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The Shootist the Duke’s final film incidentally directed by Clint Eastwood’s mentor Don Siegel found Palmer setting the elderly gunfighter’s last hurrah

Without a doubt, it was a bit intimidating interviewing one of the most ruthless screen adversaries to ever cross paths with the iconic John Wayne. It became perfectly evident right off the bat that Gregg Palmer was a gentle, cuddly bear, albeit one with a booming radio announcer’s intonation.

Discovered in 1949 after a producer accidentally heard his rich baritone delivering the news in San Francisco, Palmer headed to Hollywood and never looked back. An uncredited bit part in one of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’s earliest films, My Friend Irma Goes West, became Palmer’s film debut.
Serendipitously, within months of arriving in Tinseltown, Universal Studios scooped up the fresh-faced, handsome young actor for a five-year contract exemplified by military action, drama, crime potboilers, romantic escapades, and Westerns.While his prolific Universal stint didn’t catapult the burly actor into leading man territory, Palmer did hone his craft with such future stars as Rock Hudson [Magnificent Obsession], Tony Curtis [The All American], Audie Murphy [To Hell and Back, Universal’s top grosser until Jaws’ sudden impact 20 years later], and Clint Eastwood. The Creature Walks Among Us, a shining example of the low budget monster mania that swept America’s Eisenhower era, wrapped up Palmer’s Universal tenure.
But forays into the Western genre became the journeyman actor’s true bread and butter over a 30-year celluloid career. The Rare Breed with James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara, guest spots on Gunsmoke [an astonishing 21 episodes available on Paramount’s meticulously assembled Gunsmoke: The Complete Series], Bonanza, The Virginian, and six films with John Wayne — all Westerns — enabled the actor to make countless appearances at cowboy festivals in modern times.As he grew older, the actor seamlessly transformed his persona into the consummate bad guy, exemplified by an unkempt, unruly beard and matched by a towering build. Unfortunately, a painful knee injury on the set of the Civil War miniseries The Blue and the Gray precipitated his early retirement in 1982.Palmer first met the Duke while on a date with Oscar-nominated actress Ann Blyth [i.e. Mildred Pierce, starring Joan Crawford], but the duo would not work together until nearly a decade later in The Comancheros.

 By far, Big Jake contains the actor’s best work with Wayne. In it, the 6’4″, 300-pound Palmer memorably plays a vicious machete-brandishing villain who kills Big Jake’s dog and threatens his grandson’s life with near deadly results. For this writer, witnessing Palmer’s performance as an eight-year-old impressionable kid was downright scary.The Shootist, the Duke’s final film incidentally directed by Clint Eastwood’s mentor Don Siegel, found Palmer setting the elderly gunfighter’s last hurrah in motion via a bold highway robbery that quickly went south in the opening frame.
Without further ado, sit back and enjoy Palmer’s heartfelt recollections of what it was like to work with Wayne, an actor whose staggering popularity continues to confound his detractors while remaining the quintessential genuine article to his legions of fans.Plenty of tantalizing anecdotes you don’t want to miss include “Grizzly” — Wayne’s nickname for his buddy — playing chess in Durango with the cheating star, why he nearly passed on accepting a cameo in The Shootist, teaching the Duke’s youngest son Ethan how to properly spit watermelon seeds, and the day Palmer had trouble pronouncing a seemingly straightforward word on the set of Chisum.Stick around for further tales of Palmer’s distinguished World War II service, favorite roles, traveling to Rome for a pair of rip-roarin’ Spaghetti Westerns, whether sagebrush sagas can mount a comeback, and the secret to maintaining steady work in the business of show.Palmer regrettably passed away at age 88 on October 31, 2015, at the Providence Tarzana Medical Center in Los Angeles. This phone interview was conducted two years prior on June 11, 2013, while the charitable octogenarian was enroute to the Van Nuys, California, airport to make his fourth and final appearance at the Memphis Film Festival.
I grew up in San Francisco. When I graduated from high school, I immediately enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1944. I was 17 years of age. World War II was almost over when I joined — fortunately I got in on the tail end of the fighting. I became a cryptographer, which meant I intercepted and decoded enemy messages. I rose to the rank of sergeant and was discharged in 1946.When I got out of the service I thought I would go back to school and become a corporate attorney. I didn’t plan on going into radio, but a friend of mine was trying to get in and he convinced me to give it a try. That was a long time ago [laughs].A producer at KNBC in San Francisco heard me reading the news. Apparently he liked what he heard. I was blessed with a deep voice. It took them eight months to talk me into coming to Hollywood. Next thing you know you’re meeting people and making a screen test.
The first movie I worked in was My Friend Irma Goes West in 1950. I played an uncredited ambulance attendant. It was Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ second film. If you can believe it, John Lund and Marie Windsor were billed over the comedy team. A year later I had a minor part in That’s My Boy, another Martin and Lewis film.Universal put me under contract in 1951, and I stayed there for about five years. I made three films at the studio with Audie Murphy, still one of my favorites. The films were The Cimarron Kid, Column South, and To Hell and Back. Audie and I reunited a decade later for The Quick Gun, produced for Columbia.I received a special “Introducing Palmer Lee” billing in Column South. Palmer Lee is my given name. Universal built me up as a romantic leading man, even convincing me to change my name in time for the 1954 shoot-‘em-up, Taza, Son of Cochise, starring Rock Hudson. However, the studio’s plans for me never really materialized.I started freelancing after that. If you have a computer and visit my IMDB page, you can easily see all of my credits. I don’t have a computer — I don’t fool with one because they send you all kinds of emails or whatever.
Jeremy Roberts

