It is not unusual for film producers to chase down A-list performers in hope of landing a major star in a new flick. But less common is when the situation is reversed: the A-listers actively lobby for a major role, only to face humiliating rejection.
Here are examples of 10 major stars that went out of their way to secure significant film roles, only to be told to go away.
Julie Andrews, not in My Fair Lady. The British singer/actress took Broadway by storm as Eliza Doolittle in the original production of My Fair Lady. Although she had no film experience, Andrews was a major star on stage and a highly popular TV performer. She desperately wanted to repeat her stage triumph as Eliza for the movie version and even did a screen test (which, reportedly, was wildly unsuccessful). Andrews was so focused on playing Eliza in the film version that when she snagged her first film role in Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins, her contract stipulated she would be released if the My Fair Lady role came through. Audrey Hepburn wound up playing Eliza in the film – and Andrews wound up with the Academy Award for Mary Poppins.
Ernest Borgnine, not in The Godfather. When Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to Mario Puzo’s blockbuster gangster novel, the studio was hard-pressed to find the right actor to play the eponymous crime boss. Much to their surprise, Ernest Borgnine campaigned aggressively to be considered for the part. Perhaps Paramount was uncomfortable about smart alecks yelling “McHale!” at the screen, as Borgnine’s offer was one they were easily able to refuse.
Tony Curtis, not in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. When Curtis learned that his Operation Petticoat director Blake Edwards was going to helm the film version of the Truman Capote story, he pointedly sought out the role of aspiring writer Paul Varjak. Much to Curtis’ dismay, Edwards hemmed and hawed and tried to keep the actor at arm’s length until George Peppard was signed for the role. Curtis and Edwards would work together on the 1965 comedy The Great Race, though the actor never quite got over the rejection he received.
Dorothy Dandridge, not in Bus Stop. Following her groundbreaking triumph in Carmen Jones, Dandridge found difficulty in securing an adequate follow-up role. Plans for an all-black version of The Blue Angel went nowhere, and she rejected the supporting role of the slave Tuptim in The King and I. Dandridge, however, felt she would be perfect to play the would-be singer Cherie in the film adaptation of Bus Stop. However, 20th Century Fox would not allow either an all-black version of the play, nor would they have Dandridge as the center of white male attention. Marilyn Monroe, of course, was cast as Cherie.
Bette Davis, not in Mame. Why wouldn’t Warner Bros. allow its one-time icon to have the supporting role as the cantankerous diva Vera Charles in its big budget musical adaptation of the Broadway smash? Who knows? Davis actively sought the part, but being a legend was not enough to help her get cast. Beatrice Arthur, who originated the role on stage (and who was married at the time to director Gene Saks), took the role.
Sal Mineo, not in The Godfather. Mineo’s career took off quickly with a pair of Oscar-nominated triumphs in Rebel Without a Cause and Exodus, but then dramatically stalled. The actor tried in vain to get considered for roles in Elia Kazan’s America, America and Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood, but perhaps his boldest move was to aggressively pursue the part of Michael Corleone in The Godfather. As with the aforementioned Ernest Borgnine, Paramount Pictures was not interested in actors trying to crash their prestige film – and Mineo had to be satisfied playing a doomed chimpanzee astronaut in Escape from the Planet of the Apes.
Ginger Rogers, not in Mary of Scotland.”The dancing queen of the RKO musicals wanted to expand her screen work by tackling the role of Queen Elizabeth I in the studio’s big-budget 1936 biopic on Mary, Queen of Scots. Rogers submitted herself to an extraordinary make-up test to prove she could play the role. But RKO was aghast that their musical star wanted the role, and she was rudely escorted from the regal production.
Frank Sinatra, not in The Music Man. Sinatra fell in love with the Meredith Willson Broadway musical and believed that he would be perfect as the big screen equivalent of the con artist Harold Hill. Alas for Ol’ Blue Eyes, Willson was adamant that Sinatra would have no part in a film version, and Sinatra’s repeated attempts to acquire the screen rights were swatted away.
Orson Welles, not in The Last Picture Show. Welles had a close friendship with up-and-coming filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, and he gladly offered the younger artist invaluable advice on the creation of what would become Bogdanovich’s first major hit. But one key bit of advice was ignored – Welles wanted the role of Sam the Lion, but Bogdanovich opted for veteran Western character actor Ben Johnson. Although Johnson initially did not want the role, he took the part and won the Oscar for his work.
Sean Young, not in Batman Returns. Young was originally cast as Vicki Vale in Tim Burton’s Batman, but was forced to withdraw after she suffered a broken arm. When Burton was casting the sequel Batman Returns, Young fancied the role of Catwoman. Burton, however, was not eager to work with Young, so the actress made a highly publicized pitch (including an appearance on Joan Rivers’ talk show in a Catwoman costume) for the part. Michelle Pfeiffer was cast as Catwoman, and Young’s reputation took a hefty dent based on her outrageous attempt to win the role.