I suppose many Stanwyck fans have wondered what would “On Golden Pond” be like if Stanwyck had played Katharine Hepburn’s role as Ethel Thayer. That could have easily happened.
When it was announced that Henry Fonda was to play the role of Norman Thayer in “On Golden Pond”, Barbara knew that it would be a great film opportunity for her and she wanted to work with Henry Fonda one last time. When she read the script, she knew that the film was worthy of an Oscar and besides all the films she had made with Fonda have been successful. This could be her only chance to win an Oscar.
Barbara began campaigning for the role and was eventually considered to play the role of Ethel Thayer. Henry was supportive of the idea of Stanwyck being in thought for the part. He has always considered Stanwyck his favorite leading lady and was well aware of the success of their previous collaborations.
However in the long run, Katharine Hepburn landed the part of Ethel Thayer. She was more commercial at the time of filming and had received more accolades in recent years.
When Henry Fonda heard the news that Katharine had scored the part, he was thrilled to be finally working with Kate. Kate and Henry have always admired each others work & although they have never met, they have always respected one another. Katharine later said it gave her the opportunity to work with another Hollywood legend before it was too late.
Barbara didn’t get the role, but she wasn’t completely left out. Before production started Hepburn underwent surgery, so in the event that Hepburn may not have been able to appear in the film, Barbara was left on call to replace Katharine Hepburn if any problems occurred.
A few weeks before filming, Katharine injured her arm during a game of tennis. She was thinking of pulling out of the film all together until Henry spoke to her and convinced her to appear on the set for the first day of filming. If that was the case, Barbara was close to scoring the part.
Even though how much I love Hepburn, it would have been great to see Barbara as Ethel Thayer. It’s a golden opportunity missed, that could have led to Barbara winning her first Oscar.