Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cinema BackStory: The Casting Call

The date was December 10, 1938 and a massive two-year search was underway for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in the best selling novel turned film Gone with the Wind. The setting was Hollywood’s 40 Acres backlot where a party was taking place to watch the filming of the burning of Atlanta. 

The burning of Atlanta on the 40 Acres lot
Everyone from studio bigwigs and celebrities to secretaries and firemen watched the sets from King Kong go up in flames while dining on spaghetti, baked potatoes and turkey-a-la-king. Partygoer and talent agent Myron Selznick (and brother of the film’s producer David O.) showed up late – and quite inebriated – for the evening’s festivities with his client, celebrated British actor Laurence Olivier. 
Olivier and Leigh

On the arm of the very married Shakespearean actor was his lover, the dark haired green-eyed beauty Vivien Leigh who was also a Selznick client and dying to play the part of Scarlett. Ever the opportunist and dressed to kill in a mink coat and full stage makeup, David Selznick spots Leigh amid the burning embers as brother Myron remarks, “Hey genius, here’s your Scarlett O’Hara.” Two screen tests and three weeks later, Leigh beats out thirty-two actresses along with thousands of unknowns for the coveted role and the rest was cinematic history.

One of the main contenders was Paulette Goddard who possibly lost the part as Selznick wanted to avoid a scandal revolving around her questionable marital status with Charlie Chaplin. (The situation was ripe with irony as Leigh and Olivier -- both married to other people --  were living together at the time as well). Lana Turner, Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Bennett, Lucille Ball and Katherine Hepburn were also considered.

Paulette Goddard

David Selznick on the set of GWTW 
Many of our favorite films could have taken a different turn due to casting choices. Both Candice Bergen and Robert Redford screen tested for the roles of Elaine Robinson and Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate and were turned down. Redford was told by director Mike Nichols that "he could never play a loser in a million years." The iconic "loser" role launched the career of Dustin Hoffman.

America's quintessential screen virgin Doris Day was considered for the predatory Mrs. Robinson  who remarked, "I cannot see myself rolling around in the sheets with a young man half my age that I'd seduced." Fortunately Anne Bancroft could and received an Academy Award for her effort not to mention a great set of highlights.

The part of Thomas Crown was originally written for Sean Connery by screenwriter Alan Trustman who worried Steve McQueen would not effectively be able to deliver the dialogue. The part was later rewritten with "The King of Cool" in mind who said it was one of his all-time favorite roles.

Hugh Grant was said to be "kicking himself" over the Academy Award winning role in The King's Speech -- a career move that is certainly a head scratcher.

Hugh Grant

Academy Award winning actor Colin Firth

Jeff Bridges was up for the part of Oliver in Love Story (he was also up for Big, Officer and a Gentleman, Taxi Driver, Shawshank Redemption and Indiana Jones) which solidified Ryan O'Neal's place in film. (And speaking of Officer and A Gentleman, John Denver turned down the lead in Officer, imagine him alongside Debra Winger).

a very young Jeff Bridges

Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw. Fresh off of Peyton Place,
co-star Barbara Parkins  auditioned for the role  of Jenny

I love a good backstory and it's always interesting to think what might have been. Tupac turned down Bubba in Forrest Gump?  Christopher Walken as Jesus Christ in The Temptation of Christ? (I can see Saturday Night Live now). And OJ as the lead in The Terminator? Producers feared the former NFL great turned felon would not be taken seriously as a killer  -- and  I promise I did not make that up:).

Photo Credits: Paramount, MGM, Weinstein Company, Embassy Pictures, MGM


  1. Love this post. VERY interesting! GWTW is my favorite movie and I can't imagine ANYONE else as Scarlett O'Hara.

  2. None of us can imagine anyone but Vivien Leigh -- just imagine Selznick screen testing all those actresses and choosing a British actress!