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Friday 27 July 2012

The Great Recasting Blogathon: Classic Hollywood Drops It's Robe with Calendar Girls (1962)

This is an entry for The Great Recasting Blogathon hosted by Frankly, My Dear and In the Mood. Thanks so much for the opportunity to write such a fun post! :) 
I was very excited to read about this blogathon and spent several weeks mulling over which "modern" film to recast. After much deliberating over a few films (who wouldn't want to watch Thelma & Louise with Deborah Kerr and Joan Crawford?!) I finally settled on one that I knew would be extremely fun to cast given the fact that it's pretty much all women plus not very classic film friendly. And so, without further deliberation, I give you... 

Calendar Girls (2003 1962) is the true story of a handful of middle aged women living in Knapely, a rural village in Yorkshire, who dropped their clothes for a Women's Institute charity calendar. Directed by the brilliant Howard Hawks at MGM-British Studios, the film was a huge success with British and American audiences alike. Jean Simmons was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role by the Academy, but Anne Bancroft eventually took the Oscar home for her performance in The Miracle Worker. Marlene Dietrich was quoted as saying that "filming Calendar Girls was more fun than Gary Cooper and Tallulah Bankhead put together." and Kenneth More, when giving an interview later in life, said that "hearing the Americans trying to put on a convincing Yorkshire accent was possibly the most side-splitting moment in my career". It enjoys a 6.8 rating on IMDb and continues to be a firm favourite with British TV programmers, appearing on the TV at least twice a year.

The female cast filming a scene in the great outdoors.

The plot: Annie (Jean Simmons), a quiet woman, somewhat sensitive, but with a good sense of humour, loses her husband, John (Kenneth More) to leukemia and her exuberant, loud mouthed friend Chris (Arlene Francis) decides that they should buy a sofa for the visitor's lounge in the hospital where John was treated. With the prices for the sofa being a little more than they can afford, Chris hits upon the idea of creating a calendar in which she, Annie, and other members of their local WI will pose nude. It takes a little while to convince everyone to participate but eventually the ladies agree. With the help of John's nurse, Lawrence Sertain (Michael Caine), who is also an amateur photographer, the ladies create the calendar. However, the chairwoman of the Knapely WI, Marie (Olivia de Havilland), feels that it is highly inappropriate for WI members to be posing nude (even with the strategically placed Chelsea buns and watering cans!) and as such refuses to allow the calendar. Chris and Annie then go to the national congress of the WI and, after pleading their cause, are given the green light. The calendar catapults them into overnight "stardom" and, before long, the group of women are appearing on Jay Leno. All the fame eventually leads to disharmony between Chris and Annie who fall out whilst on the trip to America. Eventually, however, everything is smoothed out and life returns to normal in the beautiful, little village of Knapely. Oh, and the visitor's lounge gains a sofa, in case you were wondering. 

Annie: None of us have been here before, love. My John didn't see me naked until the spring of 1947. 
Chris: What happened in the spring of '47? 
Annie: There was a lizard in the shower block at Abergele. Quite a few people saw me naked that morning. 

Jean Simmons plays Annie Clarke, the friendly yet quiet main character who, early on in the film, loses her husband to cancer. Jean was not the first choice of the casting directors, but during a meeting in which the progress of casting came up, Howard Hawks made it quite clear that he favoured the 33 year old Jean Simmons over both Rosalind Russell and Celeste Holm. Jean later went on to say that, because of her relative youthfulness compared to the rest of the cast and compared to her character, "the role of Annie in Calender Girls was one of the hardest in my entire acting career.". 

Chris: Lawrence, we're going to need considerably bigger buns. 

The role of Chris Harper, the vivacious, down-to-earth wife of a florist, went to Arlene Francis. Arlene, more known for her work on popular TV show What's My Line? was thrilled to receive the telephone call telling her she had got the part and set to work immediately perfecting the broad Yorkshire accent of her character. So intensely did she work on her accent that she coerced Bennett Cerf into letting her appear as the celebrity guest on WML? (after calling in sick) in order to test out her newly acquired accent. Needless to say, the panelists were stunned when they took off their eye masks.

Celia: It's the whole showing your breasts issues that concerns me. 
Annie: The point is that we won't really be showing anything. 
Celia: Yes, that's what concerns me. 
Annie: Yours are good, are they? 
Celia: They're tremendous. 

