Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Greatest Film Scores of All Time

Today we tend to take film scores for granted. There should be little wonder that this should be the case. Many may not realise this, but film scores existed even before the advent of sound. Such silent films as Nosferatu (1922) and Metropolis (1927) actually had full length, original scores written for them, which would be played in the cinema during the showing of the films. Naturally, with the advent of sound, original film scores would continue to be composed for movies.

Indeed, many film scores over the years have become very notable. Even if an individual has never seen a film, he or she can often recognise its score. More so than during the Silent Era, film scores have become an integral part of film. Many of us have our favourite film scores and I am no different in this. Here is my short list of what I consider some of the greatest film scores of all time. It is by no means comprehensive, as it would actually take a whole book to cover the subject! Here I must also note that I have excluded musicals from this list (otherwise the first three spots would be occupied by Beatles movies....). I have also excluded films, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, that largely relied on pre-existing music for their scores.

King Kong (1933): Despite the fact that original film scores had been composed for Silents, the advent of sound saw music being used very little in movies. One thing modern audiences will notice about early talkies is often the lack of any sort of background music. When music does occur in very early talkies, it is often merely in the background and not particularly integral to the plot. All of this would change with Max Steiner's original score for King Kong. Indeed, reportedly it was the first full length score composed for an American talkie.

Amazingly enough for a film score that would prove so influential, it almost never came to be. Max Steiner, who had composed music for Cimarron (1931) and Merian C. Cooper's classic The Most Dangerous Game (1932). With such credits and having worked with Mr. Cooper before, it was perhaps natural that he was brought in to provide music for Mr. Cooper's own King Kong. Unfortunately, as King Kong neared its final stages of editing, RKO president B.B. Kahane told Mr. Steiner that RKO had its doubts about the possible success of King Kong and did not wish to spend additional movie on an original film score. He told Mr. Steiner to then use music tracks already owned by RKO. Max Steiner, who was perfectly aware that King Kong was a film like no other before it, simply replied, "What am I going to play, Little Women?!" Fortunately, Merian C. Cooper agreed with with Mr. Steiner that the movie needed an original score. In fact, Mr.Cooper paid $50,000 out of pocket for an orchestra and any other expenses Mr. Steiner might accrue in writing an original score for King Kong.

The end result was one of  Max Steiner's greatest scores and possibly the most influential score in the history of movies. Max Steiner and Merian C. Cooper worked closely together. They agreed that it was best not to score the scenes in New York City (then deep in the Great Depression), so as to maintain the reality of those scenes. The score would not begin until the S. S. Venture arrived at the thick fog surrounding Skull Island, when reality gave way to a flight of fantasy. Afterwards music was present for the rest of the movie. It took about eight weeks to compose and perform the score for King Kong. The score utilised an orchestra of 46 musicians, far larger than the orchestras used for most films. After the score was completed, sound effects man Murray Spivak changed the film's sound effects to compliment the music, the first time this was ever done in a film. The score would also be innovative in that it utilised specific themes for characters, the first time this was done in film. RKO, who had not wanted to pay for an original score, would re-use the score to King Kong in its sequel Son of Kong (1933) and even in such movies as The Last of the Mohicans (1936).

The score to King Kong would prove extremely influential.It was perhaps the first time in a film that the music was truly an integral part of the movie, emotionally underscoring key points in the film. In composing the score to King Kong, Max Steiner would set the rules for movie music for decades to come.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935): Universal's classic film Frankenstein (1931) did not have a music score. For Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale asked composer Franz Waxman to write a score for the much anticipated sequel to the smash hit Frankenstein. In the end Mr. Waxman a score that was much more sophisticated than many of the film scores of the time. Indeed, a relatively large orchestra of 22 musicians would perform the score in a recording session that took nine hours. What made Mr. Waxman's score revolutionary for the time is that he composed leitmotifs for Frankenstein's creature, the Bride, and the villain of the film, Dr. Pretorius. It was one of the first times other than Max Steiner's score for King Kong that specific themes were composed for characters in the movie.

Unfortunately, Universal would not go to the effort with Bride of Frankenstein that RKO had with King Kong in re-recording and re-editing the sound effects to compliment the film's score. Indeed, there are times when the sound effects drown out the score, particularly in the sequence in which the Bride is created. The film score would suffer even more indignities after a preview of Bride of Frankenstein. After the preview, the film was cut by perhaps as much as fifteen minutes. Along with the footage that was cut from the movie went portions of the score as well. In fact, nine of the seventeen total musical sequences in the movie were either shortened in length or cut entirely.

Despite the indignities the score of Bride of Frankenstein suffered in post-production, it remains one of the most influential scores in film history. It would help establish the tradition of composing themes for specific characters. It would also prove extremely useful to Universal, who would not only recycle the theme in horror movies, but in everything from Westerns to thrillers.

