Sabrina: Making of Romantic Comedy–Bogart Cast Instead of Cary Grant; Tensions with Director Billy Wilder

Sabrina: Humphrey Bogart instead of Cary Grant

For Sabrina (1954), Billy Wilder originally wanted Cary Grant for the older male. but the star declined.

Instead, the part went to Bogart, who was actually older than Grant by 5 years) as the conservative brother who competes with his younger, playboy sibling (William Holden) for the affection of the Cinderella-like Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn).

Although Bogart was lukewarm about the part, he agreed to it on a handshake with Wilder without a finished script, but with the director’s assurance that he would take “good care” of Bogart during the shoot.

The actor, however, got along poorly with his director and co-stars.  The ultimate professional, he complained about the script’s last-minute drafting and delivery.

Moreover, he accused Wilder of favoring Hepburn and Holden– on and off the set.  Wilder did favor Holden, with whom he had worked the year before on Stalag 17, a prison drama that won Holden his first and only Best Actor Oscar.

Wilder was the opposite of Bogart’s ideal director (John Huston) in style, method, and personality.

Bogart complained to the press that Wilder was “overbearing” and “is a kind of Prussian German with a riding crop. He is the type of director I don’t like to work with … the picture is a crock of crap. I got sick and tired of who gets Sabrina.” Wilder later said, “We parted as enemies but finally made up.”

Despite the acrimony, the film was successful; according to a review in The New York Times, Bogart was “incredibly adroit … the skill with which this old rock-ribbed actor blends the gags and such duplicities with a manly manner of melting is one of the incalculable joys of the show”.