  the mid-1950s. American producer Martin Ransohoff took over the option in 1961 and signed the newly Oscared UK director Tony Richardson, hoping he’d bring his Tom Jones, Albert Finney, with him.  He did not.  And so, the mess began.  With five writers, seven scripts and the Brit poet hero of Evelyn Waugh’s 1948 satire of the American funeral home buainess,  going from Guinness at 50 to Richard Burton and Peter Sellers at 39, to Alain Delon (!) and Finney, 29, to a Beatles mop-topped Morse at 33 – chosen by the author but incapable of a UK accent!  (And no one thought Alan Bates, 28, would have been perfect?)  To sweeten the deal for Burton, Richardson even suggested the missus, Elizabeth Taylor, as Aimee Thanatogenous – finally played by a seven years younger Anjanette Comer.  The tax-conscious Burtons ruled themselves out of the project by insisting it had to be made in Spain!
  36. Anthony Quinn, The Visit,  US-France-Germany-Italy, 1964.       Welsh actor-playwright friend Emlyn Williams suggested Duerrenmatt’s play as a perfect Burtons’ vehicle. Better  value,  certainly,  than  Ingrid  Bergman and Quinn – who co-produced  this  heavy-handed Euro-suet. 
  37. Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music, 1964.       Driven to drink by it all, Plummer hated everything. The film – he called it S&M or The Sound of Mucus. The co-star – working with Julie Andrews (or Ms Disney as he called her) – was akin to “being hit over the head with a big Valentine’s Day card, every day.” So maybe Burton, Yul Brynner, Sean Connery, Bing Crosby, Peter Finch, Walter Matthau and Maximilian Schell were lucky to lose Captain Von Trapp.   Keith Michel was first reserve if Plummer proved (as he soon wished) unavailable. Despite all his badmouthing, Plummer and Andrews became good friends.
  38. Stephen Boyd, The Bible: In the Beginning, 1964.  Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted each Old Testament filmed by such notables as Bergman, Fellini, Visconti, Welles. John Huston replaced them all for just 20 Genesis verses – “I wouldn’t go a verse further.”  And played Noah and played God talking to Noah… His first King Nimrod choice had been Burton who, of course, replaced Boyd in the troubled Cleopatra, 1962. Time Magazine famously compared ths Bible to to being swallowed by a whale.
  39. Trevor Howard, Von Ryan’s Express, 1964.   Howard, Peter Finch and Jack  Hawkins were in the frame for Major Fincham in Frank Sinatra’s WWII spoof. Frank wanted Richard Burton. Fox would not hear of it, not after the Cleopatra circus.  When visiting her London pal John Leyton on-set, Mia Farrow met Sinatra – and they were wed during 1966-1968. 

  40.  Jean-Paul Belmondo, Pierrot le fou, France, 1965.      Godard tries again… After securing the rights of Lionel White’s pulp fiction, Obsession, bilious auteur Jean-Luc Godard decided to shoot in English. With Burton in the titular role of Ferdinand Griffon, aka Pierrot, aka Crazy Pete, opposite cute singer Sylvia Vartan. Reverting to French, he then thought about Michel Piccoli (from his Le mepris, 1963) or  his A bout de souffle star, Belmondo. In many ways, Pierrot is a different take on their 1959 breathless breakthrough.

  41. Charlton Heston, The Agony and the Ecstasy, 1965.      Pope Spencer Tracy was hiring him as Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling… before Fred Zinnemann quit for his masterpiece, A  Man for All Seasons. And Pope Rex Harrison hired Chuck!

  42. Stuart Whitman, Sands of  the  Kalahari,  1965.       “I hate friendship interferring  with  business,” said  star-producer Stanley Baker.  He  had both  Burtons in  his pocket. Except they wanted  $1.5m in theirs. (Dirk Bogarde lumped Burton and Baker together: “both as tiresome as each other”).