Gone with the Wind (1939): Gone with the Wind was halfway through filming when David O. Selznick sent a memo to his studio's general manager that it was time to hire a composer. Mr. Selznick suggested the already legendary Max Steiner. By March 1939, when Mr. Selznick issued the memo, Mr. Steiner was already an experienced film composer, having composed the scores of several films, from the ground breaking score for King Kong to Angels with Dirty Faces (1938). If there was any man who could compose the score for David O. Selznick's epic Southern, it was Max Steiner.

In the end Max Steiner composed what may be his most sophisticated film score of all time. The score is underpinned by "Tara's Theme," the theme recognised as most simply as "the theme to Gone with the Wind." In addition, Mr. Steiner composed themes for each of the eight major characters, two separate love themes (one for the love between Ashley and Melanie and another for Scarlett's infatuation with Ashley), and sixteen different subsidiary themes. In all, Mr. Steiner composed three hours worth of music. Two hours and 36 minutes worth of that music made its way into the film. The end result was the longest score ever composed for a motion picture.

The score for Gone with the Wind would prove to be one of the most memorable scores from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Over the years the complete score has been performed by a number of symphonies. Indeed, "Tara's Theme" can be recognised even by those who have never seen the movie. Strangely enough, while Gone with the Wind would sweep the Oscars, Max Steiner would not take the Academy Award for Best Original Score. It would seem that Gone with the Wind was beat out in that category by the other mega-classic released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz!

The Magnificent Seven (1960): Prior to The Magnificent Seven, scores to Western movies came in two basic varieties. They were either broad, sweeping scores meant to capture the vastness of he landscape or scores derivative of folk songs from the era of the Old West. Elmer Bernstein changed all of that with The Magnificent Seven. To do so he drew upon his experience in scoring The Ten Commandments (1956). When he first started to score the film, Mr. Bernstein tried matching the pace of the movie. While scoring the film's lengthy sequence of the Hebrew leaving Egypt, the film's director Cecil B. DeMille advised him to use the music to help add excitement to the scene. Elmer Bernstein saw The Magnificent Seven as similar to The Ten Commandments in being very deliberately paced. He then composed a score that would capture the sensation of brisk action. Unlike the scores to previous Westerns, the score to The Magnificent Seven was often dominated by brass instruments and percussion. It was also very rhythmic, utilising flamenco style rhythms to highlight the film's setting in Mexico.

The score to The Magnificent Seven would prove immensely popular. In addition to the smash hit official soundtrack album, it has been recorded many times over. It would also prove immensely influential, not only reshaping the music scores of several Westerns in the decades to come, but even of action films. Mr. Bernstein's own score for The Great Escape, as well as the score to The Dirty Dozen (composed by Frank De Vol) and many other action films in the Sixties and Seventies, owe a good deal to the score to The Magnificent Seven. Although immensely popular and instantly recognisable even to those who have never seen the movie, the score to The Magnificent Seven lost the Oscar for Best Dramatic or Comedy Score to Exodus (1960).

Pyscho (1960): Perhaps no composer is as identified with the films of Alfred Hitchcock as Bernard Hermann. Mr. Hermann first worked with Mr. Hitchcock on The Trouble with Harry (1955). So impressed was Mr. Hitchcock with Mr. Hermann's work that the composer would collaborate with the director on every film until Marnie (1964). The collaboration produced some of the greatest scores of all time, including the scores to Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and The Birds (1963). Arguably the crowning achievement of this collaboration was the score to Psycho.

Amazingly, Bernard Hermann was resistant to Alfred Hitchcock about scoring Psycho, as the film's lower budget also meant a reduced fee for the composer. Mr. Hitchcock persisted, and in the end Mr. Hermann wrote the score. Even so, Mr. Hermann was independent as ever, going against the director's wishes for the score. Alfred Hitchcock request that Bernard Hermann compose a jazz score for the movie. Instead Mr. Hermann, ever mindful of the small budget, wrote the score for a string orchestra instead of a full symphony. According to Bernard Hermann, Alfred Hitchcock had told him that he could do anything he wanted with the score, but he should write no music for the shower scene. Again, Mr. Hermann went against the director's wishes, providing the scene with the sound of shrieking violins to symbolised the violence of the stabbing in the scene. When Bernard Hermann played the music to the shower scene for Alfred Hitchcock, he had to admit that he was wrong.

In not providing the film with a jazz score or using a full orchestra, Bernard Hermann found a means to musically compliment the black and white photography. The stringed instruments gave the score a single tone musically to match the monochrome of the film. The stringed instruments also proved more versatile than either a jazz band or a full orchestra would have been. Indeed, the effects of the violins in the shower scene would not have been possible otherwise.

The score to Psycho would prove very influential. It would be imitated in may horror and suspense movies for decades to come. Indeed, its influence is notable in the scores for such movies as Jaws (1975), Carrie (1976), and The Re-Animator (1985) among many others. One of the most effective scores for any movie and one of the most influential scores of all time, amazingly enough Bernard Hermann's score for Pyscho was not even nominated for an Oscar!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Don't Shoot Me, Santa

Today being the day after Thanksgiving, it seems to me that most every place has started playing Christmas songs. Here, then, is my favourite Christmas song of late--"Don't Shoot Me, Santa" by The Killers.


Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Real First Thanksgiving?

If you ask the average American who held the first Thanksgiving in what would become the United States, they would most likely say the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts Colony in 1621. They would also be wrong. The fact is that, when it came to holding a Thanksgiving festival, the Pilgrims were relative latecomers.

Indeed, I should not have to point out how incredibly Eurocentric it is to even insist any Europeans held the first thanksgiving festival. Thanksgiving ceremonies are to be found among many different Native American tribes, and there can be no doubt that such ceremonies were held well before the arrival of Europeans on American shores. The Cherokee have several different ceremonies at which they give thanks, including the Great New Moon Ceremony, the Exalting Bush Festival, and the Ripe Corn Ceremony. The Seneca have Thanksgiving rituals that last four days, and other Iroquois nations have their own Thanksgiving rituals. It would seem that not only were Europeans not the first people to celebrate Thanksgiving on American soil, but as the various Native tribes never recorded the dates of their first Thanksgiving ceremonies, we will probably never know when the real first Thanksgiving was held in what became the United States.

Of course, even when one considers who the first Europeans were to hold a Thanksgiving ceremony in what would become the United States, the Pilgrims arrived late to the party. There are various arguments made for various European groups as those who held the first Thanksgiving, but the best candidates for the title are Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his men. Coronado and his expedition had left Mexico to search for the Seven Cities of Cibola, the legendary cities of gold. Instead Cornoado and his men found themselves in what we call the Staked Plains, in Spanish Llano Estacado. Coronado described the Staked Plains as a "sea of grass." As there were no visible landmarks, Corando's expedition travelled in circles for days. At last they reached the Palo Duro Canyon in what is now the Texas Panhandle. It was there that Coronado and his men encountered the friendly Querechos, most likely what we would call today Apaches. It was on Ascension Thursday, 23 May 1541, that Coronado's expedition celebrated a Thanksgiving ceremony with the Natives. Friar Juan de Padilla said a Thanksgiving Mass.

Despite the documentation that Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his expedition were the first Europeans to celebrate Thanksgiving on American soil, there are those who claim the first Europeans to hold a Thankgiving ceremony were in St. Augustine in what is now Florida. Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez had been appointed governor of Florida by King Philip II. The king charged him with founding a permanent settlement and taking control of the region. It was on 4 September 1565 that Admiral Menendez and 500 soldiers, 200 sailors, 100 civilian families landed in Northern Florida after an arduous crossing by sea. He named the new settlement San Augustin--in English Saint Augustine. Thankful for having survived their voyage across the Atlantic, the Spanish colonists and the friendly Timucuan Natives gathered around a makeshift altar and said a Catholic Mass. Afterwards the colonists and the Timucuans held a thanksgiving feast, to which the Spanish brought pork, garbanzo beans, olive oil, and wine, while the Timucuans brought oysters and giant clams. Held in 1565, the Thanksgiving feast occurred a full fourteen years after the Thanksgiving held by Coronado's expedition. It would seem that at best Saint Augustine, Florida can lay claim to the second Thanksgiving ceremony held by Europeans in what would become the United States, the first having been held by Coronado and his men, although they can lay claim to the first Thanksgiving celebration held in a permanent European settlement.

Not only were the Pilgrims not the first Europeans to hold a Thanksgiving feast in what would become the United States, they were not even the first Englishmen. That honour would go to the men and women who settled Berkeley Hundred in 1619, over a year before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts. It was in 1619 that the ship Margaret, carrying thirty-eight colonists,  set sail from Bristol under the command of Captain John Woodliffe. The Margaret landed at Berkeley Hundred on 4 December 1619. The charter of the colony ordained that the day of the ship's arrival in Virginia would be celebrated annually as a day of Thanksgiving. Having landed at Berkeley Hundred, the settlers did indeed celebrate Thanksgiving, the first in the British Colonies. We are not absolutely certain what was served at Berkeley Hundred's first Thanksgiving feast, but it was believed to be perch, shad, rockfish, and oysters. Thanksgiving in Berkeley Hundred was indeed an annual feast, but sadly it would not last. In Virginia in 1622 there was a massive Native American massacre from which Berkeley Hundred was not spared. Berkeley Hundred was abandoned for many years until it was established as Berkeley Plantation. It would become the home of the Harrisons, one of the First Families of Virginia, to whom Presidents William  Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison belonged.

The Pilgrims were then hardly the first people in what would become the United States to hold a Thanksgiving feast. Indeed, that honour most likely goes to a group of Native Americans thousands of years ago whose names have not been recorded in history. The Pilgrims were not even the first Europeans to hold a Thanksgiving feast, that honour going to the Coronado expedition. They were not even the first permanent settlers to hold a Thanksgiving feast, that honour goes to the colonists of San Augustin. They were not even the first Englishmen to hold a Thanksgiving feast on American soil, as that honour goes to the colonists of Berkeley Hundred. While the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving feast has long figured in American pop culture, it was hardly the first Thanksgiving held in what would become the United States.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Late, Great Ingrid Pitt

Ingrid Pitt, often referred to as "the Queen of Horror," passed yesterday at the age of 73. The cause was heart failure.

