Thursday, March 22, 2012

All the Pretty Red-Heads

Putting us on:
Dressler, circa 1931
As with the casting of Scarlett O’Hara years later, 
it would seem that virtually every female star in Hollywood was “considered” for the part of Lillian Andrews in MGM’s screen adaptation of Red-Headed Woman. Many of the names can certainly be dismissed as just so much hype (Garbo? Give me a break!); but so tireless and extensive were the efforts of MGM's publicity machine that no less than sexagenarian 
(with perhaps an emphasis on the "sex") comedienne extraordinaire Marie Dressler was prompted to throw her own hat in the ring!

What Bow's Lil Andrews
might have looked like
"It Girl" Clara Bow was reported by Time magazine as a natural, if not necessarily first choice. But this seems to be just another rumor, originating with Louella Parsons. Parsons claimed that MGM's Irving Thalberg sought her opinion regarding who should get the part. To that end, Parsons conducted a “poll” in her column, asking her readers who they wanted to see in the part; Bow, apparently, was America's overwhelming choice. But I can find no independent evidence (other than the Time piece) that Bow was ever seriously considered for, much less offered the rôle.

The only name that appears to have been seriously in the running is Joan Crawford, whose assumption of the rôle seems to have come close to becoming reality: The New York Times went so far as to announce Crawford as MGM's likely choice in October of 1931. But  according to at least one source I have seen, Crawford was given the thumbs down by Kay herself, though Kay makes no mention of any participation on her part in the casting of the picture in This Is On Me. (Interestingly enough, Crawford would play another Brush heroine five years later in Mannequin, but more on that in a future post...)

Joan Crawford almost looks as though she's posing as the artist's rendering of Lillian Andrews!

Carole Lombard, circa 1931
Other suggestions that at least look plausible on paper are Carole Lombard and Barbara Stanwyck.  

But by early May of 1932 the Times announced 
the final cast, shortly after declaring that

Miss Harlow has specialized on the screen in distasteful women and the fear of the average star 
that she will suffer from an unsympathetic part is 
just so much cream in Miss Harlow’s coffee.

What strikes me as funny is the fuss that was made at the time over Harlow’s 
hair-color—platinum blonde—which was hardly natural to begin with. One writer 
expressed dismay that the character would have to be turned into a blonde, and Parsons argued that the part should at least be given to a real red-head, conveniently ignoring the fact that Bow’s own red tresses came from a block of henna! And it’s odd that in the finished, black-and-white picture, Harlow’s hair (a wig, according to the Times) doesn’t even register as all that vivid. It makes me think of how Bette Davis’s “red” dress in Jezebel was actually not red at all…

I vant to be a red-head:
Garbo would eventually get her 

to go "red," for 1939's Ninotchka

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