Hollywood’s musical chairs

Roles that could have been

Near misses, bad choices, just dumb luck — Hollywood’s casting annals are studded with instances in which an actor or actress takes a role that, in some cases, had been already assigned to several thesps before the final reel of film was shot.

Here are some of the more notable instances of film casting zigging when it might have zagged:

  • No less than three actresses (Mae West, Pola Negri and Mary Pickford) turned down the role of Norma Desmond in 1950’s “Sunset Blvd.,” which earned Gloria Swanson an Oscar nom.

  • Claudette Colbert had been signed to play Margo Channing in 1950’s “All About Eve,” but then had to withdraw after a back injury from a skiing accident allowed Bette Davis to take over.

  • Davis had, in 1938, originally been offered the female lead eventually played in 1951 by Katharine Hepburn in “The African Queen.”

  • As for Colbert, her Oscar-winning turn in 1934’s “It Happened One Night” was first passed on my Myrna Loy when the pic was called “Night Bus.” She wasn’t sure a film largely set on a bus would work.

  • George Raft rejected two roles in the 1940s that both ended up on Humphrey Bogart’s filmography. The characters? Rick in “Casablanca” and Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon.”

  • Shirley Temple was the original choice for Dorothy in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz,” but eventually was passed over for the older Judy Garland.

  • Later in her career, Garland was usually the one being replaced. She was originally cast as Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun,” but after a few days’ shooting, Betty Hutton stepped in when the physically and emotionally wracked Garland was unable to deliver. Garland also was removed from 1951’s “Royal Wedding” due to “creative differences” (Jane Powell replaced her) and 1967’s “The Valley of the Dolls” (the role went to Susan Hayward). Garland was originally cast in 1951’s “Carousel” but was replaced by Shirley Jones.

  • Afraid of offending white Southern audiences, MGM decided to go with Ava Gardner over Lena Horne for the mulatto role of Julie Laverne in 1951’s “Show Boat.”

  • Paul Newman’s career was given a boost after playing two roles slated for James Dean before the latter’s death in 1955: Rocky Graziano in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956) and Billy the Kidd in “The Left-Handed Gun” (1958).

  • Helmer David Lean was adamant about casting Albert Finney as T.E. Lawrence in 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia” until Katharine Hepburn persuaded him to go with Peter O’Toole.

  • A bit of irony occurred at the 1964 Oscars, when Julie Andrews won best actress for “Mary Poppins” the same year as the feature version of her stage hit “My Fair Lady” was playing in theaters. Instead of Andrews, the un-nominated Audrey Hepburn (whose singing was dubbed) played Eliza Doolittle.

  • In a tale of two Peters, Peter Sellers, had to earn the role of Inspector Jacques Clouseau in the “Pink Panther” away from original choice, Peter Ustinov.

  • Eric Stoltz was removed from “Back to the Future” in 1985 when the filmmakers thought he wasn’t working as Marty McFly. His replacement, Michael J. Fox, primarily had done TV work until then. Pic’s success led to two sequels, but not much bigscreen success for Fox outside the McFly role.

  • Another TV celeb, “Magnum P.I.’s” Tom Selleck, was locked into his series contract and missed out on playing bullwhip adventurer-archaeologist Indiana Jones in 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

  • Art Carney’s Oscar-winning role as a nation-crossing cat-loving codger in 1974’s “Harry and Tonto” reportedly had been offered to Laurence Olivier, James Stewart and Frank Sinatra, and had been written with a retired James Cagney in mind.

  • Both James Caan and Burt Reynolds passed on roles that would earn Jack Nicholson Oscars: Caan decided against playing Randolph McMurphy in 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” while Reynolds thought the astronaut Garrett Breedlove in 1983’s “Terms of Endearment” was too small.

  • In 1979, George Segal left the lead role in Blake Edwards’ “10,” allowing Dudley Moore his first major hit. But turnabout was in the cards — when Moore was cut from Barbra Streisand’s 1996 “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” Segal took the part.

  • Harvey Keitel has the distinction of having left two lengthy, high-profile productions: 1979’s “Apocalypse Now” (Martin Sheen was his replacement) and 1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut” (Sydney Pollack stepped into the role).

  • Anne Bancroft was first signed to play Joan Crawford in 1981’s “Mommie Dearest,” but after many creative problems developed, she was replaced by Faye Dunaway.

  • Other roles originally written for actors who ultimately passed include the leads in 1984’s “Beverly Hills Cop” (Sylvester Stallone was supposed to be Axel Foley before Eddie Murphy came on) and 1996’s “The Cable Guy” (the film that garnered Jim Carrey his first $20 million payday was fashioned as a Chris Farley vehicle). “Sister Act” (1992) was written with Bette Midler in mind, though it’s Whoopi Goldberg who donned the wimple in the blockbuster hit and its sequel.

  • It’s widely known that Winona Ryder’s ill health forced her out of 1990’s “The Godfather Part III,” spurring the film debut of helmer Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter Sofia in the role of Mary Corleone. But the director’s first choice was an actress who had just receive her first Oscar nom for “Steel Magnolias” — Julia Roberts.

  • Kim Basinger, who endured a few legal complications when she pulled out of 1992’s “Boxing Helena,” had first been considered for the role of Catherine Trammell in “Basic Instinct.” Previously, she was the lucky runner-up when she replaced Sean Young (who injured her hip and had to quit the film) in 1989’s “Batman,” playing Vicki Vale.

  • In the 1992 sequel “Batman Returns,” pregnancy forced Annette Bening to let Michelle Pfeiffer slip into the Catwoman’s leather suit.

  • Sandra Bullock cemented her girl-next-door status in “While You Were Sleeping” (1995), originally slated for Demi Moore.

  • It might have been Tom Hanks and not Tom Cruise who screamed “show me the money” in “Jerry Maguire” (1996) had Cameron Crowe’s original choice been cast.

  • In another Crowe film, Billy Crudup stepped into the shoes of a ’70s rock guitarist in last year’s “Almost Famous” when Brad Pitt bowed out.

  • Woody Allen wrote 1993’s “Manhattan Murder Mystery” for Mia Farrow, but it was ex-flame Diane Keaton who got the part.

  • Val Kilmer turned down the leads in both 1986’s “Blue Velvet” (Kyle MacLachlan took it) and 1999’s “The Matrix” (which went to Keanu Reeves). Instead, those years saw Kilmer play a supporting role in “Top Gun” and star opposite Mira Sorvino in the commercial flop “At First Sight.”

  • Michael Douglas dodged a bullet when he exited the notorious flop pirate pic “Cutthroat Island”; Matthew Modine replaced him.

  • On the flip side, Douglas took the role originally slated for Harrison Ford as the would-be drug czar in Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic.”

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