Ingrid Pitt was born Ingoushka Petrov on 21 November 1937 in Poland. It was in 1943 that Miss Pitt's family was captured by the Nazis. Miss Pitt and her mother were separated from her father and sent to the Stutthof concentration camp. In 1945 the Nazis forced the concentration camp survivors to march towards Germany. Miss Pitt and her mother escaped into a woods. When they were finally discovered by the Red Cross, the war had been over for several weeks. Young Ingrid Pitt was diagnosed with tuberculosis and not expected to live. Fortunately, she survived and was reunited with her father. In the Fifties he took Miss Pitt to movie theatres, where she fell in love with the world of film. Once Miss Pitt had graduated school, she enrolled as a probationer at Berlin's medical school. She was expelled after she refused to dissect a rat. Miss Pitt then studied bookkeeping, shorthand, and typing.

It was in the early Sixties that Miss Pitt joined the Berliner Ensemble. She studied under Helen Weigel, Bertolt Brecht's widow who had founded the ensemble in 1948. Unfortunately, Miss Pitt's political views did not endear her to the East German government, so that she fled Berlin by diving into the River Spree. She was rescued by an American Army lieutenant, Laud Pitt, whom she later married. The two would move to Fort Carson, Colorado, where Ingrid Pitt joined a local theatrical company. She later acted at the Pasadena Playhouse in California.

After divorcing her first husband, Ingrid Pitt moved to Spain. It was there that she was discovered by a Spanish producer. Miss Pitt made her film debut in El sonido de la muerte (1964). Over the next few years she appeared in Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight (1965),  Doctor Zhivago (1965, in an uncredited role), Un beso en el puerto (1966), and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). After she moved back to Los Angeles, Ingrid Pitt guest starred on Dundee and The Culhane (1967) and Ironside (1967). In 1968 she appeared in the films The Omegans and the World War II classic Where Eagles Dare.

It was in 1970 that Ingrid Pitt was established as a horror actress, starring as Carmilla in Hammer Films' The Vampire Lovers (based on  the J. Sheridan Le Fanu novella Carmilla). In 1971 she starred in Countess Dracula, a Hammer film based on the historical figure of Countess Elisabeth Bathory. In the Seventies Miss Pitt starred on such films as The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Nobody Ordered Love (1972), and the cult classic The Wicker Man (1973). She guest starred on Jason King, The Adventurer, The Zoo Gang, and the British series Thriller.

In the Eighties Miss Pitt appeared in the films The Final Option (1982), Bones (1984), Wild Geese II (1985), Transmutations (1985), and Hanna's War (1988). She was the voice of the gallery mistress in Octopussy (1983). She guest starred on Smiley's People, Dr. Who, and Bulman. Miss Pitt appeared on television in Artemis 21, The Comedy of Errors, and The House. Miss Pitt would continue to appear on the stage. She acted for some time in a company founded by Bill Kenwright and later founded her own company with her second husband.

Inspired by novelist Alistair MacLean, Ingrid Pitt began writing in the late 1980's. She published the novel Cuckoo Run in 1980. It was followed by such novels as The Perons (1984), Eva's Spell (1985), and Katarina (1986). Miss Pitt also wrote nonfiction. Besides her autobiography, The Autobiography of Ingrid Pitt : Life's A Scream (1999), she also wrote The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Vampire Lovers (1998), Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Ghosthunters (1999), and The Ingrid Pitt Book of Murder, Torture and Depravity (2000). Her last book The Hammer Xperience, on the history of Hammer Films, is due out next year.

Ingrid Pitt returned to the screen in 2000 in The Asylum. Over the next few years she appeared in Green Fingers (2000) and Minotaur (2006). She appeared in Hammer's online serial Beyond the Rave in 2008. In 2008 she made her last appearance on screen in Sea of the Dust.

Ingrid Pitt was a talented actress who appeared in film, on television, and on stage. She was also a talented writer who wrote over ten books and wrote columns for magazines and web sites. What many may not know, whoever, is that Ingrid Pitt was not simply a talented actress and writer, but a woman who cared deeply about others. When the climax to The Wicker Man was shot, it was on a cold November day in Scotland, even though the scene called for everyone to be dressed as if it was May Day (when the climax took place). Coats were brought out to the three lead actress to put on between takes. Actress Britt Ekland eager took her coat. Actress Diane Cilento gracious took her coat and said, "Thank you."  Ingrid Pitt, professional that she was, refused her coat, stating flatly, "If the extras don't have time to put on their coats, then neither do I!" While I never had the honour of meeting Miss Pitt, I do know people who have and their stories are always the same. She was very gracious to her fans. With the passing of Ingrid Pitt, we have not only lost a great actress and talented writer, but a woman who was also a true lady. She truly was the Queen of Horror.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Happy 123rd Birthday, Boris Karloff!

