“You can’t fight her - no one ever got the better of her.”
While testing for Melanie in Gone With The Wind, Joan Fontaine suggested her sister for the part - and Olivia De Havilland got it! This time (while Howard Hughes was two-timing the pair of them), Olivia refused to test when realising Joan was also being considered.
Maureen O'Hara, who hated talking of her lost films, always claimed she had been first choice. She wasn't. Carole Lombard was. Opposite Ronald Colman. They were the reason producer David O Selznick paid $50,000 for the rights.
The Second Mrs de Winter . Hitchcock showed all the tests to Alma, his wife; most of them are on the film's DVD.
Joan Fontaine had an irritating voice, simpered too much.
Susan Hayward, Anita Louise and Loretta Young
made scant impression.
Margaret Sullavan (wed to Fontaine's agent) was best.
Except, DOS could not see her "being pushed around by Mrs. Danvers to the point of suicide."
Anne Baxter was the most moving. Selznick, however, thought her too young to be opposite Larry O - Laurence Olivier. Even so, DOS signed her to a longterm contract at $350 per week and immediately loaned her to MGM to temper her over-acting. She flailed her arms around so much, John Barrymore once inquired: "Does she have to swim?" (Hitch called Baxter back for I Confess, 1953).
Dorothy Maguire tested for producer David Selznick. Next, she (and Sullavan and Young) tested for Claudia, 1943 - that time, Dorothy won.
Britain's most celebrated child/teenge star of the 30s - in Hitchcock's 1934 Man Who Knew Too Much, Lady Jane Grey in Tudor Rose - was invited to Hollywood by Hitch to test. Nora Pilbeam knew better. “My name meant nothing over there.”
Selznick thought Loretta Young was a good actress "and easy to de-glamourise." He took the easy way out. As usual. He showed all the tests to George Cukor.
Determined to co-star with her Larry, Vivien Leigh tested twice, first on June 27 1939 - the last day of Gone With The Wind - "hopping straight from Scarlett... with very little preparation," noted Selznick. "And she was terrible." George Cukor agreed with Hitchcock and Selznick: Leigh lacked the right age, innocence and sincerity. Losing something she'd set her heart on for the first time in love, life and career, Viv resented the DOS comment that the role was so unsuitable for her it would materially damage her career. She played Rebecca, and opposite her Larry, in a Lux Radio Theatre production after their marriage.
"Quite frankly," said Fontaine, "Mr Olivier wanted Miss Leigh in it. Rather intimidated me. I was on trial for most of the film.
“Being ostracised by everyone
who wanted their Viv was good for the role...
Those tears I shed were quite genuine.”
Maxim De Winter . Laurence Olivier took over when Ronald Colman quit due to Production Code battles about a murderer going free. Colman was convinced that De Winter had murdered Rebecca and would not countenance any excuses about accidental death. "Anyway, it's a woman's picture!"
Melvyn Douglas, Leslie Howard, Walter Pidgeon were rejected by Selznick. David Niven was "too young" for Max but not for World War II. William Powell remained absolutely wild about the role and wanted to do it. And he might have if MGM had lowered its loan-out fee. But Olivier got it... because of his likeness to... Colman!
Mrs Danvers . Flora Robson had said yes to Hollywood and Selznick for Mrs. Read in Wuthering Heights, but no to the malevolent Mrs Danvers. The basilisk housekeeper won the sole Oscar nomination for Australian Judith Anderson (who played Hamlet during her 75-year career). Before signing Judith,
Selznick also considered the Yalta-born Stanislavsky pupil
Alla Nazimova - better known as
Nancy Reagan’s lesbian godmother.
And so, Hitchcock's Hollywood debut was his only movie to be Best Picture Oscared. And he hated it! For the only time in his career, he was barred from the scripting process. Therefore, he banned Selznick from his own set!