Casablanca without Ingrid Bergman? Al Pacino absent from The Godfather! Shirley Temple, not Judy Garland, skipping down the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz? Blasphemous scenarios that very nearly came to pass, according to this roundup of 17 classic casting stories (100 additional, briefer "tidbits" are collected in a separate section).
Authors Burkhart, a screenwriter, and Stuart, a former agent, capture the arbitrary, ego-driven madness that's called Hollywood know-how (particularly in the chapter on Apocalypse Now) and offer a few fascinating anecdotes. Montgomery Clift's older lover, for example, threatened to kill herself should he take the lead in Sunset Boulevard, and Clark Gable's divorce forced him to take the role of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind just for the money. Unfortunately, most of the stories lack such drama, and some are so uneventful they feel like padding. Still, anyone intrigued by the weird alchemy that creates great movies—and bad ones, for that matter—will enjoy snacking on First Choices. (Crown, paper, $14)