Over the years since the success of the Eastwood - Leone - Dollars Trilogy, a number of actors have come forward and claimed to have been offered parts. For whatever reason, they, or their agents chose not to work with Sergio Leone.
Most famously is the overly-told-tale of how Richard Harrison turned down the lead role and suggested fellow actor Clint Eastwood for the part. Others that have raised their hands and put their own names into this competition, have ranged from Steve Reeves-to-Tony Russel-to-Cal Boulder (!) and half the cast of the original The Magnificent Seven. Recently actor Lee Marvin's name was mentioned in a recent post, but the only actor whose name ever came into print back in the day was actor Jack Palance. Yes, the Jack Palance!
Everyone else that have come forward were Nobodies, that were not yet sighted or signed on the spaghetti frontier.
From the Variety clipping from March 31, 1965 one can glean, that Jack Palance was mentioned by a Hollywood scribe as being on Leone's short list of actors to co-star in his follow-up western For A Few Dollars More.
Palance was not unfamiliar with working in Europe, having made Barabbas (1961), Warriors Five (1962) and Contempt (1963), all recently in Italy.
Mr. Palance also had just come off of a short-lived TV series called The Greatest Show on Earth, which ran from September 1963 to April 1964, and was anxious to keep working. Like most actors he had a family to support. At the time he was having marital problems with his wife, Virginia Baker (January 1965), that probably rose from his previous lengthy stay in Italy while making Godard's Contempt (October 29, 1963). Distance doesn't always make the heart fonder.
Also, on the horizon that spring of '65, American director Richard Brooks announced that he wanted both Lee Marvin & Palance for his next film The Professionals. It was to be a bigger-than-life south-of-the-border adventure, that Brook's went to great lengths as to not refer to it as a western (May 1965).
Palance probably knew earlier than then, that Mr. Brooks had wanted him for the villain in The Professionals, then called 'A Mule for the Marquesa'. Filming was set for July in Mexico. So, Palance had a choice to make, and he chose well. In the end it turns out that he could have done both films: as For A Few Dollars More had completed shooting by August, and the Brooks western, the much delayed The Professionals, didn't mount up until October of '65, for a late 1966 release. Strange are the ways of the west...
So, Mr. Palance probably turned down Leone for both these reasons: Brooks was a bigger name, which Leone had heard before, and the Mexico shoot for The Professionals, wouldn't take him to far from his wife and children.
And the rest is history... The Professionals was a big hit, that would have been very different without Palance's omni-presence. He would have to wait a few years to make his 'Spaghetti Western' debut, for the other Sergio, in Corbucci's The Mercenary (December 1968). Sadly, Mr. Palance and his then wife, Ms. Baker would divorce in June 1968, while he was in Spain making the Corbucci film.
Don't feel too badly for actor Lee Marvin, besides co-starring alongside Mr. Palance in The Professionals, he became a star in his own-right. Marvin over the years would stay in Leone's gun-sights for a future role (more on that at another time). And the other Lee, Mr. Van Cleef, the flint-eyed Colonel Mortimer was quick to-shoot-to-his own stardom, and to collect a cool handful of dollars!
[Today marks the 15th Anniversary of Jack Palance's death.]
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