Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Danny Kaye Almost Wasn't the Man from the Diners Club

Frank Tashlin (lower right) directs Danny Kaye and Martha Hyer in The Man from the Diners Club. He very nearly could have been instructing Jack Lemmon and Elizabeth Montgomery.

In almost every movie role he played, Danny Kaye became the character, in large measure because most of his movies were written (or, in the case of The Kid from Brooklyn and White Christmas, rewritten) especially for him.

The only role he seems a little mismatched for is his final starring comic turn, as the slapstick-prone credit card salesman Ernie Klenk in The Man from the Diners Club. The role seems much better suited for Jerry Lewis.

And it’s no coincidence. The movie was directed by Frank Tashlin, who helmed many of Lewis’ best comedies. But when Tashlin was signed by Columbia to make Diners Club, Lewis was under contract to Paramount.

So the studio made up a wish list of the actors they’d like to play each role. Danny Kaye? He was choice #16 as Ernie. The top picks were Jack Lemmon, Tony Randall, Andy Griffith, and Sid Caesar. Others ahead of Kaye were Tab Hunter, David Wayne, Donald O’Connor, Tom Ewell, Eddie Bracken, Tom Poston, Louis Nye, and Tony Perkins.

Martha Hyer was the eighth choice to play Ernie’s girlfriend, Lucy, behind Jean Seberg, Nancy Kovack, Jeanne Crain, Elizabeth Montgomery, Joanne Dru, and Rhonda Fleming.

Telly Savalas wasn’t even on the list to play the heavy, Foots Pulardo. Envisioned were Jackie Gleason, Keenan Wynn, Eli Wallach, or Carl Reiner.

To play his moll, Sugar Pye, they most wanted Mamie Van Doren, Janet Leigh, Tina Louise, or Edie Adams. They got Cara Williams, who was dead last—#22—on the list.

The top pick as Pulardo’s henchman was Maxie Rosenbloom. The part went to option #9, George Kennedy.

It’s interesting to imagine how different the film would have been had they cast many, or any, of these actors instead. No matter, I still don’t think it would have been much of a movie.

1 comment:

  1. While "The Man from the Diner's Club" is not the greatest script, it still has many valuable moments for the Danny Kaye fan. Danny's facial expressions, body language and energy still makes it an entertaining film if one doesn't compare it to his best classics but just focuses on some of the more amusing scenes. Some of the best ones were the card machine going out of control and cards flying everywhere, Danny's tie getting caught in the machine, and Danny frantically trying to keep people from finding Sugar Pye in the dumbwaiter as she goes up and down between floors. That was pretty funny ! Telly Savalas was hilarious in the film, just in a campy way. Though I hadn't seen this film in decades, I still remembered him stuck in traffic and shouting "Freeways!" with disgust. When TCM broadcast the 24-hour Danny Kaye marathon in January 2013, I was able to re-watch this film and now think it is much better than I had remembered it...