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Hollywood Role ReversalsPosted Tuesday, June 17, 2008, at 10:24 PM
Life is all about choices. Buy the ticket, take the ride.
It's also about being in the right place at the right time. Some might even call it destiny.
In the late 70's and 80's, I lived in Hollywood and studied screenwriting for several years under many prominent screenwriters. One was Ernest Lehman, who has won more honors than any other screenwriter in history. In 2001, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Motion Picture Academy.
About twenty years earlier, while living in New York, Lehman had written a short story titled THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS. A major movie studio soon acquired the rights to the piece and hired Lehman to write the screenplay.
Lehman went on to write scores of famous screenplays including NORTH BY NORTHWEST, WEST SIDE STORY, THE KING AND I, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, SABRINA, HELLO DOLLY, BLACK SUNDAY, SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME and many, many more.
Lehman told us many stories about working with the great director, Alfred Hitchcock.
When Lehman and Hitchcock did NORTH BY NORTHWEST, they never had a complete script prepared. Lehman would write the next day's script and Hitchcock would film it. Then each night they would get together and plan the next few scenes. The only thing Lehman knew was that Hitchcock wanted the film to climax with a chase across the faces on Mount Rushmore.
According to Lehman, Hitchcock wanted James Stewart and Grace Kelly to play the lead roles. Since both were shooting other films at the time, Hitchcock settled for Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.
Over the years, I have become aware of other movie roles where the originally desired actor was replaced due to various circumstances.
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID -- Steve McQueen was cast to play Butch and Paul Newman was to be the Sundance Kid. But McQueen soon backed out because he wanted to have top billing over Newman in the opening credits. So Newman switched roles to play Butch and a relatively unknown actor named Robert Redford was brought in to be the Sundance Kid. The movie rocketed Redford into stardom.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK -- Director Steven Spielberg wanted Tom Selleck to be Indiana Jones, but Selleck was bound by contract to continue doing his TV series. Spielberg was forced to settle for an obscure actor named Harrison Ford to play the lead. Ford went on to become a top star.
THE GODFATHER -- Jack Nicholson was offered the role of the Godfather but rejected it because he thought it should be played by an Italian. Marlon Brando got the role by stuffing wads of cotton in his cheeks and doing a screen test, which was approved by the money backers before they learned it was Brando, considered to be a difficult actor to work with.
THE PINK PANTHER -- Writer/Director Blake Edwards wanted Peter Ustinov to play a character named Inspector Clouseau in a series of films about a diamond called the Pink Panther. Instead, he was forced to look elsewhere whereupon he found a minor British actor, Peter Sellers, to play the part. It's hard to imagine anyone else in that role.
THE MATRIX -- Will Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix to star in the WILD WILD WEST movie instead, which turned out to be a real stinker. Meanwhile, Keana Reeves got the part of Neo and the Matrix went on to become a cult classic.
DIRTY HARRY -- The script was originally written specifically for Frank Sinatra. After he balked at accepting the role, Clint Eastwood was cast in the lead.
AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN -- John Travolta turned it down. Eventually, Richard Gere got the role.
ROMANCING THE STONE -- Sylvester Stallone turned it down. Later, Michael Douglas won the role.
BEVERLY HILLS COP -- Originally written for Sylvester Stallone, but he turned it down. Eventually, Eddie Murphy landed the part.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN -- Sylvester Stallone wanted badly to get the role but it went instead to Arnold Schwartzenegger. Apparently, Stallone is only able to play characters with five letter names that begin with the letter R, such as Rambo and Rocky.
THE TERMINATOR -- O.J. Simpson was considered for the lead role as the Terminator but the producers thought he was "too nice" to be believable as a cold-blooded killer. Finally, Arnold Schwartzenegger got the part.
And around and around it goes.
Being in the right place at the right time is a terrific experience if you can somehow pull it off. One of the requirements for pulling it off is to be someplace other than the couch in front of your TV.
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is like waiting in line to renew your driver's license, only to discover you are in line to get a fishing license, and meeting your next ex-wife standing in line behind you.
Quote for the Day -- "Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul." Marilyn Monroe
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Bret Burquest is a former award-winning columnist for The News (2001-2007) and author of four novels. He has lived in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Kansas City, Memphis and the middle of the Arizona desert. After a life of blood, sweat and tears in big cities, he has finally found peace in northern Arkansas where he grows tomatoes, watches sunsets and occasionally shares the Secrets of the Universe (and beyond) with the rest of the world.