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John Wayne

John Wayne’s Stagecoach Stunts Sparked A Battle With The Studio

It’s rare to see John Wayne back down in a standoff, but that’s exactly what happened when shooting one of his most revered films. By 1939, Wayne was no stranger to Westerns, though he wasn’t yet a household name. Wayne had already appeared in a string of uncredited roles in films by the legendary director John Ford in the late ’20s. So, when Ford made his triumphant return to the Western genre with “Stagecoach” he tapped Wayne for the lead character, Ringo Kid.
Casting Wayne was the first of a lengthy series of battles with United Artists. The studio wanted a big name for the film, but Ford had a feeling about the charismatic 32 year old and insisted on him for the role. Ford introduces viewers to Wayne in dramatic fashion, with a zoom-in on a rifle-wielding Ringo Kid in front of a gorgeous landscape of Monument Valley plateaus (where many of Ford’s Westerns were shot). When Marshall Curley says, “Hello, Kid” to Ringo, he might as well have been speaking collectively for U.S. film audiences. We called it Wayne’s best movie moment ever.
The fight to secure Wayne for the role of Ringo Kid wasn’t the last for Ford or Wayne in the production of “Stagecoach.” Behind the scenes, a standoff between Wayne and the studio took place that rivaled a climax from one of his films. Only this time, The Duke didn’t come out on top.
Wayne was doing nearly all of the stunts

United ArtistsAlthough not considered a single-location film (movies with narratives that take place entirely in one location), much of “Stagecoach” takes place inside the cramped confines of the titular horse-drawn carriage. It’s there that Ford introduces us to a collection of flawed characters traveling from Arizona to New Mexico. To get there, they must pass through what was labeled dangerous Apache country (in an unfortunate but common classical Hollywood stereotype of Native Americans as bloodthirsty savages).
The stagecoach group includes a prostitute, a drunken doctor, a crooked banker, and a whiskey salesman. Along the way, they pick up Ringo Kid, who recently escaped from prison to avenge the murder of his father and brother. When they lose their cavalry escort, Ringo leads the group to their destination and exacts revenge against the men that killed his family. That’s where the typical Western shootouts and action sequences ensue.
In the John Wayne biography “Shooting Star,” author Maurice Zolotow explains that a battle raged behind the scenes over Wayne’s stunt work in the film. Zolotow writes:
“Ford permitted Wayne to do many of his own stunts, though he took the risk of Wayne breaking a leg and holding up production. He did it against the opposition of [United Artists producer Walter] Wanger because he knew it would give Duke a better sense of reality, though he insisted on [stuntman Yakima] Canutt doing the most hazardous stunts.”
But Wanger pushed back, setting up a real-life standoff that was befitting of a dusty Old West thoroughfare.
‘I’m not an actor … I’m a stuntman’
United Artists“Stagecoach” could be considered as much a drama as it is a traditional Western. Even so, there was plenty of action to keep Wayne and stunt coordinator Yakima Canutt busy. But the sight of their budding star jumping onto roofs made United Artists nervous. According to Zolotow:
“Visiting the set one morning, out in Monument Valley, producer [Walter] Wanger was shocked to see Duke playing a scene in which he leaped out of the stagecoach and climbed on the roof. ‘Jack,’ he said to the director, ‘I want you to get Wayne to stop stunting. He is too valuable to lose.’”
Ford told Wanger that he’d have to tell Wayne himself. The veteran producer didn’t back down. “Duke, you are going to be an outstanding star. I do not want you to do any more of these stunts,” Wanger told Wayne. “My God, if you broke a leg or an arm it would hold up the picture for weeks.”
The young actor, starring in his biggest film to date, boldly responded to the producer as only The Duke could. “Now, Mr. Wanger, there is no need for you to worry,” Wayne answered, as if in character. “I can handle myself. I been ridin’ horses and stuntin’ for years. I’m not an actor. I don’t act. I react. I’m just a stuntman.”
Despite Wayne’s protest, Wanger persisted. Ford eventually stepped in so they wouldn’t lose production time and convinced Wayne to let his stunt double do most of the work. It was a rare defeat but ultimately a win for The Duke. The film cemented his status as a Western icon and is included on the U.S. Library of Congress National Film Registry for its cultural significance.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Once Explained Why He Turned Down so Many ‘Petty, Mean’ Movies

Actor John Wayne is one of Hollywood’s most iconic figures to ever work in movies. However, he was very specific about the roles he would accept and the ones that he refused to involve himself in. Wayne once explained why he turned down so many potentially big movies that he described as “petty,” “small,” and “mean” through the evolution of Hollywood.

