Pal Joey: Why George Cukor Did Not Direct the Movie

 

The novelist John O’Hara, who based “Pal Joey” on his New Yorker stories, wrote director George Cukor on May 2, 1954: “If you and I met it would be to talk about Pal Joey, and that for such consultation I believe I ought to be paid a fee, since I no longer participate in the financial glory of the picture.”  O’Hara believed that “costs nothing is usually worth just about this.”

Cukor met Marlon Brando, who was interested in playing Pal Joey, for an interview on May 4, 1954.  The meeting, to his surprise, was very satisfactory, considering Brando’s reputation as a “difficult actor.  Brando seemed to be genuinely interested in playing the lead part and Cukor found him to be forthright, friendly, and simple.  The endlessly innovative Brando told Cukor that he wanted to do it unlike any part he has played before, with a much lighter and gayer touch.

Cukor’s meeting with Brando stood in sharp dramatic contrast to the one he had with author John O’Hara, whom he found snobbish and pretentious.  “In a long career,” Cukor wrote Columbia’s head Harry Cohn after the meeting: “I’ve never heard of an important author behaving as idiotically as O’Hara has.”

In the end, the musical movie went into production in 1957 and was directed by George Sidney, starring Frank Sinatra and Columbia’s two major female stars, vet Rita Hayworth and relative newcomer Kim Novak, neither of whom could sing.