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Up until the last disappointing installment, Clan Murphy has been pretty staunch Harry Potter supporters. The movie versions have been entertaining but uneven, and not least because of the woeful, woeful miscasting of Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. The guy can be fantastic (check out his good ol’ boy Big Tobacco CEO in The Insider), but since the third Potter movie, he’s been a blight on an otherwise impressive landscape of British thespians (Alan Rickman, Ken Branagh, Emma Thompson, Gary Oldman, et. al) doing their level best to bring Potter to onscreen life.

Gambon, cast after the sad death of original Dumbledore, Richard Harris, was unfit to tie the shoes of Harris, much less step into them. Instead of the unflappable, benignant, kindly old professor of the books (whose dignified self-confidence comes from the fact that he’s the world’s greatest wizard) we get, as incarnated by the grumpy, goofy Gambon, a Dumbledore who is short-tempered (he nearly strangles Harry in Goblet of Fire), fidgety, easily disconcerted, and basically out-to-lunch. Gambon has claimed in interviews that he sticks on a beard and plays himself.

Which makes a recent discovery all the more painful in the “Oh, what might have been” way. As the Dude says, “new information has come to light, man.” I came across this info via Jim Emerson’s blog. He’s the editor of, and mentioned — in passing while blogging on the whole “gay Dumbledore” uproar — that the part of Dumbledore had originally been offered to Patrick McGoohan, even before Harris.

This was news to me. McGoohan was the star, and frequent writer/director, of the classic cult TV series, The Prisoner, a long-time inclusion in the Murphy pantheon of Greatness. It was his brainchild, and boy does that guy have some brain behind his prominent forehead. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. Brilliant show, way ahead of its time, and for my money the single best series ever to appear on TV.

But I digress. McGoohan, with his twinkling blue eyes and air of quiet authority, would have made a wonderful Dumbledore. Not so much the kindly old soul Harris portrayed, but a man whose gentle exterior hides a razor-sharp intelligence and unprecedented wizarding power. I don’t know why McGoohan turned down the part (he was also offered the lead in an obscure little spy series, James Bound or James Blonde, or something), but the man clearly cares little for the spotlight, and I admire him for it. Still, considering we have to suffer through two more Gambon-starring Potter movies, I can’t help but wonder what could have been…



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