But sometimes, turning down a role actually proved to be a wise decision. Consider these wise decisions:

Marlon Brando claimed illness as the reason for reneging on his agreement to star in the Roman epic “The Prodigal” (1955). British actor Edmund Purdom took the role, which ended his brief Hollywood career. Brando’s health miraculously improved after Purdom began production.

Harry Belafonte would not consider starring in “Porgy and Bess” (1959). Sidney Poitier did not want the role either, but was coerced into playing it with threats that rejecting the part would kill his career. It turned out to be one of his worst performances.

Frank Sinatra was charmed enough to agree to play opposite Elizabeth Taylor in “The Only Game in Town” (1970), but pre-production delays forced him to move away from the part. The aforementioned Warren Beatty was stuck in the fiasco.

Abbott and Costello withdrew from the raucous “Fireman, Save My Child!” (1955). Hugh O’Brian and Buddy Hackett stepped in and fell on their faces instead.

Judy Garland was signed to appear in the biopic “Harlow” (1965) as Jean Harlow’s mother, but abruptly withdrew a week before shooting was to start. Eleanor Parker stepped in to replace her, but then abruptly stepped out. Ginger Rogers was finally signed for the part. The film was a major flop and Rogers never made another film.

Mary Pickford declined Orson Welles’ offer to play the matriarch in “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942). Silent star Dolores Costello took the part, hoping for a film comeback, but the commercial failure of the production killed Costello’s hopes of resuming her career.

Toshiro Mifune was offered the part of Chang in the 1973 musical of “Lost Horizon,” but wisely steered clear of the project. John Gielgud accepted the part, but his badly faux-Asian performance generated protests from Asian-American civil rights groups.

Marilyn Monroe tossed back the script for “How to Be Very, Very Popular.” Betty Grable, whose star waned as Monroe’s ascended, took the part. The film’s failure signaled the end of Grable’s long and successful career while Monroe went on the make “Bus Stop,” one of her biggest hits.

Posted on April 22, 2003 in Features by


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