Today is Boris Karloff's 123rd birthday. To celebrate, I'm providing you with a link to the post I wrote on the occasion of his 120th birthday. I'm also leaving you with this promo for the TV show Thriller, which Boris Karloff hosted!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Dancing With the Almost Famous

I don't watch Dancing With the Stars. Talent competition shows have never exactly been my cup of tea. But one does not have to be a loyal viewer of the show to know that there has been some controversy among its fans over Bristol Palin being on the show and, what is more, returning every single week. The gist of their arguments is that Bristol Palin is not a star. She is simply the daughter of a former vice presidential candidate and a teenage mother who had a child out of wedlock.

I don't know about Bristol Palin's dancing, but they have a point that she is not a star. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sense 5 of star as: a.) the principal member of a theatrical or operatic company who usually plays the chief roles; b.) a highly publicised theatrical or motion picture performer; c.) an outstandingly talented performer (a track star), and d.) a person who is preeminent in a field. Now Bristol Palent is not the member of a theatrical or operatic company, let alone one who plays the chief roles. She is not a theatrical or motion picture performer, let alone a highly publicised one. She is not an outstandingly talented performer in anything (particularly her dancing if her critics are to be believed. And she is not preeminent in any field. It would seem then that Bristol Palin is definitely not a star.

Of course, if you ask me, this is not the first time someone who is not a star has competed on Dancing with the Stars. Earlier this year Kate Gosselin, whose only claim to fame was having her own reality show (Jon and Kate Plus Eight), competed on this show. No less than Hugh Hefner criticised this fact. When asked if he would ever considered Kate Gosselin posing for Playboy, not only did he say, "No! No! No!" but he also stated he did not understand why she was even on Dancing With the Stars. Hef said flatly, "I don't think she's a celebrity." I have to agree with Mr. Hefner. Kate Gosselin fits none of the definitions of star, unless someone can construe that she is preeminent in the field of reality shows, which is a most dubious honour indeed.

Of course, Kate Gosselin was not the first time a non-star appeared on the show. Dancing With the Stars let the genie out of the bottle all the way back in its first season when Trista Sutter, famous only from The Bachelorette, danced on the show. Since then there has been Kim Kardashian, Melissa Rycroft (she was on The Bachelor, in case you don't recognise the name--I had to look it up myself), Kate Gosselin, and Bristol Palin. In none of these cases were these individuals stars by any stretch of the imagination, yet somehow they appeared on Dancing With the Stars.

It seems to me that if Dancing With the Stars continue to feature individuals who are not stars, individuals who are almost famous, or for whom for fame is a fleeting thing at most, then perhaps it should change its name. Perhaps it should be Dancing With the Almost Famous or Dancing With the Fleetingly Famous. It certainly does not seem like it deserves the name Dancing With the Stars!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Miscast: How Some Classic Films Could Have Been Very Different.

Can anyone actually picture someone playing Rhett Butler other than Clark Gable? Or somebody else besides Humphrey Bogart playing Rick Blaine? In the case of many classic films their casting seems so perfect that it must have been inevitable. In our minds some actors were so perfect in their parts that it seems improbable to us looking back to think that anyone else might have been considered for those roles. As history shows, however, in Hollywood there is no such thing as a done deal. And in many instances of classic films, their casts could have been very different from what we know them today.

Indeed, perhaps no other film has had as many rumours surrounding its casting as the legendary Casablanca. The most persistent rumour to this day has been that Ronald Reagan was considered for the part of Rick Blaine even before Humphrey Bogart (the man who would ultimately play the role). Although often stated as fact, the rumour that Ronald Reagan was ever seriously considered for the role of Rick is just that, a rumour. This persistent urban legend has its roots in a fake publicity item released by Warner Brothers to The Hollywood Reporter and published on Janurary 5, 1942. The publicity release stated that Ann Sheridan and Ronald Regan would co-star for the third time in Casablanca, alongside Dennis Morgan. Despite the press release, Warner Brothers had no intention whatsoever in casting Ronald Reagan as Rick Blaine. What is more, they knew that they could not cast in him in the part even had they wanted to. At the time, Mr. Reagan was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Cavalry Reserve. The studio had written repeated deferments to keep him out of service, but with America at war they knew that he would not be deferred one more time.

While Ronald Reagan was not seriously considered for the role of Rick Blaine, Ann Sheridan was a different matter. In fact, on February 14, 1942 Hal Wallis asked casting director Steve Trilling to consider Humphrey Bogart and Ann Sheridan for the lead roles in Casablanca. Ann Sheridan might seem an odd choice today, but one must consider at this point in the development of Casablanca the lead female role in the film was still an American named Lois Meredith. It was only a few days later that Ann Sheridan would be entirely out of the running for the movie, as it was decided to change American Lois Meredith to the foreigner Ilsa Lund. Even then, Ingrid Bergman was not the first choice to play Ilsa. Instead Hal Wallis initially considered legendary beauty Hedy Lamarr. The casting of Miss Lamarr in the role was thwarted by Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, who refused to loan the actress to any other studio. Mr. Wallis then turned to the much friendlier David O. Selznick, who agreed to loan another legendary, foreign beauty to the producer--Ingrid Bergman.

