As luck would have it

Bogey, Dudley, Whoopi and Jack might never have hit the big time if the y hadn't been second best, writes John Lyttle. And the same can be said of many of today's young stars

Christian Slater has been careful, almost as careful as Joan Crawford when she stepped into the late Carole Lombard's still-warm stilettos to make They All Kissed the Bride back in 1942. Slater announced that the salary he's earned for replacing River Phoenix in Interview with the Vampire will be going to the deceased star's favourite charity and that taking over the part was his tribute to Phoenix's memory. Slater has said it again and again: he doesn't want people to think he's profited, no si r.

The reason Slater has being saying it again and again is that suddenly he's back on magazine covers. After a string of flops - Mobsters (1991) and Kuffs (1992) being the biggest - the once-fading idol is hot again, associated with an A-list production and newly hailed as a renegade turned team player, the man who saved the day. Slater is finding that Hollywood loves nothing more than the myth of the last-minute stand-in: the actor who either grabs the big brass ring or renews their place in the limelight when another name burns out, bows out or - whisper it if you dare - is forced out in favour of a bigger star.

There's enough truth to the myth to give it potency. If Claudette Colbert hadn't broken her back skiing, Bette Davis would never have salvaged her own celebrity by playing Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950). Yet who can now even imagine Colbert in the part? This pinponts the myth's lurking contradiction: if stars are unique, how can they possibly be replaced? (What replacement tells us is less that the show must go on and more that stars are mere commodities.) Yet replacement happens more often thanone might imagine. Indeed, some careers couldn't have been made without it.

Humphrey Bogart for one might never have hit the top if the difficult, not to mention dumb, George Raft hadn't turned down - read 'em and weep - Dead End (1937) and High Sierra (1941),and then failed to show at the wardrobe fittings for The Maltese Falcon (1941). He also shrugged his shoulders at Casablanca (1942). Bogart whinged - as was his wont - at being considered second best, but he became a movie immortal on the basis of Raft's leftovers, while Raft learnt nothing from his mistakes. Two years later, he would give the director Billy Wilder an absolute no to Double Indemnity (1944), blithely handing Fred MacMurray the role of a lifetime.

On such decisions do reputations pivot, even today, because actors never learn. Proof? Coming off Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978), John Travolta said yes and then no to Days of Heaven (1978), American Gigolo (1980) and An Officer and an Gentleman (1982), paving the way for his own box-office destruction and the rise of Richard Gere, who replaced him and took his title of World's Hottest Hunk.

Was Travolta spoiled or merely spoiled for choice? That's part of it. Disney spent a fortune on developing Sister Act (1992) as a vehicle for Bette Midler, only to see her decamp to her own All Girl Productions to film For the Boys (1991). Disney reluctantly settled for Whoopi Goldberg, who sensed their bitterness and behaved badly. Yet Goldberg had the $100m hit and Midler the flop. The women reversed positions in the big leagues: Goldberg the top female comic, Midler in decline.

Likewise, Burt Reynolds jumped ship on Terms of Endearment (1983): the role of retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove gave Jack Nicholson a fresh image to play, not to mention a second Oscar, while Reynolds witnessed his mass appeal crumble. Why did Reynolds reject a role that would have established him, at last, as a serious actor? Who knows?

Could it be that Joan Crawford blew the chance to roll in the surf with Burt Lancaster in 1953's From Here to Eternity simply because she didn't like the costumes? Quite possibly: Lana Turner bowed out from Anatomy of a Murder (1959) when the director Otto Preminger wouldn't let her bring in Jean Louis to design her gowns. So Deborah Kerr featured in one of cinema's most famously erotic scenes and Lee Remick emerged as a major contender for the Turner throne.

Or put it down to the fickle finger of fate, as Shirley Maclaine says in 1969's Sweet Charity (Universal wanted Streisand). It would be wrong to think that replacements only enter when a temperamental star exits, or that replacements automatically triumph (audiences did not flock to see Sherilyn Fenn in Boxing Helena when Kim Basinger notoriously made her excuses and left).

