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And Starring Gary Cooper As...Rhett Butler!And Starring Gary Cooper As...Rhett Butler!

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And Starring Gary Cooper As…Rhett Butler!

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At least that’s the way it could have been, had Gary Cooper realized the monumental epic the film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s bestseller Gone with the Wind would go on to become. Instead, like many in the movie business, Cooper expressed some doubt about the ability of producer David Selznick to pull off the very risky, and very expensive, saga.

It was with relief then that the actor bowed out of the lead role when the studio announced that the part would be going to another Hollywood favorite. “I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his face,” he said ” and not Gary Cooper.”

Casting movies and choosing which roles to accept has always been fraught with miscalculations and poor judgment in Tinseltown, where ego and positions of power often overshadow artistic creativity.

Consider Al Pacino in the role of Rambo in First Blood. Pacino expressed interest in the part and asked that the the script be rewritten to depict the title character as “a little more of a madman”.

When the new draft failed to impress, Pacino backed out of the picture, leaving the producer to seek out the services of other top-rung actors such as John Travolta, Nick Nolte and Michael Douglas, who also decided that the part held little promise.

When Carolco Pictures bought the script and offered it to Sylvester Stallone, the actor refashioned the insane Vietnam Vet into a misunderstood, troubled loner. FIrst Blood went on to become Stallone’s first non-Rocky hit and solidified his career.

Ironically, it was a part for which Stallone had originally been cast that would later establish Eddie Murphy as a major star when Paramount balked at Stallone’s request for a bigger budget to provide for more action scenes in Beverly Hills Cop. Stallone quit, and the part of Axel Foley went to Murphy.

Some stars, questioning their ability to project the proper traits required of certain characters, have also made way for other actors who went on to mark those roles as among their most memorable. Alan Ladd turned down the role of Jett Rink in Giant a part that would later go to James Dean, because Ladd felt that he was too old to play the reckless oilman. Likewise, Robert Redford, feeling that he couldn’t display the right amount of naïveté, passed on the role of Ben Braddock in The Graduate – the part which made an instant star of Dustin Hoffman.

If turning down a career-defining opportunity isn’t bad enough, it’s nothing compared with the major faux pas of backing out of a role which snags another fellow actor an Academy Award.

Gene Hackman bailed on playing Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs, a part which Anthony Hopkins would turn into his signature role.

It was Hopkins who nine years prior had blown his chance at Oscar when he passed on playing Gandhi, which landed Ben Kingsley the golden statuette.

Bette Davis turned down the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind because she mistakenly thought that her co-star was going to be Errol Flynn, an actor with whom she was refusing to work with at the time.

Kirk Douglas, following on the flawed advice of his agent, fumbled away the award for best actor in 1965 to Lee Marvin, who scored in the role of the drunken gunslinger Kid Shelleen in Cat Ballou and Burt Lancaster, in one of the more glaring examples of Oscar-oversight, all but served up the trophy on a silver platter to Charlton Heston when he shunned the lead role in the spectacular blockbuster Ben-Hur.

More often than not the decision of stars turning down great roles tends to work out for the best – could Tom Selleck really have clicked with the audience as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark? what of Marlon Brando as the original choice for the lead in Lawrence of Arabia or Jane Fonda as the female half of Bonnie and Clyde?

And just imagine the gritty detective Callahan in Dirty Harry being played by the likes of Frank Sinatra, John Wayne or Paul Newman (all three of whom refused the part) Knowing that the character will forever be indelibly etched in the image of Clint Eastwood?

Still, it was Clint Eastwood, among a score of other actors, who was considered for the role of the Man of Steel in Superman.

But that’s another story…

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