1. - Burt Lancaster, From Here To Eternity, 1952.
2. - Tom Ewell, The Seven Year Itch, 1955. Writer George Axelrod saw him in a Dorothy Parker play and made director Billy Wilder test him “and he almost got the part away from Tommie” (who had created Richard Sherman on Broadway). Matthau went on into three other Wilder comedies (with pal Jack Lemmon).
3. - Edward Andrews, The Thrill of It All, 1963. Producer Ross Hunter was aghast when Matthau (into $60,000 a year in alimony and child support) demanded $100,000. Not, he added, that it was worth $10,000 because it was a lousy role! Andrews, a great character player, performed magic with it while Matthau did likewise on Broadway in The Odd Couple. He would never be so “cheap” again.
4. - George Sanders, A Shot in the Dark, 1964. The Pink Panther changed everything. For Peter Sellers. And his next job - Anatole Litvak helming Marcel Archard's French play, L'Idiot, about a French magistrate investigating murder. Litvak did not impress Sellers. Clouseau impressed United Artists and sent for director Blake Edwards to help Peter churn the magistrate into a second helping of Clouseau before the first was even served and digested. With Sanders succeeding Matthau...
5. - Jason Robards, The Night They Raided Minksy's, 1968. Jason was an odd choice for a burlesque comic.
6. - Donald Sutherland, M*A*S*H, 1969. Nearly became The Odd Couple Go To War... until writer Ring Lardner reminded everyone of just how tough the climactic football game had to be... “All right, Bub, your fuckin' head is coming right off!”
7. - Topol, Fiddler on the Roof, 1970. When word got out that that producer Walter Mirisch and director Norman Jewison were passing on Mostel - “too big for film” - Matthau expressed great interest in becoming Tevye. So did Danny Kaye. (Brando, Sinatra (!), Anthony Quinn, Orson Welles were also rumoured to be keen). None got to first base once Topol ended his run of the West End production in London. - Edward Andrews, Avanti!, 1971. Billv Widler created a cameo for Matthau - as a US diplomat in Italy. But he had not time to play it. Or to join Billy’s third consecutive flop?
8. - William Holden, Network, 1976. The film’s Oscar-winning writer Paddy Chayefsky wanted Matthau (or Gene Hackman) as the UBS TV News executive Max Schumacher. “After living with you for the last six months, I'm turning into one of your scripts. Well, this is not a script, Diana. There's some real, actual life going on here.”
9. - Jackie Cooper, Superman, 1978.
10 - Harry Dean Stanton, The Black Marble, 1980. “Matthau turned down the part of the sleazy dog-handler, he wanted to be the romantic leading man,” Joseph Wambaugh told me in Cannes. “That’s Hollywood,” added the LAPD cop-turned-best-selling author and producer of his own filmed books. “All these guys with great character faces want to be leading men and vice-versa.”
11 - Tom Hulce, Amadeus, 1983. Amazing! A studio offered to back Milos Forman’s version of the Broadway hit play - as long as Matthau (of all people) played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Naturally,Forman pointed out Matthau was somewhat too old .. as the Mozart-loving star would have known... at age 63!
12 - Robin Williams, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1987. After Sean Connery rejected the King of the Moon for not being kingly enough, Matthau and Gene Wilder were considered before Robin agreed - under the pseudonym of Ray D Tutto.
13 - Armin Mueller-Stahl, Music Box, 1989. Passed, like Kirk Douglas, on being Jessica Lange’s Hungarian father accused of war crimes The model was scenarist Joe Eszterhaas’ father. Not that Joe knew it - his father was similarly accused after the movie opened. “Be careful what you write,” Joe warned writers, ”what your write can break your own heart.”
14 - John Goodman, Born Yesterday, 1993. Obvious choice for the old Broderick Crawford role in a Garson Kanin’s re-write of his 1950 script - planned by Cannon in 1986 with Whoopi Goldberg re-treading Judy Holliday. Goodman’s Billie Dawn was Melanie Griffith
15 - Albert Brooks, The Scout, 1994. Not even Brooks could save it - and he re-wrote it.
16 - James Garner, My Fellow Americans, 1996. The two ex-presidents (from opposite parties, of course) saving the US from slimeball Prez Dan Aykroyd were supposed to be... Grumpy Old Presidents. Walter was ill and Jack Lemmon called up Jim. Two years later, Jack and Walter made their tenth and final film together: The Odd Couple II. (They shouldn’t have).