  43. Robert edford, This Property Is Condemned. 1965.  In the days when the Burtons started being offered anything – no mater how much older they were than the characters. Columbia’s bizarre idea became Warner’s wiser Redford and Natalie Wood, a few months after completing Inside Daisy Clover. They were 29 and 27 compared to 40 and 33. Not an authentic Tennessee Williams piece, reported Redford, but a 20-minute one-acter. None of the 14 drafts, from such writers as John Huston and Francis Ford Coppola (finally escaping Roger Cormania) could disguise that fact. “The only appeal,” he added, “was Natalie.” And she attempted suicide on November 27.
  44. Sean Connery, Thunderball, 1965.
  45. Guy Stockwell,  Beau Geste,  1966.     Universal envisaged a high-blown second re-make with Richard Burton,  Albert  Finney, Peter O’Toole, until cutting costs for a back-lot number with the  contract squad.
  46. Cyril Cusack, Fahrenheit 451, 1966.     Plus Liz Taylor and Robert Redford! That’s when Sam Spiegel burst – momentarily – into French realisateur François Truffaut’s more subdued plans.
  47. Dirk Bogarde, Accident, 1966.  Once due as Marxist director Joseph  Losey’s first film for Sam Spiegel since The  Prowler, 1951. “I want Burton,” said  Spiegel. “Who knows Bogarde?” Losey did and owed his post-Hollywood Black List  career to him – and not to Spiegel  – with The Sleeping Tiger, 1954 (Losey hid under the credit of Victor Hanbury) and The Servant, 1963. .  “And Dirk  can make it now while Burton’s booked  for a year.”  Result: The Joseph Losey film everyone has been waiting for,” said The Times…. although co-star Stanley Baker (another Losey favourite) estimated that “75% of the audience didn’t realise that Accident was a flashback.
  48. Paul Scofield, A Man For All Seasons, 1966.       Burton was first choice for the movie Thomas More. Shouldn’t the hit stage star make the film?  “By rights, yes,” said second choice Olivier, “but it’s all down to piggy banks and dog eat dog.”
  49. Robert Redford, This Property Is Condemned,  1966.       Paramount’s off-the-wall idea for the Tennessee Williams’s one-act play set during the Depression. (And then some). When director Sydney Pollack got the script (by Francis  Coppola and Edith Sommer), who else was he gonna call!
  50. Kenneth More, The White Rabbit, TV, 1967.     Having given one RAF hero to Kenneth More in Reach For The Sky, 1956, Burton made sure he got the next one that came along… However, by the time the production was set it was eleven years later –  he was the world’s #1 lover  while the Wing Cmmander Yeo-Thomas sto

  51. Richard Harris, Camelot, 1967. 
    For his last hurrah after 45 years running Warner Bros, head bro Jack L Warner – having learned his lesson the hard way by ruining My Fair Lady – wanted the original Broadway stars to reprise their 1960 roles of King Arthur and Guenevere. Burton was not keen  – or not for the money being offered.  Nor was Julie Andrews, certainly not after the way Jack Warner dumped her from My Fair Lady (even though that led to her Mary Poppins Oscar).  “OK, we’ll take Liz, as well,” said Warner.  And why not their mate, Peter O’Toole, as Lancelot.  However, Elizabeth Taylor was not going where Burton was not going…  He regretted spurning the crown and headed a 1980 stage tour, before quitting due to health issues. His replacement on stage, as on screen, was Richard Harris.  Other royal contenders had been, Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, Peter O’Toole, Gregory Peck and Robert Shaw. Harris first heard about the film when making Hawaii with Julie Andrews (the very reason she refused the musical, she did not get on with Harris). The Irishman pushed hard for the role, Including this do-the-math note to Warner: “Height of Vanessa Redgrave: 5 feet 11 inches. Richard Burton: 5 feet 10 inches. Richard Harris: 6 feet 2 inches”!  Warner didn’t think Harris could sing. Oh yes, he could (and had a best-selling album, the following year with MacArthur Park). He even paid for his own screen test, directed by Nicolas Roeg! “Burton played it as a man born to greatness. I play it as a man with greatness thrust upon him.” Harris passed his test, kept his crown (literally), took over a Camelot tour from a bursitis-stricken Burton in 1980,. Harris then paid $1m for the stage rights, revamped and extended the Broadway revival into an international  tour, making more millions  than even  from his Harry Potter years.