While Ann Sheridan was seriously considered for the lead female role in Casablanca for a very short time, it would appear that, like Ronald Reagan, Dennis Morgan was not seriously considered for the role of Victor Laszlo.  In fact, Hal Wallis's first choice to play Laszlo was Philip Dorn. As it turned out, Philip Dorn was unavailable as he was busy making Random Harvest (1942. The part then went to Paul Henreid.


While Hal Wallis insisted on Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine very early in the pre-production of Casablanca, it was still possible that he might not have gotten the part. Jack Warner told Hal Wallis that George Raft was lobbying him for the role of Rick Blaine. That George Raft wanted the role of Rick very, very much is quite interesting, as for much of Bogie's career he was producers' second choice after Mr. Raft! The role of "Mad Dog" Roy Earle in High Sierra (1941) was first offered to George Raft. When Mr. Raft turned the role down, the part went to Mr. Bogart. The role of Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1941) was initially offered to George Raft. He turned it down because he thought director John Huston had too little experience. Once more Humphrey Bogart was cast in the role. With Casablanca, for the first time the roles of Humhprey Bogart and George Raft would be reversed. Mr. Raft wanted a role for which Humphrey Bogart was the first choice. Of course, Bogie would also get the part.

Today it is impossible to picture Casablanca with George Raft, Hedy Lamarr, and Philip Dorn in the lead roles. If things had gone differently, however, that could have been the movies lead cast. I rather suspect that Casablanca would not then be so highly regarded as it is today. While George Raft was a great actor, I think his talent was lesser than that of Humphrey Bogart in the end, who was perfect as the hard boiled cynic who is actually an incurable romantic, and in the end the greatest hero American cinema would ever produce.

While many rumours surrounding the casting of Casablanca are unwarranted, many of the rumours surrounding the casting of Gone with the Wind are very much warranted. Particularly when it came to the lead role of Scarlett O'Hara, almost anyone could have gotten the part. That is not to say that there were not a few actresses initially considered for the role of the spoiled, temperamental Southern belle. In the beginning three actresses were considered for the pivotal role of Scarlett: Miriam Hopkins, Margaret Sullavan, and Bette Davis. Miriam Hopkins was the only native of Georgia ever seriously considered for the role of Scarlett, having been born in Savannah. Despite this obvious advantage, she would not get the part in the end. For myself, I think Miriam, although pretty, was not dangerously beautiful enough to be Scarlett, not to mention too fair haired.Having read Gone with the Wind, I always pictured Scarlett as she is in the movie--a dark haired, Black Irish beauty. As to Bette Davis, she could certainly play a Southern Belle despite being born in Massachusetts (the only way she could have been more of a Yankee is to have been born in Connecticut). She was quite convincing in Jezebel (1938). That having been said, although charming, I do not think Miss Davis was physically attractive enough to play the preternaturally beautiful Scarlett. As to Margaret, I do not see how she could have ever been considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara, even as a joke. She was not even pretty, let alone beautiful, and lacked any charm whatsoever. Indeed, the only film in which she showed any charm was The Shop Around the Corner (1940), and I give credit in that film more to director Ernst Lubitsch and screenwriters Samson Raphaelson and Ben Hecht than I do her!

When none of these actresses proved suitable to play Scarlett, David O. Selznick put out a nation wide casting call for the role. Many famous and unknown actresses vied for the role. Among these actresses was Katharine Hepburn, who actually thought she was doing Mr. Selznick a favour when she marched into his office and said, "I am Scarlett O'Hara! The role is practically written for me!" To this David O. Selznick flatly replied, "I can't imagine Rhett Butler chasing you for ten years." While Miss Hepburn had considerable talent and she could be very charming, I cannot see how she could believe the role of Scarlett O'Hara was practically written for her. Although mildly attractive, she was not so beautiful that dozens of men would court her, let alone chase her for ten years. More importantly, I think Miss Hepburn was simply incapable of playing Scarlett. There was no more archetypal Yankee in Hollywood than Katharine Hepburn. Her New England lockjaw accent appeared in every film she ever made, to the point that I believe she was incapable of producing any other accent, let alone something so dramatically different as a Southern drawl!

Tallulah Bankhead was a front runner for the role of Scarlett for a time. She certainly had the advantage of being the genuine article, a real Southern belle, having been born to gentry in Alabama. In the end, however, David O. Selznick decided she was too old for the part (as of 1938 she was 36 years old). Joan Bennett was also in serious contention, but, while she impressed David O. Selznick, in the end she would be out of the running. Among other actresses considered for the were Jean Arthur, Susan Hayward (who proved too inexperienced), and Anita Louise. Ultimately two fantastically beautiful brunettes would vie for the role of Scarlett O'Hara, and they were the only actresses given colour screen tests. As we all know, one was English rose Vivien Leigh. The other was Paulette Goddard.

While I have serious doubts that Katharine Hepburn could ever play a Southern belle, I do not harbour those same doubts about Paulette Goddard. Although born in Queens, Miss Goddard could play a Southern belle, as she did in Reap the Wild Wind (1942). And she had a good deal in common with Scarlett O'Hara. She had a mischievous streak that showed in many of her roles (especially her comedies), and she could be temperamental in the same way Scarlett was. Furthermore, Miss Goddard was incredibly, unbelievably, dangerously beautiful just as Scarlett was. Indeed, to me she was ideal insofar as she was dark haired, just the way I pictured Scarlett. So why did Paulette Goddard lose the role to Viiven? After her colour screen test David O. Selznick and then director George Cuckor decided she would need coaching if she was to play Scarlett O'Hara, whereas Vivien Leigh would not.

Unlike Scarlett O'Hara, Clark Gable was David O. Selznick's choice for Rhett Butler from the beginning. That having been said, a few other actors were also considered for the role. Gary Cooper was approached for the role, but he refused it because he thought Gone with the Wind would be the biggest flop in the history of cinema. Personally, it is hard for me to see the laid back Gary Cooper as Rhett Butler. Mr. Cooper was the epitome of quiet strength, and Rhett was never quiet. Errol Flynn was actually in serious contention for the role, to the point that papers were drawn up for Warner to lend Mr. Flynn to David O. Selznick. It seems today impossible that Errol Flynn could have played the role of Rhett Butler, but then in real life as on film Errol Flynn was something of a gentleman and a rouge much the way Rhett was. I don't know about Mr. Selznick, but my objection is that Mr. Flynn was perhaps too much of a rouge to play Rhett. Rhett could be a rouge, but he was always first and foremost the epitome of the Southern gentleman.

While historically Leslie Howard played Ashley Wilkes, he was not the only actor in contention for the role. Both Ronald Colman and Franchot Tone were in consideration for the part. I rather think Ronald Colman was much too powerful a performer to play the weak willed, somewhat non-committal Ashley. After all, he had played such legendary characters as Bulldog Drummond, Rafffles, and Major Rudolf Rassendyll (the hero of The Prisoner of Zenda). I am not sure he could have played an indecisive character like Ashley! Franchot Tone was a much better choice. He could play strong roles, but he most often played the idle playboy. I could seem him playing the emotionally torn Ashley Wilkes, who was too weak willed to let himself or Scarlett be happy. In fact, I think he may have been a better choice to play Ashley than Leslie Howard. As a fan of Mr. Howard, I think he, like Mr. Colman, was too powerful presence to play Ashley. After all, he was the Scarlet Pimpernel and the original film version of Professor Henry Higgins. Leslie Howard himself believed he was miscast as Ashley, maintaining he was much too old for the part. Indeed, David O. Selznick had to bribe Leslie Hoard with an associate producer credit on Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) before he would take the role!

Janet Gaynor was initially considered as Melanie Wilkes, something I find unbelievable today. Like Tallulah Bankhead, I submit she was too old for the part of Melanie. As it was, Olivia de Havilland very nearly did not get the part. It was friend and the original director of the film George Cuckor who asked Miss de Havilland to read for the part. While she proved wonderful in the role, there was one fly in the ointment: her contract with Warner Brothers. As one of their top stars, Jack Warner was determined not to loan Miss de Havilland to David O. Selznick. Utlimately, Miss de Havilland had to appeal to a higher power: Jack Warner's wife Irene. Mrs. Warner intervened and Olivia de Havilland got the part.

In my worst nightmares Gone with the Wind would star Katharine Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Janet Gaynor, and Leslie Howard. I can even hear in my mind Miss Hepburn's New England lockjaw as she utters "Tomorrow is another day," while hearing Gary Cooper take a full minute simply to say "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Fortunately, history unfolded differently.

Not only could Gone with the Wind have had a different cast, but so could that other mega-classic from 1939, The Wizard of Oz. As hard as it is to believe today, Judy Garland might not have played Dorothy Gale. While Mervyn Leroy always insisted he wanted Miss Garland to play Dorothy, evidence suggests that MGM was pressuring him to cast popular star Shirley Temple in the role, even though they would have had to have gotten her on loan from Fox. Fortunately, several factors would keep Shirley Temple out of Oz. First, while Mervyn Leroy championed Judy Garland, so too did powerful associate producer Arthur Freed. Second, Roger Edens, musical supervisor at MGM, listened to Shirley Temple's singing and determined her style was unsuited to the movie. Third, 20th Century Fox was very reticent about loaning out their top star. I believe that this was very fortunate, as I think MGM's top brass was dead wrong to think Miss Temple was right for the role of Dorothy. While I think Shirley Temple became a very charming adult, as a child I always found her annoying. Even as a child myself, I could never sit through a Shirley Temple movie.

