James Cagney as Robin Hood!
Above is an extremely rare, undated picture of the Hollywood movie star James Cagney taken at an Archery Competition, staged to promote what would later become the movie, The Adventures of Robin Hood, released in1938. Incredibly it was James Cagney who was considered for the role of Robin Hood before Errol Flynn!
Also in the picture, awarding the winner, is Basil Rathbone (later Sir Guy of Gisborne) and the famous archer Howard Hill, who became Errol Flynn’s instructor on the use of the longbow. Hill also made all of the stunt body shots, the splitting of the arrow shot at the Archery Tournament, and he played the Captain of the Archers in the movie. This photo was one of several photos given by Howard Hill to his niece, Lorain Hill.
So why did James Cagney get chosen to play Robin Hood by Warner Brothers?
In Hollywood during the mid 1930’s, the ‘Motion Picture Production Code of Ethics’ was being enforced a lot stronger than before. Like many film studios of that time, Warner Brothers had to improve their image and output. So they decided to expand their horizons and move away from the steady stream of violent gangster movies that they had become renown for, and explore more prestigious areas.
Warner Brothers decided upon producing Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ using their stock company of actors and actresses, which included Olivia de Havilland, Ian Hunter, Anita Louise and James Cagney.
Dwight Franklin (1888-1971) at the time was Warmer’s historical advisor and costume designer on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ It was he who sent a memo to Jack Warner suggesting making a movie about Robin Hood, with James Cagney as the outlaw, Anita Louise as Maid Marian and Hugh Herbert as Friar Tuck. He also had the idea of using the usual Warner Brothers ‘gangster cronies,’ Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Hugh Herbert and Ross Alexander as the ‘Merry Men!’
Jack Warner was quite keen on the idea and went ahead with pre-production plans. James Cagney, who had been asking for ‘non-gangster roles’ was drafted in and producer Hal B Wallis hired English screenwriter Rowland Leigh to prepare a script for Cagney as Robin.
But Cagney, who was then a vice-president of the newly formed Screen Actors Guild, had made five movies in 1934, against his contract terms, which forced him to bring legal proceedings against Jack Warner. He had also complained about his ‘journeyman salary’ and the factory like conditions.
During his career, Cagney had walked out on several occasions before, but three months into the making of Robin Hood he walked off the lot in a tremendous rage, placed himself under suspension and never returned.
Meanwhile ‘Captain Blood’ had been released with huge success making a new and up and coming star out of 27year old Errol Flynn who had replaced Robert Donat in the role. Cagney was forgotten about and the rest is part of Hollywood’s golden history!
Labels: Robin Hood Films