Richard Harris

  1. Dean Stockwell, Sons and Lovers, 1960.      Robert Goldstein, London’s Fox chief,  suggested Harris as the son – DH Lawrence, himself  – of Vivien Leigh and Jack Hawkins. Director Jack Cardiff duly saw them all and talked them out of it, “although the test made with Harris was hilariously enjoyable.”
  2. Richard Attenborough, The Great Escape, 1962.    Roger Bartlett was given to Harris, who quit because (a) his breakout film, This Sporting Life, was into extra time and (b) he was not happy with the way the emphasis switched from British Commonwealth POWs to Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, who finally became James Garner and Steve McQueen – when all US prisoners were moved from Stalag Luft III seven months before the mass break-out on March 24, 1944.

  3. 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.

  4. David Tomlinson, Mary Poppins, 1963.  Next… Harris, James Mason, George Sanders, Donald Sutherland and Terry-Thomas were in a (bizarre) mix for Mr Banks in  Walt Disney’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious  version of PL Travers’ books – Uncle Walt’s finest hour.  Eight Oscars!
  5. Richard Burton,The Night of the Iguana, 1963.  Nipping in quick, producer Ray Stark paid $500,000  for the new Tennessee Williams play – before it opened as his last  Broadway hut in 1961.  The main character is the Reverend T Lawrence Shannon, reduced to  being a Mexico tour guide after bejng defrocked for calling God a juvenile delinquent. So who should be Shannon: Stanley Kowalski or Brick Pollit? Aka Marlon Brando from A Streetcar Named Desire or Paul Newman from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  (He’d also been another Williams sad-sack in Sweet Bird of Youth).  Also up for the Rev were, Richard Harris, William Holden, Burt Lancaster (too close to his Oscar-winning Elmer Gantry, 1959), Christopher Plummer and, surprisingly, James Garner  – “Just too Tennessee Williams for me!” there was more tenson off-screen as among those putting Puerto Vallarta on the tourist map, were…  Elizabeth Taylor living with Burton, whose agent was her first ex-husband, Michael Wilding. Plus Ava Gardner’s old, “platonic bedmate,” Peter Viertel, was also around as he was now wed to co-star Deborah Kerr! To help avoid friction, John Huston gifted each star with a gold-plated pistol, complete with bullets engraved with the names of the other stars, so the right bullet could be used (or, aimed, at least!) on the right target!  It worked well. Nary a discouraging word.  Except from the critics.  
  6. Christopher Plummer, The Fall of the Roman Empire, 1963.   Harris loved the first script – obviously, as it centred around his mad Emperor Commodus. Refused the second, plus the $400,000 fee, as it violated his no-cuts clause  – inserted since his experiences on Mutiny on the Bounty. Thirty-six years later, he played Commodus’ father, Marcus Aurelius (killed by Commodus) in Gladiator, 1999..    So it goes…
  7. Robert Shaw, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, 1964.       He  had not yet won Best Actor at Cannes for This Sporting Life, but there was a Haris buzz in the air and he had a choice: a Peckinpah Western in Mexico for hefty dollars, or a great little script for much less.  “I had wife and kids but no house – so Major Dundee  bought us a house.”  It was, though, he later admitted, the start of run of bad choices while Shaw had a better Hollywood career.
  8. Richard Johnson, The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders, 1964. Daniel Defoe’s (once) saucy 18th-centurycoupling of Moll and Jemmy went from Sean Connery and his then-wife, Diana Cilento to Richard Harris and Gina Lollobrigida – arch rival, Sophia Loren, had been the idea in 1961.   Director Terence Young settled upon Richard Johnson (his original choice for 007) and his wife, Kim Novak, who  retired hurt after the shoot – or after the  critics. Derek Winnert, for example said she “flounders as Flanders.”
  9. Michael Caine, The Ipcress File,  1965.       “I have been guilty of a lack of judgment  in my roles,” he admitted to Sean Connery while shooting The Molly Maguires. He rejected Ipcress  it for... Caprice with Doris Day! And hated every minute of it and never saw it. Indeed, when he once discovered it was the in-flight movie, he rushed off a plane. And probably would have done so in mid-flight!   Caine’s Ipcress success bred Harris’ undisguised hatred of him. I used to interview Caine two, three times a year for Showtime magazine in London and never heard him attack another actor.  Unlike Harris…“Mr. Caine is about as dangerous as Stan Laurel or Oliver Hardy, or indeed both, and as intimidating as Shirley Temple.”] Then again, one day Harris would say he hated movies – and the next, claim that he only felt alive when filming.
  10. Rod Taylor, Young Cassidy, 1965.      The role was the young Sean O’Casey. At least, Harris had Irish blood. But it would never have worked. He felt that legendary director John Ford (and actor Barry Fitzgerald) were responsible for crimes against Ireland with overly sentimental, Oirish portraits.