Another starlet was also considered for the role of Dorothy, none other than Judy Garland's rival form Universal Deanna Durbin. In fact, Deanna Durbin had been signed to MGM in 1935, but the studio unwisely let her contract option expire, giving Universal the chance to sign the starlet. While in 1938 Judy Garland was not yet a major star, Universal had already given Miss Durbin a good deal of film experience and she even had a loyal following. It is hard to say why Deanna Durbin would not be cast as  Dorothy. Perhaps MGM believed Universal would not loan one of their top stars (and who could blame them if they wouldn't), or perhaps MGM felt Judy Garland's more jazz oriented singing style was more suited to the film than Deanna Durbin's operatic style. Whatever the reason, Judy would play Dorothy and ultimately outshine Deanna Durbin in terms of star power.

It is well known that Buddy Ebsen was set to play the Tin Man until he had a reaction to the aluminium powder used in his make up. What is not so well known is that Buddy Ebsen was not originally slated to play the Tin Man. In the beginning Ray Bolger was cast as the Tin Man and Buddy Ebsen as the Scarecrow. Mr. Bolger was rather unhappy in his part as the Tin Man. His childhood idol, song and dance man  Fred Stone, had played the Scarecrow on stage in 1902. Mr.Bolger then wanted to play the Scarecrow. Buddy Ebsen had no objections, so Mr. Bolger convinced Mervyn Leroy to switch them in their roles. Unfortunately, after ten days of shooting Mr. Ebsen had a reaction to the aluminium powder in the Tin Man make up, resulting in a lengthy stay in hospital. Jack Haley was then cast as the Tin Man. Personally, given all three men were legendary song and dance men, I think all three were capable of playing either role. Indeed, I think Ray Bolger would have been a fine Tin Man, although given his love of the Scarecrow, I can see how he would be better in that role!

W. C. Fields, under contract to MGM, was the studio's original choice for the Great and Powerful Oz. It is not exactly clear why Mr. Fields did not take the role. One rumour has it that Mr. Fields, then one of the most popular comic actors of the time, thought the role was too small. Another rumour is that he simply asked for too much money. Both rumours could be true. Regardless, the part would go to Frank Morgan instead. Given that W. C. Fields  and Frank Morgan  were both adept at playing bumblers and con men (and the Wizard of Oz was both), I think Mr. Fields would have been a good Wizard, much as Mr. Morgan was.

Much of the reason MGM decided to make The Wizard of Oz was the phenomenal success of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), at that time the highest grossing motion picture of all time. For that reason, as hard as it is to believe now, MGM originally wanted the Wicked Witch of the West to be glamourous and beautiful much as the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. MGM initially considered Edna May Oliver, but ultimately the part went to the decidedly glamourous Gale Sondergaard. MGM would have a change of heart, however, so that the Wicked Witch of the West would become the archetypal, old hag. This did not make Gale Sondergaard at all happy, so she was replaced as the Wicked Witch of the West by Margaret Hamilton. Ironically, Margaret Hamilton was nothing like her most famous role. A one time a school teacher, she genuinely loved children and devoted her life to them, even after becoming famous as an actress. Today it is hard to picture the Wicked Witch of the West as glamourous, and quite honestly I think MGM was right to change their minds. While I think Gale Sondergaard was a great actress, I think most of us who have read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz see the Wicked Witch as the archetypal witch, warts and all. While it was nothing like the warm hearted Margaret Hamilton in real life, she was fantastic in the role.

Glinda the Good Witch of the North, could also have had a different actress in the role. Some sources report that the legendary Fanny Brice was considered for the role. In the end the role would go to another comedienne, Billie Burke. I think Fanny Brice would have made a good Glinda the Good Witch, even if we today can only picture Billie Burke in the role.

Ultimately, I think MGM made very good choices with regards to The Wizard of Oz. Buddy Ebsen would have made a good Scarecrow. W. C. Fields would have made a good Wizard. Deanna Durbin would have made a good Dorothy. That having been said, to me Shirley Temple as Dorothy is the stuff from which nightmares are made, and I cannot see Gale Sondergaard as the Wicked Witch!

There are those who hold to the auteur theory, maintaining that it is ultimately the director who determines the quality of a picture. There are others who maintain that filmmaking is a collaborative effort. I think there is something to both of these theories, but I also think the casting of classic films over the years often demonstrates another factor in making movies. Quite simply, a lot of what makes a good film is sheer luck or circumstances. What if George Raft had successfully convinced Jack Warner he should be Rick Blaine? What if Paulette Goddard had been chosen as Scarlett O'Hara instead of Vivien Leigh? What if MGM had gotten their way and Shirley Temple was cast as Dorothy? Would Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz be considered classics today? I think Gone with the Wind could have worked with Paulette Goddard as its lead, but I rather suspect Casablanca and particularly The Wizard of Oz might not be remembered so fondly. It seems to me much of what makes a good film is good casting, and often casting is a pure roll of the dice.