Tuesday, August 5, 2014

When Eleanor Roosevelt Got Lionel Barrymore Fired

I've posted here previously about President Harry Truman getting the actor playing him in a 1947 MGM epic canned.  This was drawn from my new book Hollywood Bomb, about how Truman and others gutted a planned film that would have raised alarms about nuclear weapons and the arms race and the dangers to come.  Anyway, there's more. Surely this was the only movie where actors playing two President each got fired.

Eleanor Roosevelt had learned that the studio planned to cast legendary actor Lionel Barrymore, a close friend of MGM chief, the arch-conservative Louis B. Mayer, as her late husband.  Like FDR for much of his life, Barrymore--grand-uncle of Drew Barrymore--was confined to a wheelchair due to a hip injury.  Sounded like perfect casting on paper but—the former First Lady  alleged that the actor had made several disparaging remarks about FDR, and he had campaigned for Dewey against him in 1944. (Barrymore was particularly incensed about the graduated income tax.)  

Production on the film had started but the scenes with Roosevelt had not yet been shot, so MGM put them on hold while Barrymore wrote a conciliatory letter to Eleanor, claiming that his political views had been misinterpreted.  But the former First Lady still did not relent--and soon MGM announced that one Godfrey Tearle would play FDR. 

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