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John Wayne Almost Walked Away From One Of His Most Beloved Roles – My Blog

Early Hollywood Westerns, a staple of the classical film era, largely stereotyped Native Americans as bloodthirsty savages. The growing popularity of post-World War II social problem films had the film industry reflecting on its portrayals of minorities, including Native Americans. The man synonymous with the Western introduced a film in 1956 that sent ripples throughout all of Hollywood and reinvented the genre.

John Ford’s 1956 film “The Searchers” looked like a typical western. It pitted “Cowboys vs. Indians” in a familiar landscape, the wide-open desert plains of the Monument Valley area of Arizona and Utah. But its content was vastly different than any Western we’d seen before.
In “The Searchers,” Ford presents complex themes and a racist protagonist played by an actor that audiences had become programmed to root for — “The Duke” himself, John Wayne. The role became career-defining for Wayne — not that he needed it –— because of the depth of the film. It begs the question: How much of an impact would “The Searchers” have had without “The Duke” involved? We almost found out.
The legacy of The Searchers

Jeffrey Hunter John Wayne sitting on horse

The legacy of “The Searchers” is that it is a social problem film as much as it is a Western, exploring the inherent racism of Western heroes. The film turns a mirror towards its own stubborn, racist characters, mostly though Ethan Edwards, played by Wayne. Edwards is an explicitly racist former Confederate soldier, motivated by killing Comanches while searching for his kidnapped niece. When he learns she is living among the Comanche, he threatens to kill her, justifying it with, “Livin’ with Comanches ain’t being alive.”
Ford presents a version of John Wayne that challenges masculinity rather than defines it. The typically strong, stoic hero portrayed by Wayne instead slips into a baneful, obsessive hunter intent on killing not only his enemy but his own kin. Ethan Edwards’ hatred for “the other” is greater than the love of his family, something even the staunchest Wayne fan surely struggles with.

The impact of “The Searchers” has permeated throughout Hollywood masculinity. It inspired a new wave of adult-themed Westerns that would continue to challenge social conventions, including Ford’s own 1962 film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” The narrative of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” heavily echoes “The Searchers.” And Edwards’ redeeming line, “Let’s go home, Debbie” precedes Rocky Balboa’s “If I can change, and you can change, we all can change!” plea for foreign relations harmony in “Rocky IV” by nearly thirty years.
It’s hard to believe that John Wayne’s portrayal of Ethan Edwards, called by Martin Scorsese in THR as “the greatest performance of a great American actor,” almost didn’t happen.
Wayne almost wasn’t in the film
John Wayne holding Natalie Wood
On the film’s 60th anniversary, Newsweek revealed that John Wayne almost wasn’t in “The Searchers.” After being cast in the film he was offered the starring role in the Western “Seven Men from Now.” Because Ford and Wayne had such a close relationship — the two collaborated on more than a dozen films — Ford gave Wayne the chance to back out of “The Searchers.” Wayne kept his obligation and turned down the other film.
Randolph Scott was ultimately cast as the lead in “Seven Men from Now” and though the film opened to positive reviews, Newsweek points out, “It doesn’t come close to the legendary stats of ‘The Searchers.’”
Film critic Roger Ebert described Ethan Edwards as one of the most compelling character Ford and Wayne ever created. Ebert writes:
Did they know how vile Ethan’s attitudes were? I would argue that they did, because Wayne was in his personal life notably free of racial prejudice, and because Ford made films with more sympathetic views of Indians … I think it took a certain amount of courage to cast Wayne as a character whose heroism was tainted. Ethan’s redemption is intended to be shown in that dramatic shot of reunion with Debbie, where he takes her in his broad hands, lifts her up to the sky, drops her down into his arms, and says, ‘Let’s go home, Debbie.’”The film made such an impact that the American Film Institute ranks it as the 12th ranked film of all time and it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. And we got the performance of a lifetime out of John Wayne because he stuck to his guns and stayed loyal to a friend like only “The Duke” could do.

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John Wayne and His Sons Allegedly Got Cancer From ‘Nuclear Fallout’ Movie Set – My Blog

Actor John Wayne and two of his sons allegedly got cancer while on the set of his film The Conqueror. He died as a result of stomach cancer at the age of 72 on June 11, 1979. However, “nuclear fallout” on The Conqueror had a huge impact on the Wayne family, as well as other folks in the area.

