No One Will Ever Be Able To Play [ROLE] Again--Anti-Examples

A post in a thread by twickster in which I disagreed with his/her assertion that after Heath Ledger “No one will ever be able to play the Joker again,” inspired me to start this thread. I hope he/she takes no offense.

My contention is that many times in film history someone has played a role so effectively that it seemed that they would “own” the role forever, only later to be all but forgotten when another actor/actress came along and made it their own.

From 1918-1921, despite a couple other productions, Elmo Lincoln was Tarzan. Read old articles. Big Elmo was thought irreplaceable. The sixth actor, a young swimmer some of you may have heard of named Johnny Weissmuller, who took over the role in 1932, to this day, IS Tarzan.

William Gillette was Sherlock Holmes. Rathbone made him almost a footnote. Jeremy Brett surpassed Rathbone, at least in the eyes of Holmes afficionados.

Though not the same role, when Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale left The Avengers, it was common wisdom that the show was losing its brightest hope. Diana’s Rigg’s Emma Peel supplanted her in the popular imagination.

George Reeves was Superman! No, Chris Reeve is!

Any others once thought irreplaceable who’ve largely been forgotten?

Sir Rhosis

My assertion in the other thread was based on the fact that Heath Ledger took the character in a fundamentally different direction than previous Jokers – it was a far darker, more psychotic version than we’ve seen previously. I don’t think we can return to the more comic booky Caesar Romero/Jack Nicholson type, and any effort to do seriously psycho would probably come across as a pale imitation of Heath Ledger’s (re)interpretation.

I don’t see that kind of fundamental change in direction in Holmes, Tarzan, Superman, etc.

PS: I’m a she.

Sean Connery as James Bond. Certainly not forgotten, but not irreplaceable.

I’ve heard that The Maltese Falcon was filmed in the thirties with some actor or other playing Sam Spade, but I’ve never seen it. Humphrey Bogart must have blown him completely out of the water. I can’t imagine anyone other than him in the role.

In Gillette’s case, it probably should be noted that, to the best of my knowledge, the only surviving record of Gillette as Holmes is taken from a 1934 classroom conversation at Harvard.

Given that, it would probably be best to divide this consideration into two sections:

  1. Those that have been forgotten due to a lack of surviving records of them playing a role, and

  2. Those whose performances are still obtainable, but have been ignored.

teela brown, there were two different versions of The Maltese Falcon (one very loose) done prior to 1941; Ricardo Cortez stars in the version closer to the book.

That would be Ricardo Cortez or, perhaps Warren William as Hammett’s work was made twice before they got it right. Here is a thread from last year when I found all three in one package.

On Broadway, no one ever expected anyone to be able to replace Yul Brynner in The King and I (he played it in three productions, plus the movie), but Lou Diamond Phillips got great notices.

The same for Robert Preston/Craig Bierko in The Music Man (Preston played the role in the movie and was so identified with the role that a revival with Dick Van Dyck flopped), and Ethel Merman/Bernadette Peters in Annie Get Your Gun (Merman wasn’t in the film, but there are CDs of her singing in the original and revival of the show).

I would guess Christain Bale is better identified with Batman than Adam West or Michael Keaton. Keaton especially was identified with the role and both Val Kilmer and George Clooney were considered poor imitations. As for the Joker, Nicholson’s performance was considered the standard until Ledger came along.

Lawrence Olivier’s Henry V was considered one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever, yet Kenneth Branagh’s version supplanted it, as did Branagh in the lead.

To the detriment of Edgar Rice Burroughs fans, Weissmuller’s Tarzan (well, the screenwriters) took the character from an intelligent, but capable of being savage, man to a simpleton “who could barely string together four words” (what was that group called?). An interpretation that lasted through Lex Barker’s five turns in the role and only changed late in Gordon Scott’s portrayal. So in that case there was a different direction.

