Cary Grant Turned Down ‘My Fair Lady’ Because ‘I Knew There Would Be Backlash’

Actor Cary Grant could have starred in My Fair Lady, but he turned it down. It was far from the first famous role that he turned down. However, Grant had his reasons for not deciding to play Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. The actor knew that there would be backlash and wanted absolutely no part in it.

Cary Grant is famous for turning down roles

Cary Grant, who turned down 'My Fair Lady'. He's wearing a grey suit with a slight smile, holding a pipe.
Cary Grant | Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images

James Bawden and Ron Miller’s book, Conversations with Classic Film Stars, includes an interview with Grant. He talked about the evolution of his career through various motion pictures. However, Grant was famous for turning down big roles, including My Fair Lady.

Grant pointed out the “strangest-ever request” he got was from old C.B. DeMille for Samson and Delilah. Meanwhile, he also turned down working with Billy Wilder in Sabrina because he heard the famous director didn’t like actors. Grant also passed on starring with Judy Garland in A Star Is Born because he thought she would be “difficult to work with.”

Cary Grant declined ‘My Fair Lady’ over ‘backlash’

Grant was asked to play Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, but he turned it down. The character is a phonetics professor who plans to fool high society into thinking a Cockney working-class girl is a cultured individual. However, Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle is only in it to improve her chances of getting a well-paying job. However, Grant thought actor Rex Harrison was the correct performer for the part.

“It was Rex Harrison’s part,” Grant said. “He’d done it on Broadway. And I was sorely tempted. Jack Warner offered me $1 million plus a piece of the action. And the costars were to be Audrey Hepburn and Jimmy Cagney. When Jimmy refused to come out of retirement, I had my reason for not signing.”

Grant continued: “I knew there would be a backlash, and Audrey felt it [because she took the part Julie Andrews had played opposite Harrison on Broadway.] I told Jack, ‘Not only will I not do it, but if you don’t use Rex, I even won’t go to see it.'”

The actor had a hard time performing in vaudeville

According to the interview with Bawden, My Fair Lady wasn’t the only time Grant was faced with a difficult decision. He was constantly faced with harsh conditions when working as a vaudeville actor. However, Grant ultimately made the decision to settle down in North America to pursue more jobs in Hollywood.

“We’d work up to six performances a day and go on the all-night train to the next destination,” Grant recalled. “Had to sleep in the coach car. Three or four of us would bunk in a single room. Meals were cans of beans heated on radiators. You’d wash clothes in the bathtub. I was a stilt walker. That was my specialty.”

Grant concluded: “But I also performed in comedy skits. When the troupe returned to England, I decided to stay [behind]. There was more promise of jobs in the U.S. and Canada.”

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