Guys and Dolls: Frank Sinatra stars in 1955 trailer

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Nobody could believe it at the time – the tough guy, brooding method actor who, by his own admission, couldn’t sing or dance, had agreed to make a musical. Sinatra, himself, had been desperately lobbying producer Samuel Goldwyn for the lead role of Sky Masterson. MGM had shelled out a million dollars for the film rights and Goldwyn had a different type of leading man in mind. He unsuccessfully approached a Hollywood stars including Cary Grant, Burt Lancaster and Gene Kelly. Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitcvhium and Bing Crosby were all considered. Brando actually also turned the role down, but two calls changed his mind.

The film’s writer/director Joseph L Mankiewicz wired Brando the message: Understand you’re apprehensive because you’ve never done a musical comedy. You have nothing – repeat nothing – to worry about because neither have I. Love Joe.”

However, another juicy report describes a phone call from Grant to Brando: “I suggested you for the part… Frank Sinatra desperately wants the role. I heard you don’t like Sinatra. Take the role to p**s him off.”

Brando’s close friends like Carlo Fiore also persuaded him that it was an opportunity to show his versatility, And so the actor accepted the role on the condition that his voice would be dubbed, a common occurrence in Hollywood musicals with non-singing stars. To his horror, that did not happen.

Brando was assigned a vocal coach who reported he was developing a “pleasing, husky baritone quality.” The actor retorted that he actually sounded “like the mating call of a yak.” Although the actor eventually delivered a passable vocal performance, many different cuts of his singing had to be spliced together to get a workable version of each song.

The press was already openly mocking the idea of Hollywood’s bad boy doing a musical and many of his co-stars were unhappy at the situation – rallying behind his rival Sinatra, who had been cast, to his dismay, as the second lead Nathan Detroit.

Sinatra’s rage at losing the lead role was intensified after Brando won the Oscar for On The Waterfront while Guys and Dolls started filming. Sinatra had also chased that role and lost out. With tensions and resentments already simmering, Sinatra flatly rebuffed Brando’s request for help with his vocals and the situation exploded into open hostility on set.

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With both actors refusing to speak to each other, Sinatra sent one of his (possibly Mafia-linked) henchmen to pass n messages while Brando sent Fiore.

Brando’s devotion to method acting and love of multiple takes, plus his notoriety for fluffing lines, was openly mocked by Sinatra who called him “Mumbles.”

Sinatra liked to do as few takes a possible, so Brando began to purposefully mess up his own lines, most famously in a scene where his co-star is also eating a rich cake, relishing watching Sinatra becoming increasingly angry and queasy.

Before too long, there were worries on-set that the situation would become physical, culminating in a terrifying “abduction” of Brando. 

One scene in the movie shows Brando lightly grabbing Sinatra by the neck, ostensibly to cover his bow tie. Fiore later said: “It appeared Marlon actually wanted to choke Sinatra…”

As the situation continued to worsen, Fiore added: “It got so bad I feared Sinatra was going to order his goons to beat up Marlon.”

Unfortunately, the bad blood reached a whole new level when Sinatra’s wife Ava Gardner got involved. Even though they were effectively separated, he still “carried a torch for her.” He was also a jealous and possessive man, and Brando’s voraciosu sexuall appetite for men and women was well known. And then Sinatra heard his wife had spent an entire day on set, when he was not around – in Brando’s dressing room… 

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The Brando biography Unzipped by Darwin Porter reports Fiore’s account of a night when Brando disappeared while out riding his motorbike. Fiore was staying at the actor’s house and was woken at 2am and rushed downstairs.

Fiore said: “He looked like he’d just visited hell and escaped with his life…”

Apparently Brando told him he had been “accosted” by three men when he had visited a rest stop. One pulled a gun out and they forced him into a black car.”

Fiore added: ‘Marlon told me, ‘One of teh goons told me he was going to offer me a choice. He could kill me, a quick and easy death with a bullet in the heart. Or else he’d let me live. If he let me live, he’d castrate me and carve up my face so that no plastic surgeon coudl ever repair it… Marlon told me he had never been so frightened in all his life.”

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