  52. Brando,  Reflections In A Golden Eye, l967.     Marlon Brando had been first choice for UK director Tony Richardson’s plan (with Jeanne Moreau) in the early 50s. But now Brando was sixth… after Montgomery Clift, William Holden, Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, Patrick O’Neal. Or. in fact, seventh, as another Brit,  Michael Anderson, wanted Burt Lancaster in 1956 as the same Major Weldon Penderton, the sexual mess, married but fancying the pants off Private Williams  (when he had them on).  Out of work for four years or so, Clift was uninsurable. “Bessie Mae” (Elizabeth Taylor) put up the $1m bond money for a 60s version, with Burton directing and playing Lieutenant-Colonel Langdon. But nobody, including Clift, felt he could act anymore.  Brando was superb. Burton hung  around John Huston’s set,  worried Liz would stray.  Indeed, he later reported that  “my Elizabeth and that Brando creature had an affair’”  during the shooting.
  53. Steve McQueen, The Thomas Crown Affair, 1967.       First choice of director Norman Jewison and producer Walter Mirisch for Tommy Crown,  the most unlikely bank robber. But everybody wanted Burton.
  54. Terence Stamp, Histoires extraordinaires (UK/US: Spirits of the Dead), France-Italy, 1967.     Getting back into action after the collapse of The Voyage de G Mastorna  (the best film he never made), Federico Fellini joined the  Edgar Allen Poe sketch film. . (The other directors, Claude Chabrol, Joe Losey, Luchino Visconti, Orson Welles became just Lous Malle and Roger Vadim). Fellini fell for Poe’s Never Bet The Devil Your Head with a celeb-stressed actor, the titular Toby Dammit, running amok at Cinecittà.  When discussions with Peter O’Toole turned into a right royal argy-bargy, Fellini switched to Burton, James Fox and utlimately, Terry put his Stamp on it.
  55. Oliver Reed, Oliver!  1968.       Everybody wanted the Burtons, even as humble Bill Sykes and Nancy.
  56. Alan Bates, The Fixer, 1968.      Director John Frankenheimer (the Spielberg of his day) wanted Burton for the 1911 Russian-Jewish handyman, Yakov Bok. Or, indeed… Peter Sellers!   (The first cut was four hours, 45 minutes!).
  57. Anthony Quinn The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1968. “Habemus papam!” “We have a pope!”  But which one?  Richard Burton, Rex Harrison or – and you won’t believe this  – Ernest Borgnine or Lee Marvin?   For  Pope Kiril I, the first  Eastern Rite priest to be elected Pontiff (in  400 years) from the Morris West novel which predated by a full decade  such the election of an East European pontiff, in Karol Wojtyla, Pope John-Paul II.  Quinn survived all the Zorba the Pope taunts and “a kind of mental illness experience that people get when they are overcome by religion.”  Marvin was the sole contender to refuse the because he was not satisfied with the script.  And he was right., It was an almighty flop for MGM, barely screened in the UK at all..!
  58. Ian Holm, A Severed Head, 1969. Novelist Iris Murdoch’s game of musical beds among London’s bourgeoisie had a weak script killing an impressive cast.  (Brando had been invited to join). Ian Holm’s wine expert has a wife, Lee Remick, cheating with his best friend, Richard Attenborough’s shrink (already involved with Claire Bloom), plus a mistress (Jennie Linden)  being  stolen  by his brother Clive Revill. It just might have worked better with producer Elliot Kastner’s dream team (in above order): Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor (of course), Marlon Brando (the psychologist was originally American), Anouk Aimée, Julie Christie, Robert Shaw. (He also considered Laurence Harvey and Leslie Caron as the shrink and his friend’s wife).

  59. Nicol Williamson, Laughter in the Dark, 1969.
    Blame it on twhite  carnations…  Roger Vadim aimed his 1954 version of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel at Burton and Brigitte Bardot. Director Tony Richardson also chose Burton. Opposite Jean-Luc Godard’s wife, Anna Karina.  “I was sent a big bouquet of white carnations – bad luck for an actor in France – but I was so proud to do a film with Burton,” Anna  recalled in 2016.  “There was a lot of trouble between him and Tony because he was always late. Elizabeth Taylor was there…  they’d go for lunch and not come back. After a week, Tony said he couldn’t work with Burton – he was drunk, it was all over the papers.”. Ancd Richardson fired him, for “unpunctuality  and unprofessionalism” – ie. not holding his booze as well as during their  Look Back in Anger  triumph in 1958.  Burton said good luck to Williamson, who crowed:  “I’m better  than him.”  As for the film, Karina told Matthew Thrift: “I’ve never seen it.”  It was a jinxed item: Mick Jagger was in the  re-tread that  ran out of funds in the 80s.