  11. Laurence Olivier, Bunny Lake Is  Missing, 1965.    Director Otto Preminger and Harris on the same set. ­ Impossible!
  12. Sean Connery, Thunderball, 1965.
  13. Mike Connors, Se tutte le donne del mondo (US: Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die), Italy, 1965.  The iconic Rome producer Dino De Laurentiis thought it was dead easy to make a Bond film (pinching much of Moonraker, not made until 1979) and crush the 1967 releases of You Only Live Twice and the first Casino Royal.  Three Bonds in one year was two much, and as bad as it was, Royale was a better farce than the cardboard Connors as a hero. (Quentin Tarantino loved it. Yeah, that bad!). Harris had also been up for 007, himself, in Thunderball, and a copy, The Liquidator, played by another nearly-Bond, Rod Taylor.
  14. Dean Martin, The Silencers, 1965.  ‘Twas the season of copy-Bond spies… Michael Connors and Harris lost the  copy-Bond Matt Helm franchise (four films in two years, each worse than t’other).  However, Connors went on to win  an Italian Bond and played  the TV shamuns, Mannix, for eight years Or so they say. I felt sure that towards the end his waxwork dummy took over.  
  15. Rod Taylor, The Liquidator, 1966.    And still more spies… Getting lofty, Harris dismissed it as being too commercial!  Went to Norway to join Kirk Douglas’ Heroes of Telemark, instead. So did I… and found out (later) that the on-set gofer was 21-year-old… Michael Douglas.
  16. Michael  Caine, Alfie, 1966. When James Woolf was due to produce the film of the play, Alfie Jenks (yes, he has a surname) was, naturally, going to be the producer’s friend. Laurence Harvey. Except like Harris, James Booth, Anthony Newley,  he was  put off by the abortion.   Newley apart, none of them, could have matched Caine’s delivery about bedding his mate’s wife. “Well, what harm can it do? Old Harry will never know. And even if he did, he shouldn’t begrudge me – or her, come to that. And it’ll round off the tea nicely.”

  17. Nigel Davenport, Play Dirty, 1968.    
    Harris arrived in Almeria in  February 1968, and split,  immediately. “I wasn’t going to play second fiddle to Caine.    This was a royal fuck-up because [producer Harry] Saltzman lied to me…. [I] had a clause  in my contract saying an offered role could not be tampered with once I’d accepted.  Saltzman signed that contract.  But then, when I arrived in Spain, I was given 30 new pages, with four of my main scenes cut to ribbons.  I told Saltzman: ‘You  are a contemptible, low-life fucker’ and I walked off.”  The Harris-Caine feud never ended, certainly not after a 1995 Harris letter to the Sunday Times castigating Caine as “an over-fat, flatulent, 62-year-old windbag, a master of inconsequence now masquerading as a guru, passing off his vast limitations as pious virtues… traumatised into petty tantrums of disbelief when Hopkins, McKellen, Jacobi and Stephens were elevated to knighthood… but… he did achieve the title he had diligently worked for, Farceur du Salon of  Beverly Hills    – and a lot of people know that.”

  18. Peter O’Toole, Goodbye Mr. Chips, 1968.   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!” (What was Julie Andrews?).  Finally, gloriously, the Chips became Pete ‘n’ Pet.  (Harrison was once wed to Harris’s ex-wife Elizabeth Rees).  
  19. Peter McEnery, Meglio vedova/Better A Widow, Italy, 1968.     Better a refusal.
  20. Robert Ryan, The Wild Bunch, 1968.

