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The Role Not Taken September 8, 2007

Posted by Jim Berkin in Movies.
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I was reminded of this book on Hollywood casting stories by Ron Base via some comments on another post earlier this week, so I dug it out of the stacks and took a fresh look at it.

Base compiles a real treasure trove of gossipy research here, so what you wind up with is a ton of imagination-sparking “what if?” scenarios, where you can attempt to visualize some film you remember, though totally recast with earlier choices that didn’t make it for whatever reason.

The particular category of story that fascinates me, however, are when actors turn down roles in what turn out to be career-making monster hit vehicles. Sometimes, as when Tuesday Weld rejected the role of Bonnie Parker for Bonnie & Clyde, they compensate by taking a similar role in a film made right after, in this case being Pretty Poison for Weld. Pretty Poison remains an underrated gem, but Faye Dunaway rode the wave of Bonnie & Clyde right up through the following decade.

These are the humbling stories, the stories of fleeting moments of serendipity that remind us how random celebrity and stardom really are.

Base tells of numerous other actors who made choices that wound up helping others get their first big break – from Robert Donat turning down Captain Blood & opening the way for Errol Flynn to Mel Gibson passing on The Untouchables, which gave Kevin Costner his first star making role.

Then there are the hard-luck stories, such as Tom Selleck being unable to play Indiana Jones, or Paulette Goddard narrowly losing out to Vivien Leigh for Scarlett O’Hara…

Then there are the “What were they thinking???” stories, like Albert Finney walking away from playing Lawrence of Arabia, or Chevy Chase passing on Forrest Gump…

I remember this one being a fun, quick & entertaining read after finding it at (surprise!) another yardsale. It looks like it’s out of print, but definitely worth hunting down if you’re familiar enough with the movies & performers discussed and can play the mental game of scrambling them all around.

Then perhaps you can really go to town and imagine Carrot Top as Don Corleone or Burt Mustin as James Bond. I’m not stoppin’ ya.

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