  60. Peter O’Toole, Goodbye Mr Chips, 1969.   For the musical version of the 1938 classic which won British Robert Donat an Oscar for his portrayal of the gentle schoolmaster, Mr Charles Edward Chipping, almost every possible Brit was contacted. From Albert Finney to Peter  Sellers, by way of Richard Harris, Christopher Plummer and Paul Scofield. Mrs Chips was important, too, and the couple went from Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn or the Doctor Dolittle‘s Rex Harrison-Samantha Eggar to Camelot’s Richard Burton-Julie Andrews or Burton-Lee Remick…or surprise, surprise, Elizabeth Taylor. Plus Burton-Petula Clark, except he turned down “a singer!” (So what was Julie Andrews?).  Finally, and gloriously, the Chips became Pete ‘n’ Pet. 
  61. Maximilian Schell, Simón Bolívar, 1969.    Italian director Alessandro Blasetti wanted Burton as El Libertador of Venezuelia: SimónJosé Antonio de la Santisima Trinidad Bolivar y Palacios y Blanco (!). With Liz on board as…er….oh anyone else… (What about Consuelo Hernandez?) However, the Burton chased by film-makers that year was, he told his diary on July 22, “fundamentally so bored with my job that only drink  [1½ bottles of vodka per day] is capable of killing the pain.”

  62. Rod Steiger, Waterloo, Italy-Soviet Union, 1969.      This major flop was the reason why Stanley Kubrick lost backers for his own Napoleon venture. Burton was first asked by Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis to play Napoleon (with pal O’Toole as Wellington). He said no – but yes to Trotsky, Tito, Churchill… “He’s ruined his great gifts,” bemoaned Orson Welles, calling the Welsh kettle black! “He’s become a joke with a celebrity wife. Now he just works for money, does the worst shit.” Hmm…
  63. Christopher Plummer, Waterloo, Italy-Soviet Union, 1969.      De Laurentiis then offered first Duke of Wellington, Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley. And what if he had played them both… ?! As had been supposedly suggested to Peter Sellers when he was booked for Bonaparte and Sean Connery passed on Wellington. Plummer reprised his Iron Duke in a 1974 chapter of the Witness To Yesterday series.

  64. George Segal, The Owl and The Pussycat, 1970.      The Burtons were just too famous a couple to pass for a bookworm and a hooker living in the same New York building. Or,  the same room in  this claustrophobic version of Bill Manhoff’s play.
  65. Robert Mitchum, Ryan’s Daughter, 1969.  Robert Bolt composed a new take on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary for Sarah Miles and handed themselves to David Lean.  Hmm, sajd Lean, go away, try another take – no Bovarys and no France. Hence the film made in Ireland plus a stunning South African beach –  with Mitchum giving a superb  acting masterclass to his rivals for Sarah’s husband: Richard Burton, Patrick McGoohan, Peter O’Toole, Gregory Peck, Paul Scofield  and George C Scott(!).  Mitchum tried to refuse the role. “I was actually planning on committing suicide.” “Well,” said Bolt, if you just finish working on this wretched little film and then do yourself in, I’d be happy to stand the expenses of your burial.”
  66. Michael Jayston, Nicholas and Alexandra, 1970.    Michael  Whosis?  Exactly.  And that was the  problem  with Sam Spiegel’s dull epic.  Despite hiss track record, Columbia wouldn’t  give him enough money  to hire star power for Tsar Nicholas II, Russia’s last monarch…  no, though,  the  last despot. (So no Julie Christie, Audrey Hepburn,  Grace Kelly or Liv Ullmann as the t missus, either).  Sam finished up with almost a TVersion  with co-dullards, Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman.  No wonder Lindsay Anderson, Joseph L Mankiewicz and George Stevens (to name  but three  directors) refused the gig.