  21. Nicol  Williamson, Hamlet, 1969.    To be or not to be… beaten. “If I had to choose between working another 20 years as an actor or doing Hamlet and ending my career, I’d take Hamlet.” Much of the 60s were devoted to minutely preparing his Dane – Ophelia changing from Faye Dunaway to Mia Farrow – to be directed by Harris or Frank Silvera.  Tony Richardson’s project won backing first.  Harris never did play the Dane. “This Sporting Life  was my Hamlet, and The Field, my  Lear.”  (He was also a modern-day Liverpoool Lear inMy Kingdom, 2001).
  22. Peter O’Toole, Goodbye Mr Chips, 1969.   Richard Burton’s  reunion with his Broadway Camelot partner Julie Andrews did not happen and he  refused Petula Clark as a substitute because she was a…  singer!  And Julie was what, exactly?   (Burton was later offered Lee Remick as his wife).  O’Toole made it, quite delightfully, with Pet. Also up for the old-fashioned schoolteacher:  Harris, Albert Finney,  Rex Harrison, Christopher Plummer, Paul Scofield and  even… Peter Sellers.  (Harrison was once wed to Harris’s ex-wife Elizabeth Rees).
  23. Yves Montand, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, 1970.  
    Now this one sounds rather familiar… Harris signed on condition that he could sing the songs.  “They cut them! It became Stresiand’s vehicle.  I’d no intention of playing second fiddle to her.  At this stage in my career, I don’t have to sit around and watch someone act or sing.”  Making up for passing on him for An American in Paris, director Vincente Minnelli called up the Frenchman, offering $200,000. Uneasy about playing another Latin lover, Montand made a counter-offer of $400,000, “just to see what they say”. To his surprise, Paramount accepted. Yet critics agreed,  the sole problem with the film  (apart from La Barb’s ego) was the Frenchman.

  24. Anthony Quinn, Flap  (UK: Nobody Loves A Drunken Indian), 1970.     “A  marvellous part.  I’d banked everything on it and now some fat shareholder in New York has sat on the basket and it’s off.  I foresee a disastrous year for me.” Or, well on nigh 30 years.
  25. Christopher Jones, Ryan’s Daughter, 1970.     When Brando quit, scenarist Robert Bolt suggested three stalwart boozers to David Leanfor Major Randolph Doryan:  Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole.
  26. Albert Finney, Scrooge, l970.     Harris backed out, as did  Rex Harrison (in mid-affair with Mrs Harris, Elizabeth Rees, soon to be  the fifth of six Mrs Harrisons). Finney had also passed – then  changed his mind. 
  27. Del Henney, Straw Dogs, 1971.  Director Sam Peckinpah already had Dustin  Hoffman as his weak hero, but still  wanted Harris or Peter O’Toole as the Cornish lout raping Hoffman’s screen wife, Susan George. Twice –  “raped and then buggered,” as Peckinpah told her.  Sue bravely said she’d quit rather than agree to his overly explicit portrayal of the assaults. He gave in and kept his camera on her face, not her body.  Stupid cuts by the UK cenzor made the  entire three minute sequence worse by actually implying sodomy.
  28. Ryan O’Neal, Barry Lyndon, 1973.    Back in the day, Harris was Stanley Kubrick’s initial choice for his version of Thackery’s Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq… when he couldn’t condense Thackery’s Vanity Fair  into a three-hour film. Lyndonwas squeezed into 184 minutes. However, the Warner suits would only back the risky costume venture with a Top 10  box-office star from the annual Quigley Poll.  And the 1973 list was… wait for it… Clint Easztwood, Ryan O’Neal, Steve McQueen, Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman, Charles Bronson, John Wayne, Marlon Brando.  Two only were suitable: O’Neal and Redford.  La Barb did not yet turn “male” until Yentl, 1982. Due to Love Story, O’Neal was – unbvievably – the biggest star of the hour.  It was his only Top 10 appearance. Redford was #1 for the next three years.
  29. Richard Kiley, The Little Prince, 1974.     When Sinatra quit, director Stanley Donen ran through everyone from Richard Burton, Robert Goulet, Gene Hackman, plus Richard and his Hamlet rival, Nicol Williamson, for The Pilot.
  30. Donald Sutherland, The Eagle Has Landed, 1976.    Withdrew as the  IRA man out to kill Churchill during WWII. after anonymous calls about the actor having  attended an IRA fund-raise were made to  exec producer David Niven Jr  – ex-husband of the new Mrs Harris, Ann Turkel.