Occasionally, a director or studio will look at the rushes and scrap a face, sometimes inexplicably. Francis Ford Coppola dumped Harvey Keitel in favour of Martin Sheen when Apocalypse Now (1979) refused to gel: Sheen signed on and promptly had a heart attack. Sheen's health fully recovered, not true of Keitel's career. This is true of Eric Stoltz, on a roll from Mask (1985), only to be fired after a week's filming on Back to the Future (1985). Producer Steven Speilberg said Stoltz had "problems with comedy'' and brought in Michael J Fox, who became a popular favourite over night.But, hell, even Brando has been replaced: producer David Merrick fired him from the movie version of Child's Play (1972) for questioning the script, importing Robert Preston to essay the diabolic school teacher. The film sank, but Merrick had made a point: replacing a star of Brando's calibre was not unthinkable.

Hence Debra Winger being forced out of A League of Their Own (1992 ) to make way for Geena Davis, a decision Madonna applauded because Winger had objected to her casting. Madonna wasn't so happy, however, when Davis nicked Angie (1994) from under her nose because she had bigger box-office clout. It was also clout that let Harrison Ford step in and take the part of Jack Ryan from Alec Baldwin after Baldwin let success go to his head in the wake of The Hunt for Red October (1990). Baldwin's r eported salary demands and his bad temper during negotations for Patriot Games (1992) let Paramount walk away with an easy conscience and a bigger box-office guarantee. Adding insult to injury, Ford later swooped down and grabbed The Fugitive (1993), the project Baldwin hoped would convince the world that his name alone could open a picture. Yet if Ford appears cruel, it is because of painful lessons well learnt. Pitching for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Ford discovered it had gone to Tom Selleck whe n he pickedup a copy of Daily Variety. Ford had to live with the knowledge that if the TV pilot for Magnum hadn't been picked up, nothing could have prevented Selleck from being Indiana Jones.

Doubt lingers over whether the star we see on screen is ever the one first slated for the part. Hence the perennial movie buff's game of "What If?' What if Richard Dreyfuss and George Segal had not walked out on All That Jazz (1979) and 10 (1979), days into production, letting Roy Scheider cop an Oscar nomination and Dudley Moore establish himself as an international sex thimble? And what if, to return to death, James Dean hadn't crashed and Paul Newman never had the opportunity to star in Somebody Up T here Likes Me (1956 )? Would anyone out there like him?

River Phoenix replaced by Christian Slater River Phoenix retired himself from the Most Likely to Succeed category, giving Christian Slater a chance to turn his reputation for drink and drugs around by taking over Phoenix's role in Interview with the Vampire. As they say in Belfast, "Would you tak e my grave as quick?"

Annette Benning replaced by Michelle Pfeiffer After The Grifters (1990) and Bugsy (1991), Annette Benning looked like being the classy sex siren of the decade, with the role of Catwoman in Batman Returns capping her ascendancy. Then she announced she washaving Warren Beatty's baby, giving Michelle Pfeiffer the big commercial hit her career was in dire need of.

Tyrone Power replaced by Yul Brynner When a star dies, it's usually to someone's advantage. When Tyrone Power collapsed in the middle of a sword fight on the set of Solomon and Sheba (1959), Yul Brynner got to wear a wig (very fetching), demand a huge salary and grab a slice of the profits.

Claudette Colbert replaced by Bette Davis "I had to break my back so that Bette could land the role of a lifetime," Claudette Colbert bitched when Davis replaced her in All About Eve (1950). Today it's impossible to imagine anyone else but Bette saying the line, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's goin g to be a bumpy night."

Dominique Sanda replaced by Maria Schneider Maria Schneider had her first - and last - shot at stardom when Dominique Sanda's pregnancy ruled her out of Last Tango in Paris (1972). Not that anyone remembered Sanda by the time Schneider had done the wild thing with Brando. It looked for a while as if she might have a stellar career but drink and drugs intervened.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice