|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.