Movie Stars Who Turned Down Legendary Roles


We all know about classic stuff like Cary Grant making sure they cast Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady instead of him, and Doris Day not tarnishing her image by doing The Graduate — a part that would have resulted in her still working today.

But here are some other weird cinematic decisions, courtesy of the fab book Flesh and Fantasy, by Penny Stallings with Howard Mandelbaum:

Rita Hayworth turned down Born Yesterday, choosing to instead hang with Prince Aly Khan. What was she, born yesterday? Judy Holliday got the job and won an Oscar for it.

Monty Clift shied away from Sunset Boulevard because “the script’s central relationship between a young opportunist and an aging star” hit too close to home when it came to himself and Libby Holman. William Holden had no such qualms and gladly bagged the part. Meanwhile, Mae West and several other stars refused to play Norma Desmond because of the character’s age and has-beeny quality. Ironically, it would have made them non-has-beens.

Monty also “couldn’t relate to the role of the dull-witted ex prize fighter” in a little something called On the Waterfront. Marlon Brando could, and won an Oscar for it. So did the film, named best movie of the year.

Claudette Colbert‘s refusal to work past 5 p.m. cost her State of the Union. A back injury kept her from All About Eve. Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis benefited.

Joan Crawford withdrew from From Here to Eternity, supposedly because of the costumes, though in truth she didn’t care to appear in ensemble pieces. Deborah Kerr got to make love on the beach as the film marched into legend as a Hollywood classic.

Cursed with terrible taste, George Raft turned down The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and High Sierra. Bogie was grateful three times over.

Errol Flynn pulled out of Lolita, as it were — some say because his own Lolita, the 17-year-old Beverly Aadland, didn’t get the title role.

Tallulah Bankhead was outraged to be offered the part of Belle Watling, the aging whorehouse madam, rather than the lead of Gone With the Wind. Ona Munson gladly took the role and will be remembered well into the future as a result.

And finally:

Elia Kazan was forced to use Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire when Olivia de Havilland informed him that a lady just didn’t say and do those things on-screen. Thank God!