I’d always assumed that Ingrid Bergman was the first choice for the role of ‘Maria’ opposite Gary Cooper in “For Whom The Bell Tolls”.
Not so. Paramount cast ballerina Vera Zorina and she had her hair cropped and was on location with the film crew for two weeks shooting on the film.
Various reports say that director Sam Wood, author Ernest Hemingway and David Selznick ( to whom Ingrid Bergman was under contract) all wanted Ingrid for the role.
I read that when they decided Ingrid should get the role, they had to give Vera a cash settlement.
You might wonder why a musical performer with very little film experience would be cast in this top dramatic role. I’m wondering too and couldn’t really find an answer.
Perhaps Paramount didn’t like their negotiations with Selznick for Ingrid’s services. Also, Ingrid may not have been immediately available as she was finishing “Casablanca.”
Or maybe they thought Gary Cooper’s name was enough star power for the big production.
Vera Zorina (1917 – 2003) was Norwegian, born Eva Birgitta Hartwig in Berlin. She only made 7 films. (Her name change came about when she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The company only wanted Russian names and gave her several to choose from – she chose Vera Zorina.)
Vera Zorina and Gary Cooper,on the set.
Billed as ZORINA, Vera starred in Broadway musicals like ON YOUR TOES (1939) and I MARRIED AN ANGEL.
She made her film debut in “The Goldwyn Follies” after Sam Goldwyn saw her on stage and put her under contract.
Coincidence that Gary should meet Vera on the set of her film “Louisiana Purchase.” in 1941
Zorina and George Raft were husband and wife in Universal’s FOLLOW THE BOYS (1944). Practically every star on the Universal lot appeared in the all star review.
Even in I WAS AN ADVENTURESS”(1940), the plot allowed for Vera to have a dancing scene.
This Fox film was one I had never heard of and it was good to see it on You Tube.
Vera acquits herself well as part of a swindling trio led by Erich Von Stroheim, the third member being Peter Lorre.
Von Stroheim and Lorre make a great team. A pity they didn’t appear again together.
“I Was An Adventuress” turned out to be a real find. ( though I would ditch that cumbersome title).
There is a terrific scene in the film when Vera turns the tables on her co-conspirators. A neat twist.
I’ve just ordered it on Amazon.
These two steal the film.
In the film, having married rich Frenchman ( a very English and young Richard Greene), Vera dances a scene from Swan Lake at a charity concert.
Having seen this 1940 film, I think Vera could have continued in films, musical or non- musical but I guess the roles didn’t come to her.
Vera’s last film was LOVER COME BACK (1946) which starred Lucille Ball and George Brent.
Love the upside down newspaper headline, “ Zorina elopes. Jilts Doug Jr.”
Vera ‘s first husband was choreographer/ stage director George Balanchine . She then married Goddard Lieberson ,president of Columbia Records.
After leaving Hollywood, she returned to the stage. In the 1970s, she became director of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet , and when she moved to Santa Fe in 1990, she directed productions at the Santa Fe Opera Company.
Her autobiography was published in 1986.
It’s good to learn more about Zorina, a name I previously only knew as a star of the musical stage, often choreographed by Balanchine as in “On Your Toes”. Lieberson also had a great career both as head of Columbia Records and producer/pioneer of the best original cast albums, of most of the greatest musicals in Broadway history – both before and after they slightly more reluctantly than some companies, moved onto Stereophonic sound in late ’56 with their superb recording of “Bells Are Ringing” and a re-recording of their early ’56 “My Fair Lady” (which I prefer despite being monaural) for stereo with the London company, February ’59. I seem to recall their son is also influential in communications media.
Yes, Lieberson did some wonderful cast recordings.
I’m glad you liked I Was An Adventuress which I saw a few years ago. I too was impressed by Vera and fascinated to see the very young Richard Greene. He was one of those actors whose career was damaged by war service. Richard joined up immediately against Fox’s wishes. The momentum had gone by the time he returned for Forever Amber in 46.
It’s always a nice surprise to find a new film you like.
My first memory of Richard Greene was in his TV series Robin Hood. Back then I didn’t know anything about his Hollywood career.
Article suggesting Goldwyn was infatuated with her and his wife then found out.
Thanks Bob. good article .