  67. Topol, Fiddler on the Roof, 1970. 
    When word got out that  that producer Walter Mirisch and director Norman Jewison didn’t want   Broadway’s  Zero Mostel – “too big for film!” – Danny Kaye expressed great interest in  becoming Tevye. So did such possibles as Herschel Bernardi (once blacklisted like Mostel and his  successor in the Broadway show),  Walter Matthau, Anthony Quinn, Rod Steiger, Danny Thomas. Plus such downright impossibles as Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Orson Welles (no roof was strong enough).  And… and    Frank Sinatra… If I Were A Rich Man Dooby Dooby Doo!  None got to first base once Chaim Topol ended  his run of the West End  production; he’d  lost the Broadway role when called up for Israeli army duty during  and after the Six Day War. He was replaced by the excessively larger-than-life Mostel who remained  bitter .about losing the film.  So did his son. When offered the Delta House series in 1979, Josh Mostel rasped: ”Tell them to ask Topol’s son if he wants the job!”

  68. Kevin Conway, Hogan’s Goat, TV, 1971.    Now it was  the Burtons, O’Toole and Spencer Tracy..!  Impossibly pricey for William Alfred’s so-so Broadway play  and after Tracy’s death, it became a PBS special.
  69. Topol, Follow Me (US: The Public Eye), 1972.    Cary Grant as the detective following Julie Andrews as a possibly unfaithful wife became  Burton-Elizabeth Taylor for a wee while – like so many projects during the Burtons’ boom.  Finally the Israeli star, Topol, kept an eye on Mia Farrow in director  Carol Reed’s final film,  based on  Peter Shaffer’s 1962 one-act  play, The Public Eye. Our favourite critic, Roger Ebert, shredded poor Jayston. “He has the cinematic charisma of an introverted snail… Having made the last czar of Russia uninteresting in Nicholas and Alexandra now pulls off the feat of making an uninteresting character even more uninteresting.”
  70. Clive Revill, The Legend of Hell House, 1972.       Fantasy writer Richard Matheson set about bettering Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting and then toned down his novel’s gratuitous sex and violence  to win over his dream team – the Burtons.

  71. Peter Finch,  Bequest To The Nation, 1973.        Finchy leapt at Lord Nelson,  “the  most  built-in  romantic who ever  lived.  He defeated Napoleon,  bucked the Establishment, lived with a smashing broad, had one arm,  one eye and was funny. Christ, they don’t come any better than that!”  Burton probably knew America would call it… The Nelson Affair.
  72. Charlton Heston, The Three Musketeers, 1973.       In the early gung ho period, Burton was chased by producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind for Cardinal Richlieu. Or to be more honest, as the kind of big name to attract financial deals for production and distribution. Heston was so keen, he gave up Athos and Porthos to play the cameo
  73. Robert Mitchum, Farewell My Lovely, 1974. Mitchum said  producer Elliott Kastner first wanted Burton to play Philip Marlowe, but he was over-scheduled. Director  Richards said  Mitchum was the only chocice from the get-go. Despite people saying he was too old at at 57 to play Raymond Chandler‘s sleuth, in his 30s, circa 1941,  No matter. Mitchum played him again four years later, circa 1977, in The Bjg Sleep. And it  sure looked that way.
  74. Richard Kiley, The Little Prince, 1974.      “A big disappointment,” said producer Robert Evans. Burton “sang beautifully” but director Stanley Donen, who had already refused to work with Sinatra, also refused his replacement. So, one Broadway star was replaced by another… and the movie played to empty seats.
  75. John Wayne, Rooster Cogburn, 1974.       The idea was fair – a sequel  to True Grit.  But if Wayne proved too ill, what would be the point of someone else in his titular Oscar-winning rôle? Marlon Brando topped producer Hal Wallis’ eye-patch  list of Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, George C Scott and some of Duke’s old co-stars: Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck. Plus four of co-star Katharine Hepburn’s previous partners  – Charles Bronson, Burt Lancaster, Peter O’Toole, Anthony Quinn – and as she continued trying to pick guys she’d never  worked with before… Warren Beatty, Henry Fonda, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O’Neal, Paul Scofield, Henry Winkler (!)… (McQueen turned down her Grace Quigleyin 1983).   Kate wrote that embracing Duke “was like leaning against a great tree.
  76. Topol, Galileo, 1975.      The Brechtian director Joseph Losey had to wait 30 years to film his earliest Broadway success – minus his Trotsky.
  77. Michael Caine, The Man Who Would Be King, 1975.
  78. Len Cariou, A Little Night Music, 1977.    The Burtons were split asunder… Once he married Suzy Hunt,  Elizabeth telephoned congratulations and asked him to consider being her husband in the Sondheim musical instead of Robert Stephens. Burton almost agreed.  “I want her to be happy,  to have success with marriage  and her work.  That will  take  any  guilt  off my shoulders.”
  79. John Mills, Des Terufels Advokat (UK: The Devil’s Advocate), Germany, 1977.     Due for  the priest finding his faith tested by  terminal cancer.  Opposite Liz, of course.
  80. Richard Attenborough, The Human Factor, 1979.      “I offered him the role of Daintry,  instead of  Castle,”  producer-director Otto Preminger told me in London.  “But Attenborough had already found a  script  somewhere  and  selected  the  part for himself!”