  31. Stacy Keach, The Squeeze, 1976.    Low after turkeys like The Cassandra  Crossing, Orca, he was threatened with litigation by Warners for reneging on a verbal deal for the British gangster movie – while talking to Ingmar Bergman about…
  32. David Carradine, The Serpent’s Egg, 1978.    For his first Hollywoodn-backed, and totally English-speaking film (there had been some Swedish in The Touch, 1970,with Elliott Gould), the Swedish genius Ingmar Bergman had some strange notions for circus performer Abel Rosenberg… Harris,  David Bowie, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford (!) and  two top TV names: Carradine and Peter Falk. He chose  Carradine –  “a gift from heaven” – after seeing  a work print of Bound For Glory. Far from the finest Bergman (too far from his roots), but Harris and Hoffman later regretted their passing… (An inexplicable second consecutive rejection of Bergman by Hoffman!).
  33. James Coburn, Mr Patman, Canada, 1980.     He knew  that Patman would be  no hit, man.  Harris and Coburn had saddled up for Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee, 1964, with Charlton Heston.  “He’d played in Shakespeare,” said Harris, “and to listen to him, you’d think he helped the Bard with the rewrites.”
  34. David Niven, The Sea Wolves, 1980.     Few The Wild Geese  made it to sea.  Harris was subbing for Richard Burton (spine surgery) in the Camelot revival and was still in it when Burton died in 1984.
  35. Jeff Bridges, The Last Unicorn, 1981.    Harris, Michael Crawford and Kurt Russell were the mixed bag (and ages) to voice Prince Lir in the toon based on the book (and script) by Peter S Beagle.
  36. Sean Connery, Der Name der Rose/The Name of the Rose, France-Italy-West Germany, 1986.      Réalisateur Jean-Jacques Annaud was not keen on 007 as Umberto Eco’s medieval monk turned detective.  Columia Pictures even refused financing if Connery was involved as his post-Bond star was imploding. Naturally, Brando topped Annaud’s further 14 ideas. Five Americans: , Robert De Niro (dropped when he insisted on a duel scene – with real swords!), , Frederic Forrest, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Roy Scheider; four Brits: Michael Caine, Albert Finney, Ian McKellen, Terence Stamp; plus the Irish Harris, Canadians Christopher Plummertand  Donald Sutherland, French Yves Montand and  Italian Vittorio Gassman. Connery’s reading was the best and his career exploded anew. Two years later, he won his support Oscar for The Untouchables.
  37. Robert Prosky, Far and Away, 1991.   Like Rod Steiger before him Harris  refused to be Nicole Kidman’s father.  The film was too Hollywood-Oirish. “So simple-minded it seems intended for adolescents,” added critic Roger Ebert, who also commented that the Stephen Chase role was “such a mass of contradictions and character tics that it’s hard to see if anybody’s at home.”
  38. Lloyd Bridges, Blown Away, 1993.    Harris was wary of yet another IRA bomb(er) project. Lloyd Bridges, hoqwevcer,  was delighted when Jeff Bridges gave up Speed for this thriller.  There was no rôle  for Dad in Speed, but there was one here… when Harris passed on Max. By ’96,  he was reduced to a  Doctor Who bit – until his Borusa was suddenly scrapped..
  39. Nicol Williamson, Spawn, 1997.    Poor Todd McFarlane.  He lost Richard.  And despite Cogliostro being bearded in Todd’s comicbooks, Nicol refused to grow or wear one. This proved the Scot’s final film role before dying of esophageal cancer in 2011.
  40. Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, 2000-2002.

  41. Michael Gambon, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 2004.   Richard‘s  death meant a new Dumbledore, aka Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Order of Merlin (First Class), Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harris only accepted the role because his grand-daughter, aged 11, threatened never to talk to him again if he did not become the  Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. He died at 72  just before the US premiere of his second outing,  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
  42. Jeremy Irons, The Borgias, TV, 2010.    The Italian Caligula director Tinto Brass told me he offered Pope Alexander VI to Harris vote his talk – long before  Irish director Neil Jordan got his film  off the ground.  As a TV series. 


 Birth year: 1930Death year: 2000Other name: Casting Calls:  42