Not to be obstinate, but I don’t see the great difficulty in playing a psychotic Joker and differentiating it from Ledger’s performance, if done by a talented actor who knows what he’s doing. Nicholson’s Joker has next to nothing, really, in common with Romero’s. To my mind, Ledger’s has a few slight echoes of Nicholson’s, but not many. I still say someday a fine actor could do it/will probably do it.

Unlike the old days when legends were built up around actors who died young (think James Dean), in this ever-changing, breakneck paced world, I honestly don’t think Ledger will be as iconic fifty-three years after his death the way Dean is. It’s just the way we are. Someone will play the Joker triumphantly someday without worrying too much about comparisons.

Sir Rhosis

Just FTR: My favorite Joker is actually Mark Hamill.
Favorite Holmes is Arthur Wontner, Rathbone’s immediate predecessor.
Favorite Tarzan is Gordon Scott
And Branagh is a better Henry V than Olivier, but I still prefer Olivier’s Hamlet.

But I do still fondly recall most of Nicholson’s Joker, though Burton let him go OTT a couple times too many.

Sir Rhosis.

He may have gotten great notices, but if you say “The King and I” folks immediately think Yul Brynner, not Lou Diamond Phillips or Chow Yun Fat.

Well, you obviously saw a differnet Batman with Jack Nicholson than I did. He played a crazy, dark psycho killer who did occasionally act the clown- which is exactly how the Joker is suppoed to be. Sick Jokes. JOKEr.

If Ledger hadn’t have died, the film would have been considered just ok. Honestly, I don’t know what villain Ledger was supposed to be but it wasn’t the Joker.

Given a deliberately obtuse interpretation of the word ‘play’, I think the win goes to Wally Pipp.

I’m inclined to agree. What’s with all this forced decision crap for Harvey and whats-her-name, and for the people on the ferries? The writer of Dark Knight is cribbing from Saw, where the intricate-plan psycho is forcing people into life-and-death decisions to teach them a lesson about something or other.

If I had to choose between another Ledger performance (putting aside the obvious hurdle) and seeing Mark Hamill take a shot at a live-action interpretation, I’ll gladly choose the return of the Jedi.

Significant as ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Death Race’ has come out, a rehash of ‘Deathrace 2000’, except now 2000 is in the past, so they dropped that formerly futuristic ‘2000’ from the title.

Who could ever replace David Carradine in a lead role such as that?

I think the next Batman movie should stick closer to the original Batman movie/TV show. Then they can throw in the gay double entendres and we can see the joker the way he was truly meant to be portrayed.

What is it in Hollywood that makes them simply re-hash the same dead old ideas over and over again?

Don’t make anything original and new. It’s too much risk!

Maybe Ledger committed suicide because he realized that pathetic, wanking re-runs in the cesspit of Hollywood’s eternal creative stagnation just might run his entire career. Or maybe he was just a druggy emo.

Crash Test Dummies.

A lot of people hated *Lois and Clark * and Superman Returns because the actors didn’t look like Christopher Reeve. When I was a kid I remember thinking that Christopher Reeve did not look right for the part. I suspect there were Kirk Alyn fans who thought that George Reeves was completely wrong for the role.

My offering: Zorro. Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Tyrone Power, Guy Williams. (It was a pretty bad movie, but I sort of like the Alain Delon film.)

The “comic booky” type you refer to is further from the comic book. Heath Ledger essentially just played the role the way it is written in the comics. Anyone who does that has every chance of surpassing Ledger.


The hardcore fans know that – the general audience (amongst whom I count myself) don’t, so Heath Ledger’s characterization came as a revelation. That effect cannot be duplicated in the wake of his performance.

Ledger DID NOT commit suicide! It was an accidental mixing of prescription medicines. He was in no way shape or form a “druggy emo” either. And, he would not have cared what Hollywood was or wasn’t like because it had no bearing on his career or future roles.

I think Alistair Sim supplanted Reginald Owen in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.