Not every film performance is a classic, of course, but there are plenty of commercially successful productions which helped the careers of those who allowed another actor to get the part in the hit. For example:

Stan Laurel, Harold Lloyd and Groucho Marx declined to be part of the all-star mayhem in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Laurel and Lloyd were retired and did not wish to go back on the screen while Marx refused to work for minimum scale. Dozens of other funnymen happily filled in for them in the 1963 comedy landmark.

Liza Minnelli rejected the script for “Rainbow Road,” and Barbra Streisand took the project. Along the way, the title was changed to “A Star is Born,” which became one of Streisand’s biggest film hits.

Liza Minnelli also turned down the chance to play Daisy opposite Robert Redford as “The Great Gatsby.” Mia Farrow took the role in the hit film. Minnelli’s rejection of “Family Plot” gave Barbara Harris the star role in Alfred Hitchcock’s final film.

Actress Michael Learned (best known as the mother on “The Waltons”) turned down a supporting role in the Charles Bronson thriller “St. Ives.” The role changed genders and went to the similarly-named actor Michael Lerner, who enjoyed his first high profile exposure in this hit action movie.

One-time Australian teen pop idol Jason Donovan hated the script for the drag queen comedy “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and passed on it. An unknown actor named Guy Pearce loved the script, put on a dress and rode the film’s runaway success to Hollywood stardom.

Matthew Perry turned down a part of Capt. Jimmy Wilder in “Independence Day,” complaining it was too small a part. Harry Connick Jr. took the role in the mega-hit flick and used it to build on further film and TV roles.

Chris O’Donnell turned down the starring role in “Men in Black,” enabling Will Smith to ride the role to superstardom.

Nancy Reagan avoided Albert Brooks’ attempts to get her to return to acting via the title role in “Mother.” Debbie Reynolds landed the part and scored a late-career comeback.

Edward Norton rejected the script for “Hart’s War.” An unknown Irish actor named Colin Farrell grabbed the part, enjoying his first major Hollywood break.

Betty White turned down a role as the neighbor in the Oscar-winning “As Good as it Gets” because of a brief scene of animal cruelty (a dog is deposited down a garbage chute). Shirley Knight took the part instead – the dog was not injured.

Jodie Foster would not reprise her Oscar-winning role from “The Silence of the Lambs” for the sequel “Hannibal.” Julianne Moore stepped into the part and enjoyed a prominent place in the mega-hit movie.

Brad Pitt pushed aside “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!” when the producers could not meet his salary requirements. TV actor Josh Duhamel didn’t require such a large salary and snagged the role in the surprise comedy hit, giving Duhamel his first movie success.

More career disasters in part three of TURNING DOWN A PLUM ROLE, PART 2>>>

Posted on January 4, 2005 in Features by

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