Question: My wife and I were having dinner recently at an Italian restaurant and the background music was Dean Martin singing songs from Guys and Dolls. We agreed that Martin would have been much better than Marlon Brando in the movie — was Martin too new on the Hollywood scene to be considered, or was the studio pushing Brando?
Answer: Producer Sam Goldman wanted Gene Kelly to play Sky Masterson in the movie version of the Broadway hit Guys and Dolls (1955), but Kelly couldn't get released from his MGM contract. (Though MGM stands for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Sam Goldwyn was only part of the studio, which was formed by merging three existing companies, for a couple of years; in 1923, he formed his own Samuel Goldwyn Productions. MGM kept the G, which led to no end of confusion later.) Goldwyn paid $1,000,000 against 10 percent of profits for the rights to Guys and Dolls, so he wanted big stars in the leads, though he did apparently briefly consider pop singer Tony Martin (Mr. Cyd Charisse) for the part of Masterson. The A-list names Goldwyn and director Joseph Mankiewicz kicked around included Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum. Each would have been an interesting choice — Douglas would have brought a hard edge to the part, Lancaster was more than agile enough to handle real dancing and Mitchum had a sleepy-eyed sexiness that would have been devastating — but none was known as a singer. Bing Crosby and Clark Gable apparently lobbied hard for the role. And Goldwyn did toy with the idea of Dean Martin, but as part of the Martin and Lewis team. The thought of Jerry Lewis as Nathan Detroit should send chills down your spine and may be what soured that idea; the role went to Frank Sinatra instead. Brando himself was well aware that he couldn't sing and had no dance training, and by all accounts he worked like hell with voice coaches and choreographer Michael Kidd. He also apparently approached Sinatra for help with musical numbers and was rebuffed; Sinatra wanted the role of Masterson himself, and had real Old Hollywood contempt for Method actors. In the end, Brando's numbers were all pieced together in the studio from hours' worth of takes, and two of Masterson's numbers —"My Time of Day" and "I've Never Been in Love Before" — had to be dropped because Brando couldn't get his voice around them.