This is the third post in an occasional series about actors who almost got the role of a lifetime, and in some cases did, but then they didn’t. I’m getting the feeling I’m not explaining it all very well so let’s kick off with the first of four case studies . .
Frank Sinatra and Die Hard.
The Detective was a novel written by American author Roderick Thorp, and was first published in 1966. It was made into a film in 1968 also called The Detective and starred Frank Sinatra, as Detective Joe Leland. Billed as “an adult look at police life”, The Detective went on to become one of the highest-grossing films of 1968 and a great box office hit for Sinatra.
A sequel to the novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, was published in 1979 and in 1987 screen writer Jeb Stuart was asked to work on a screen adaptation of the book. The essential idea for the film according to Wikipedia was that of ‘Rambo in an office building’.
The producers were contractually obliged to offer Frank Sinatra the role although Sinatra, being 70 at the time, was hardly in a position to say yes. Various actors were considered for the role of the detective, now renamed John McLane, including Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and many others. Bruce Willis was originally forced to turn down the role because of commitments to the TV series Moonlighting but then co-star Cybil Shepard became pregnant and filming on the show was shut down for eleven weeks leaving Willis free to star in the film, the new title of which was Die Hard.
Willis was a controversial choice for the role. He was still only a TV actor and at the time it was proving difficult for TV stars to make the transition to film. Willis himself felt he wanted to distance his character from the larger than life characters played by Schwarzenegger and Stallone in similar action films and he played McLane as an ordinary guy thrust into an out of the ordinary situation.
The film was shot at the Fox Plaza in Century City, Los Angeles which was then still under construction. It was released in 1988 and was one of the year’s top films as well as being a break out film for Bruce Willis. It’s a film I’ve always enjoyed but I still can’t see Sinatra ever playing John McLane.
George Peppard and Dynasty
I can’t really say I was ever a fan of Dynasty. I watched a few episodes but I much preferred the rival show, Dallas. Dynasty was a 1980’s TV soap opera about a wealthy family, the Carringtons, living in Denver, Colorado. John Forsythe starred as the head of the family, Blake Carrington, with Linda Evans as his wife Krystle and Joan Collins as his former wife Alexis. In the pilot episode however, George Peppard played Blake Carrington but the actor didn’t like the script and clashed frequently with the producers. Peppard felt that his role was too similar to that of Jock Ewing, the family patriarch in Dallas. Before the pilot was completed, Peppard was fired and John Forsythe took over the role and all scenes involving Peppard had to be re-shot.
The first season of the series wasn’t too good but the arrival of Joan Collins for series two seemed to bump up the audience figures. George himself wasn’t too bothered about being sacked. He got the part of Hannibal Smith in the A Team.
In his personal life Peppard battled alcoholism and cancer. He died in 1994.
Dennis Hopper and The Truman Show
Dennis Hopper was a great fan of James Dean and he appeared with Dean in two films, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. Later he was part of Easy Rider, a film which supposedly kick started the American new wave of filming in the late 60s and early 70s. Hopper directed and co-wrote the film although I remember watching a TV documentary in the 1980s in which Hopper, Peter Fonda and others all claimed credit for the film. In later life Hopper appeared as a film villain in films like Speed.
In 1997 he signed on to play the part of Christof in the film The Truman Show. Christof is the TV producer of The Truman Show, a TV reality show in which the star, Truman, played by Jim Carrey, doesn’t realise he is on TV. The show is filmed using hidden cameras and actors and is funded by product placements. Hopper was fired after only two days on the shoot as the producers weren’t happy with his performance. Ed Harris, who plays the role in the finished film was a last minute replacement.
Dennis Hopper died at his home in Los Angeles in 2010. He was 74 years old.
Elvis Presley and A Star is Born
A Star is Born is a film that has had numerous remakes. The original was released in 1937 starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. It had a screenplay by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell and Robert Carson and is about a young girl who wants to get into the movies. Janet Gaynor plays Esther Blodget who meets film star Norman Maine. Maine gets Esther into the film world and Esther falls for him but Maine is an alcoholic and his star is rapidly fading while Esther’s is on the rise.
Sid Luft asked director George Cukor to take the helm of a new musical version in 1952 starring his then wife Judy Garland. Cukor wasn’t keen at first but changed his mind when he found the film would be shot in technicolour and he wanted to be part of this new process. Cukor chose Cary Grant to take on the role of Norman Maine but Grant declined. Various others were in the frame for the part including Frank Sinatra. Stewart Granger was a favourite for a while but he didn’t like the way Cukor worked and finally the role went to James Mason.
In the mid seventies, Barbara Streisand and her then husband decided to produce a new musical version of the story based on the music industry rather than Hollywood. Streisand wanted Elvis Presley for the Norman Maine role and even met with Elvis to discuss the film. Elvis who was a great film fan wanted to revive his film career but the big problem was his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Parker apparently wanted top billing for Elvis and a substantial pay packet. He was also concerned that Elvis would be playing a singer whose career is on the way out thinking that might harm the King of Rock n Roll’s actual career. Eventually Elvis backed out and Kris Kristofferson played the part.
I’ve always thought that Elvis was actually a pretty good actor. OK I know a lot of his later films were dreadful but Presley was bored with the kind of films that Colonel Parker had him making. Presley was a great fan of James Dean and knew all the dialogue from Dean’s films. I reckon he would have been outstanding in A Star is Born but sadly, it wasn’t to be.
Yes, I would have loved to have seen Presley in A Star is Born. Also, I wouldn’t have minded seeing Cary Grant in the Judy Garland version either!
Elvis died in 1977. He was 42 years old. His last acting role in a film was Change of Habit, made in 1969.
A Star is Born was remade yet again in 2018 starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.