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 (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 (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 (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 (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.
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 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.
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 (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.
ALAS, THINK OF WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN!