By Phil Hall | January 4, 2005


Many iconic film performances only came about because the first person considered for the plum role turned it down. Case in point:

Norma Shearer was too vain to accept a part calling for her to have grown children, so she rejected the title role in “Mrs. Miniver.” Greer Garson has no such qualms and grabbed the part, winning the Academy Award as Best Actress and later marrying Richard Ney, who played her grown son in the film.

Judy Garland, fresh from her comeback role in the extravagant musical “A Star is Born,” turned down the title role as a schizophrenic patient in the small, gritty drama “The Three Faces of Eve.” Newcomer Joanne Woodward was cast instead and she won the Academy Award.

Peter Ustinov turned down the chance to be Inspector Closeau in the 1964 comedy “The Pink Panther.” Peter Sellers took the role, creating his most beloved screen character.

Jane Fonda turned down the part of Lara in “Doctor Zhivago.” A little-known British actress named Julie Christie won the role and the subsequent international superstardom it brought.

Charles Grodin had first crack at the role of Benjamin in “The Graduate” and passed on it. Dustin Hoffman took the part and became an overnight sensation. For the same film, Doris Day and Ava Gardner rejected the role of the predatory Mrs. Robinson. Anne Bancroft was signed. Both Hoffman and Bancroft won Oscar nominations.

Edward G. Robinson turned down the part of Dr. Zaius in the 1968 version of “Planet of the Apes” due to poor health. British stage actor Maurice Evans won the role and screen immortality as the nefarious orangutan.

Jackie Gleason, of all people, was first pegged to play Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection.” But the Great One said no and Gene Hackman won his Academy Award in that role.

On three occasions, Richard Gere had his career re-energized thanks to John Travolta passing on scripts. Everyone knows that Travolta rejected “American Gigolo,” which made Gere a major star. But Travolta also turned down the leading role in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” which Gere happily accepted. Gere only got the role when pop singer John Denver passed on the offer to play the part. Denver felt the script was too old-fashioned. Travolta also passed on Chicago (so did Hugh Jackman), enabling Gere to enjoy his first major hit film in many years.

Kirsten Dunst turned down the role of Angela in American Beauty.” Mena Suvari nabbed the rose pedals in the Oscar-winning drama and was also prominently featured in the film’s provocative advertising.

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

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