John Wayne plays Temujin in ‘The Conqueror’
The Conqueror follows Temujin (Wayne), who is a mighty Mongol warrior. He would later be called Genghis Khan. Temujin falls in love with Bortai (Susan Hayward), the daughter of the Tatar’s leader. He kidnaps her and as a result, brings war upon the lands. This story explores the adventure of Genghis Khan.
The critical reception of The Conqueror remains highly negative. The film earned $9 million on a $6 million budget, but critics and audiences continue to slam the movie. There aren’t enough critic scores to account for a final score on Rotten Tomatoes, but the adventure film is currently sitting at 11% with audiences. The film is a laughing stock, primarily due to Wayne’s casting.

John Wayne and his sons, Patrick and Michael, allegedly got cancer from ‘nuclear fallout’ on the set of ‘The Conqueror’

The Guardian explores the devastating story of Wayne on the set of The Conqueror. The film was shot in the Utah desert in 1954. The government detonated atomic bombs at their test site, but that location was more than 100 miles away. The officials said that their filming area would be “completely safe.”
Wayne had a Geiger counter, which is an instrument that has the ability to detect radiation. Images from the set display him holding the black metal box along with his two teenage sons, Patrick and Michael. However, the area certainly wasn’t safe, as the Geiger counter had indicated.
The box crackled so loudly, Wayne initially thought that it was broken. He moved it to another area of the desert along other rocks, where it continued to make the same sounds. However, Wayne simply went along with his duties on the set.
Hollywood remembers The Conqueror by this story, which allegedly killed Wayne, Hayward, director Dick Powell, among many others on the set. Wayne’s sons battled and survived their cancer scares.
The Conqueror went on to be called an “RKO Radioactive Picture.”
The ‘downwinders’ said ‘my government lied to me’

The Guardian interviewed Rebecca Barlow, a nurse practitioner at the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program (RESEP) half a century later. She works in the surrounding area.
“More than 60% of this year’s patients are new,” Barlow said. “Mostly breast and thyroid, also some leukaemia, colon, lung.”
The fallout impacted tens of thousands of people, who are now called “downwinders.” Outspoken advocate Michelle Thomas openly spoke about how it affected the community.
“It’s gone into our DNA,” Thomas said. “I’ve lost count of the friends I’ve buried. I’m not patriotic. My government lied to me.”

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John Wayne Hated the Idea of a Movie Rating System – My Blog

John Wayne had a very specific idea when it comes to the movie industry. However, he saw how film executives changed what they were looking for over the course of his career. Wayne didn’t like the idea of having a movie rating system, such as the Motion Picture Association (MPA). He had a very specific message for the organization’s head.

John Wayne personifies the Western movie genre
Wayne first entered the movie business thanks to director Raoul Walsh. However, he credited John Ford with truly amplifying his name and providing him with the opportunity to have the legendary career that he had. Wayne bet on his performance in The Big Trail, which ultimately failed at the box office. However, he would later persevere.
Movie titles such as True Grit, The Shootist, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance continue to immortalize Wayne as the personification of the Western film genre. However, he believed in specific archetypes of heroes and villains, which fit perfectly into his performance style. As a result, he had a strong understanding of what fans wanted.

John Wayne hated the idea of a movie rating system

Roger Ebert interviewed Wayne in 1969 and talked about the legendary actor’s perception of the movie rating system. He certainly didn’t approve of many film industry changes, including allowing for more mature films to enter the spotlight.
“But I’m telling you, goddam it, everything’s mixed up now,” Wayne said. “I got a letter from that fellow who runs the Motion Picture Association. Jack Valenti. He wanted my opinion on the new rating system. I didn’t even answer because – well, my answer would be there shouldn’t be any need for such a thing in our industry.”
Wayne continued: “The idea of the movies is to provide the most inexpensive and accessible entertainment in the world. Well, we’ve gradually talked ourselves out of being the most economical. And now the thing that will finally stop the movies from being an American habit is that parents have to guard their children against pornography. It’s like when strippers took over burlesque.”
Wayne wasn’t afraid to speak out against what he thought was wrong with the movie industry. He specifically talked about what “real motion picture people” should uphold.
“All the real motion picture people have always made family pictures,” Wayne said. “But the downbeats and the so-called intelligentsia got in when the government stupidly split up the production companies and the theaters. The old giants–Mayer, Thalberg, even Harry Cohn, despite the fact that personally, I couldn’t stand him – were good for this industry.”
The actor thinks movies are only getting ‘dirtier’ to make money

Wayne made it known that he didn’t appreciate the movie money-making strategies of more modern times. He saw the value in making family entertainment for audiences around the country, rather than making a quick buck in appealing to viewer curiosity.
“Now the goddamned stock manipulators have taken over,” Wayne said to Roger Ebert. “They don’t know a goddamned thing about making movies. They make something dirty, and it makes money, and they say, ‘Jesus, let’s make one a little dirtier, maybe it’ll make more money.’ And now even the bankers are getting their noses into it.”

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