Your RDA of Irony

The Greatest Story Ever Miscast

Among my favorite movies of the season is “King of Kings”. It is quite a spectacle, opening with a grandiloquent narration by Orson Welles –“And lo, the Romans descending like a plague of locust…” setting the scene of a brutalized, oppressed people in need of a liberating Messiah.

But then we get to see the Messiah. It’s Jeffrey Hunter: “Whoa, Dude! Let’s go surfing on the Sea of Galilee!” I was a little disappointed that the rest of cast was inconsistent with “Beach Blanket Bible“. Imagine Troy Donahue as John the Baptist, Annette as Mary Magdalene and James Darren as “Moon Doggie” Pilate. Buddy Hackett and Keenan Wynn could have been the High Priests.

“And with two hamburgers and one cheese pizza He was able to feed 5,000.”

Aside from the ludicrous casting of Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus, “King of Kings” also had Robert Ryan as John the Baptist. Mr. Ryan actually was a fine actor but he specialized in playing soft-spoken psychopaths. I was rather anxious that his John the Baptist would try drowning his converts.

Now before I am denounced for persecuting Jeffrey Hunter, I will concede that Jesus is a hard role to cast. Jesus is usually played by aesthetic-looking souls: H.B. Warner, Max von Sydow (yumping yimminy) and Robert Powell. However, they don’t exactly seem sturdy enough to be carpenters; perhaps that is why Jesus sought a less physical second career.

Jeffrey Hunter was not really a bad actor; it is just that “All-American boys” were rather rare in first century Judea. You might know that Hunter was the original Captain Kirk in “StarTrek” and starred in the pilot. However, some scheduling problems required him to abandon the role which then was given to William Shatner.

Ironically, Mr. Shatner would have made a more plausible Jesus–at least in filling the role of a stocky Semite. However, it might have been difficult to find 12 Apostles who could stand Shatner.

  1. Bob Kincaid says:

    And Nimoy as Peter, perhaps?

  2. Nimoy’s ancestors did see the original production–and they evidently were not impressed.

    The road show–starting in St. Paul–got much better reviews and a far bigger audience.

    In “King of Kings” Peter was played by character actor Royal Dano, who usually portrayed half-demented prospectors. Of course, that could have described St. Peter.

  3. Leah says:

    The most incongruous thing about this movie is really the director, Nick Ray. One wonders if he nailed as many cast members in this movie as he did in, say, “Rebel Without a Cause”. I don’t know anything about Ray’s religious beliefs but you would have to classify his love life as pagan.

  4. “Revel Without a Pause”?

    I know that Ray had an affair with Natalie Wood. (Fortunately, he didn’t direct “Miracle on 34th Street”.) Who else? I hope not Sal Mineo or Jim Backus.

  5. Leah says:

    Dean and Mineo, so I’ve heard. No one’s around to confirm or deny, unfortunately, but I think you’re safe about Backus.

  6. Mary Ann Jung says:

    Ok, the gloves are off-you’ve gone and dissed my man Jeffrey who made me think lofty religious thoughts when I was 8 and didn’t realize Jesus should have had brown eyes. Jesus could’ve been a Frogman in the Sea of Galilee-who knows. Shatner?!!! When he was the Grand Master for Mardi Gras when I was in college, my friends and I inundated him in silly string as a sign of our contempt when his float went by. Alhthough we Are fans of old Star Trek. Happy ChristmaKwaanzakkuh!

  7. Peggles says:

    Happy Happy to everyone. William Shatner actually was a very good actor in his early career. The Andersonville Trial (from the golden age of TV) was superb. I believe Shatner played the prosecutor of Wirtz, played by the also excellent Richard Basehart. Too bad Shatner didn’t stay kosher in his later years – way too much ham!

  8. Peggles says:

    I’d forgotten that Shatner and Basehart had co-starred in TBK. And to think that they ended up on a starship and a submarine!

  9. Mary Ann:

    Let’s finish casting “Beach Blanket Bible”. We’ll have Harvey Lembeck as Herod Antipas and Leslie Gore as Salome. (“It’s My Party And You’ll Die If I Want To.”)

    However I can’t decide who should play Pontius Pilate: Bob Cummings or Paul Lynde?


    Shatner and Basehart were indeed in “The Andersonville Trials”. It was a reunion for them. They had played two of “The Brothers Karamazov”: Shatner was Alexei and Basehart was Ivan. That would correspond to Hoss and Adam on “Bonanza”. (So Albert Salmi would be Hop Sing.)

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