  81. Nicol  Williamson, The Human Factor, 1979.
    During the shooting in London, producer-director Otto Preminger (making wjat proved to be his  final film) juggled potentials   for his British spy suspected pf treason by the higher-ups at  The Firm – Richard Burton,  Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Nicol Williamson, even the MP turned novelist Jeffrey Archer –   Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare. (He  failed his audition for being too short  for the model, Iman, as his wife).  At the time everyone one was hiring  Burton. Everyone except  Otto.  With a shudder, he told me why in  his Londpn office.
     “I didn’t like his complexion all those  holes in his cheeks.”

  82. Gregory Peck,  The  Sea Wolves,  1980.          Producer Euan Lloyd meant it as a re-teaming of his Wild Geese.
  83. Albert Finney,  Under The Volcano, 1984.       “I wanted to do it since 1947. With the possible exception of Ulysses and In Parenthesis, it’s the best novel of the century.” He discussed it with John Huston  during The Night of the Iguanas, 1964. Had a handshake deal with Joe Losey in  1972 –  and was stage-touring the Liz ’n’ His  Private Lives (more like The Dance of Death, said critics)  when  John Huston called again. 

      (Clic to enlarge)  

    “They fly again… “ But Burton had already flown. Just as Stephen  Boyd died just before making  the first Wild Geese, 1978.


  84. Edward Fox, Wild Geese II, 1984.       “Richard  died  on  the Sunday  he  was due to join us,” recalled producer  Euan  Lloyd.  “I tried  everybody – all engaged –  then remembered Richard’s admiration for Edward  in  Edward and Mrs Simpson…  and  he  agreed  to become  Colonel  Faulkner’s younger brother.”  Lloyd dedicated his film to Burton’s memory.  (Stephen  Boyd died just before making  the first Wild Geese, 1978).
  85. Claudio Amendola,  Nostromo, TV,  1997.      Director  Joe Losey’s 1956 casting – “at that moment, he was ideal for the role” – passed to David Lean and finally, to a TV mini.  
  86. Ian McKellen, Apt Pupil US-France-Canada, 1997.  The 62nd of Stephen King’s staggering 313 screen credits  was a cursed “short book.”  Take One: James Mason  was set for  Kurt Dussander jn 1984 but died from a heart attack.  His replacement, Richard Burton, also died before filming began, from a cerebral hemorrhage. Take Two: Nicol Williamson and Ricky Schroder  were Dussander and Todd when the money ran out of Alan Bridges’ take with ten days to go in  1987. (King saw 75% of the “really good” film).  Take Three:  Bryan Singer directed Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro (as the Nazi and his US teenager blackmailer). Chicago critic Roger Ebert slapped it down as “an uneasy hybrid of the sacred and the profane.”  
  87. Michael Caine,  The Quiet American,  2001.      The re-make was offered when he preferred the film of the year – 1984. Soon after finishing it, he died in Switzerland, August 4, 1984.


 Birth year: 1925Death year: 1984Other name: Casting Calls:  87