When looking back at the screen career that could have been, I find that while I never became a household name I met some wonderful film stars over the years and if it wasn’t for some bad breaks and the jealousy of some others my star would have risen to greater heights.
Opening the vault of long forgotten film clips I have pulled out just a few stills of the roles that eluded me.
In 1958 after being cast as the lead in Houseboat opposite Sophia Loren it soon became evident during the dailies that the screen chemistry between myself and Sophia was electrifying. This didn’t set well with her hubby and producer Carlo Ponti and though I was never told outright, I am sure it was at his request that I was removed and subsequently replaced by Cary Grant. Sophia cried the day I walked off the set.
When John Wayne set out to film his dream project of The Alamo he originally had intended to just direct it. I was initially cast as Davey Crockett but when the financiers insisted Duke play the lead I graciously stepped aside and took on the role of Jim Bowie. When a stunt early on in production went terribly wrong I suffered a broken leg. Incapacitated for up to three months Duke being the man he was wanted to shut production down and wait for me at a great personal cost to himself and the mounting budget he was already facing. I couldn’t let him do it and placed a call to long time friend Richard Widmark asking him to step in for me. Without hesitation Widmark flew to the set and thankfully my western outfits didn’t have to be resized.
I never was really sure why I rubbed Sinatra the wrong way. I love both his music and the films he starred in. Little known fact but the original script was Ocean’s Twelve and what a great time I was having working with these guys. Problems began for me when I would belt out Hank Williams tunes and Dino would join in. Even Henry Silva would take a turn singing harmony with Norman Fell. All of a sudden I seemed to be the go to guy when the camera wasn’t rolling. It wasn’t a conscious thing or intentional on my part. Frank didn’t seem to like the fact that maybe he had some competition as the head man off set. When Dean and Sammy joined me on stage in Vegas and Frank found out, I was out! The script was changed to what we now know as Ocean’s Eleven and the famed photo had to be retouched. Looking at the original photo after all these years it’s kind of obvious just who was keeping me on the outside looking in.
Here’s a role I really wish had worked out by my temper got the better of me. After landing the role of Luke we filmed the boxing scene on the first day of shooting. Me against the mountainous George Kennedy. The testosterone was flying and while Kennedy was knocking me silly the other actors were having a lot of fun at my expense egging me on to land some shots of my own. My blood pressure was rising and when Kennedy missed his mark landing a solid shot to my jaw I was not happy. With the peer pressure of my fellow inmates and my competitive nature I was ready on the next take. Kennedy threw the uppercut, I stepped to the side and landed a thunderous left hook to his own jaw knocking him cold for a solid two minutes. All hell broke loose and the director Stuart Rosenberg promptly had me fired as an onset troublemaker and took on the producers second choice Paul Newman. I was happy for Paul as he always seemed like a nice guy. Wished I could have worked with him along the way.
Cast as number 11 Victor Franko was going to be my breakthrough. It was a showy role in The Dirty Dozen and thinking I’d go into the method I took on the fight against authority just like my character. I was soon at odds with director Robert Aldrich and the film’s producers. When it became evident while watching the dailies that I was coming across “tougher” on screen then my costars Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson, Aldrich replaced me with that part time director John Cassavetes. Both Bronson and Marvin tried to step in on my behalf like the pals they were but I was in character to the end and told Aldrich so as I caught a plane from England where we were shooting and headed home. Opportunity missed.
I’ve played hockey since I was old enough to walk so when the casting call came out for Slap Shot I thought my chance to work with Newman had arrived. I always thought I could act but I KNEW I could skate, shoot, score and most importantly fight while on the ice. Playing one of the Hansons should have been easy. Problem was the producers wanted realism and nothing but. So the fighting, skating and scoring was no problem. The ending came for me when it became obvious in the dailies my hair wasn’t long enough. Tough break on my part and there was talk of my wearing a wig but there was another actor available who turned out to be a brother of one of my costars so he looked the part and the rest is history. For fans of the movie please note they kept my ad libbed line in the script “F—ing machine took my quarter.”
Lastly don’t forget to flip your calender as it’s April 1st.