classic film general discussion laurence olivier the oliviers vivien leigh

Missed Connections

A while back, my friend Tanguy, knowing my love for foreign epic amazingness, recommended I watch a film called The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), starring Alain Delon, Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinalle, and directed by Luchino Visconti.  I finally got it yesterday via Netflix, and decided to google it to see if I could find out any interesting facts.  Landing on the wikipedia article about the film, I was surprised to see this:

When Visconti was told by producers that they needed to cast a star in order to help to ensure that they’d earn enough money to justify the big budget, Visconti’s first choice was one of the Soviet Union’s preeminent actors, Nikolai Cherkasov. Learning that Cherkasov was in no condition, health-wise, to take the part, Visconti then set his hopes on getting Laurence Olivier, but he already had another commitment.

How many times have I read that Laurence Olivier was offered a part, or the director had him in mind, but he was doing something else at the time and so another actor ended up playing the character?  A lot.  The same goes for Vivien Leigh.

This got me thinking about Larry and Vivien’s missed connections, i.e. parts that they were offered or planned to do, but it just didn’t work out.  Here’s a little list I put together:

Clive Candy in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Clive Candy in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943).  Director Michael Powell, who had worked with Olivier on the 1941 film 49th Parallel, wanted him for the role of Clive Candy.  Larry was in the navy and couldn’t get leave to do the film.  The part was eventually played by Roger Livesey.  Livesey actually played Larry’s father in The Entertainer (1960), even though he was only a year Larry’s senior.

Don Corleone in The Godfather

Don Corleone in The Godfather (1972). Frances For Coppola offered the role to Laurence Olivier (who reportedly had to pass due to illness), but it ended up going to Marlon Brando.

Antonio in Queen Christina

Antonio in Queen Christina (1933). Larry was cast in the role, but was then fired by Greta Garbo who wanted her lover John Gilbert to play the part instead.

Humbert Humbert in Lolita

Humbert Humbert in Lolita (1962).  Larry was offered the role by director Stanley Kubrick who had worked with him on Spartacus.  Larry’s agent advised against the part, so he declined and it went to James Mason.

Sibyl Railton-Bell and Major Angus Pollock in Separate Tables

Sybil Railton-Bell, Major Angus Pollock, Ann Shankland, and John Malcolm in Separate Tables (1958).  Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were in talks to play all four characters in Terence Rattigan’s Separate Tables.  They ended up passing on the opportunity and instead the roles went to Deborah Kerr, David Niven (who won an Oscar for his performance), Rita Hayworth, and Burt Lancaster.

Amber in Forever Amber

Amber St. Clair in Forever Amber (1947).  Vivien Leigh was in talks to play this role, but declined because she didn’t want to be typecast in roles that resembled Scarlett O’Hara.  The part went to Linda Darnell.

Violet Venable in Suddenly Last Summer

Mrs. Violet Venable in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959).  Vivien Leigh was offered the role in this Tennessee Williams drama/horror co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, but backed out to do Duel of Angels on stage.  The role went to Leigh’s good friend Katharine Hepburn.

Miriam in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Miriam in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). When Bette Davis offered Vivien Leigh the part of Miriam in Robert Aldrich’s 1964 horror film, Vivien reportedly said “I could almost stand to look at Joan Crawford’s face at 6am, but not Bette Davis.”  Davis was furious.  Vivien’s Gone with the Wind co-star, Olivia DeHavilland, was cast instead.

Vivien Leigh also voiced a wish to be cast in a French new Wave film after seeing Francois Truffaut’s iconic Les Cuatre Cents Coups.  And of course, there was the ill-fated Macbeth that she was to star in opposite Laurence Olivier.  When the film failed to get backing from producers, the picture was shelved.


Kendra has been the weblady at since 2007. She lives in Yorkshire and is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, and co-author of Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies (Running Press). Follow her on Twitter @kendrajbean, Instagram at @vivandlarrygram, or at her official website.

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Comments (8)

  1. “I could almost stand to look at Joan Crawford’s face at 6am, but not Bette Davis.”

    even though I’m a Bette Davis fan ILMAO

  2. oh SNAP. i can picture bette davis flicking cigarette ash in her face or something after that. burn.

    i approve of deborah kerr being an innocent bystander in this post. just sayin’.

  3. I like Bette too, but it’s funny to read about Vivien’s inner bitch being exposed, haha!

    Meredith–Please, you know Viv would have put out her cigarette on Bette’s forehead if she tried that, lol!

    Deborah Kerr deserves to be in any and every post. I even tagged her.

    PS, I’m so so so excited to (hopefully) see the Viv and Larry costumes in the V&A this autumn!

  4. I read that when Vivien was preparing for Romeo and Julietin 1940, one of the roles she was offered was the costarring role in The Great Lie, which ultimately won an Academy Award for Mary Astor.

  5. Vivien Leigh was never offered the part of Miriam in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. Director Robert Aldrich just mentioned her as a possible replacement. And what she said about “not wanting to see the face of Bette Davis” early in the morning, she confided that to a mutual friend of Bette Davis and Vivien Leigh, years after Sweet Charlotte was completed and released. The mutual friend was the writer Roy Moseley. When Moseley told Vivien that Davis also happens to be a good friend of his, Vivien asked for Bette’s address and she later sent her a postcard.

    Bette Davis’s biographer Charles Higham was also a friend of Moseley. So when he started writing the book about Bette, Moseley offered some inside information, which included what Vivien said about Bette. Unfortunately, Higham used the quote out of context and turned a harmless yet frank quote into something very catty and legendary to make his book juicier to read.

  6. Bette never offered Vivien the role. She couldn’t. The director, Aldrich, did. To both Leigh and Kate Hepburn, over Bette’s vetoes. Kate simply said “No!”. Leigh’s answer was more like what you said, but Bette not only got furious, but trashed her hotel room.

    Hepburn and Leigh were Bette’s “perceived” nemeses. I don’t think there was really any feud there, like Crawford.

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