Due to her German accent, Marlene was not immediately considered to play Celia, the posh, confident wife of a major, but after searching in vain for an actress who could properly portray the character, Marlene Dietrich was offered the part. As the casting director said, "No one will care that she has a German accent. She's Marlene Dietrich.". Marlene was excited to become part of the film and having worked in films before the Hayes Code came into force, was perhaps the most comfortable shedding her dressing gown (Miriam Hopkins aside).

Jessie: Hello dear. I thought I'd bring my journalists to meet your journalists. 

Jessie, a sweet yet gutsy retired schoolteacher, was played by the inimitable Miriam Hopkins. Although she was put out at first due to the fact that, whilst she was a year younger than Dietrich, she was playing an older character, she is quoted as having said, "I greatly enjoyed my time on the set of Calendar Girls. There was a fantastic sense of camaraderie among the female cast, although I am not sure I will ever quite get over the shock of seeing Loretta Young naked.". Irene Dunne convinced Young not to sue.

Ruth: We're not all Chrises in this life. Some of us are Ruths

Ruth Reynoldson, a browbeaten wife whose husband is having an affair with a younger woman, has perhaps the most heartbreaking story next to Annie's and, when casting first started, no one gave even a thought to Loretta Young, whose TV show had just come to an end. However, when both Deborah Kerr and Joan Fontaine declined the part, the casting directors were forced to look elsewhere. It wasn't until 2 weeks before production started that Young received the a telephone call offering her the part of Ruth but, fortunately for them, she accepted. Although she was nervous at the thought of appearing naked, Howard Hawks assured her that she would retain her dignity by strategically placed knitting.

Cora: Annie, I am 55 years old. If I'm not gonna get them out now, when am I? 

Irene Dunne was initially hesitant about coming out of retirement to play the role of Cora, the WI organist, but after seeing a list of other cast members, she decided she couldn't pass up such a great opportunity. A fun fact about Irene's participation in the film is that the iced buns that were used as "cover ups" when the calendar was being shot in the film were actually baked every morning by her. Arlene Francis later commented that they were "... the most delicious buns I've ever tasted.".

Marie: Might I just say, I never knew broccoli could be so intriguing. 

Olivia de Havilland was the first choice for the role of Marie, chairwoman of Knapely WI and, at first, staunch protester of the calendar. In an interview she gave recently, Olivia said that she "... had greatly enjoyed filming Calendar Girls." and "... it was lovely to go back to my English roots and immerse myself in that world for a little while.". Her name was put forward for Best Supporting Actress but she was sadly overlooked. To this day, Calendar Girls remains one of her favourite films and she watches it at least once a week. 

Lawrence: Don't. Touch. The buns. 

Michael Caine, who plays Lawrence Sertain, the photographer, and who had previously only performed in bit parts, was both shocked and amused when, on the first day of filming, he found himself on set with a handful of classic film stars clad only in their dressing gowns. He was soon put at ease however, when Arlene Francis padded up to him barefoot and said, "If seeing these old fogies naked doesn't make you run away screaming, you're stronger than I.". She later retracted the statement when Marlene Dietrich left a snake in her dressing room. 

Minor cast members include

Ray Milland as Rod Harper, Chris' florist husband.
Kenneth More as John Clarke, Annie's husband who dies of leukemia.
Stewart Granger as Eddie Reyneldson, Ruth's cheating husband.

Well, that's it for my The Great Recasting Blogathon post. It's been so much fun to write and I just want to thank Rihanna and Natalie for hosting such an fabulous blogathon! :)


  1. Great casting -- and directed by Howard Hawks, no less! This would be on my DVD shelf at home for sure.

  2. This was an awesome choice and you re-casting is just perfection. Wonderfully entertaining post!

  3. This was absolutely hilarious & fantastic reading! This has some of my favorites in here (especially liked the casting of Jean, Arlene, Olivia, Irene...), I love it all, and the little looks "behind the scenes" were so funny. ( I loved the quotes especially). Not going to lie, I really wish that this had been made!! Thanks for joining in the blogathon and I'm really happy you liked the concept (Natalie and I loved doing it, so who knows, we might take up your suggestion about making this a annual thing!). :D

  4. Okay, I'm back again because I just wanted to let you know I've tagged you for an award: http://franklymydear-blog.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-liebster-blog-award-reprise.html. Pass it on if you wish :)

  5. Most. Perfect. Thing. Ever. I am still lol-ing as I type.


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