John Wayne played particular movie roles

John Wayne in one of his last movies 'The Shootist' alongside Ron Howard. He's wearing a Western outfit and holding a gun, pointing it out standing next to a stunned Howard.L-R: Ron Howard and John Wayne | Bettmann / Contributor

Wayne has over 180 acting credits to his name, spread across movies and television shows. He became a household name for the Western and war genres, ultimately contributing huge star power to the projects later in his career. However, Wayne also wasn’t afraid to speak up when he didn’t like something about the movies that wanted him involved. This held true for both prospective projects and ones that he already signed on for.
The actor ultimately turned down projects that earned attention at the Academy Awards, including High Noon. However, it wasn’t always because he didn’t like the roles themselves. Rather, Wayne was a patriot, who didn’t want anything to do with movies that he deemed insulting to the American image.

John Wayne explained why he turned down so many ‘petty, mean’ movies at the time

The official Wayne Twitter account shared a behind-the-scenes look at one of his movies, The Shootist. He talked about the state of violence in cinema, but he also touched on how he chose what to star in. The film hit theaters in 1976, so it’s worth taking the time period in mind for what he has to say about “modern” filmmaking.

“The whole idea of our business is illusion and they’re getting away from that,” Wayne said. “They’re putting electric squibs in livers and blowing them up in slow motion and then having blood all over everything. I mean, it’s not that there’s more violence in pictures today. It’s that it’s done with such bad taste that people turn their stomachs, not their emotional insides are affected. It turns their stomach. I just don’t want to play anything petty or small or mean. I don’t mind being rough and tough and cruel, but in a big way, no little petty things.”

The actor believed that cinema should be family-friendly

Wayne had a very firm stance when it came to violence in the movies. The rating board once even reached out to the actor to get his input. However, Wayne didn’t want any part in it because he didn’t think a rating system was necessary. He believed that Hollywood should make motion pictures aimed at the whole family.

Wayne starred in a wide variety of movies that included violence, but they never reached the extremes of what he talked about while filming The Shootist. Today’s filmmaking would certainly give him a shock if he were to see how much some movies push the boundaries and make audiences squirm.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Once Confessed the ‘Stupidest Damn Thing I Ever Did in My Life’ Involving His Romance

Actor John Wayne had three wives over the course of his life. However, the couples would always go through various hardships. Wayne always publicly embraced family life and would combine his image as a father with his tough, Western one. The actor once confided in a friend and told them the “stupidest damn thing” he ever did over the course of his lifetime.

John Wayne married his second wife 3 weeks after his divorce became final

John Wayne and Esperanza Baur, the second wife over the course of his life smiling sitting in a car wearing hats

L-R: John Wayne and Esperanza ‘Chata’ Baur | Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Marc Eliot’s American Titan: Searching for John Wayne touched on personal and professional aspects of the actor’s life. The divorce from his first wife, Josephine, was finalized on December 26, 1945. However, that certainly didn’t stop the actor from jumping into another relationship soon after. Wayne married Esperanza Baur, also called Chata, exactly three weeks after his divorce in the Unity Presbyterian Church of Long Beach, which is where his mother married her second husband, Sidney Preen. Actor Ward Bond was Wayne’s best man.

However, everything in Wayne’s life would change when he returned to Los Angeles after his honeymoon with his new wife. They purchased a new home in Van Nuys, California, and made sure to have a separate room for his mother-in-law. As a result, the newly-married couple started to have some difficulties.

John Wayne said that marrying Chata was the ‘stupidest damn thing I ever did in my life’

American Titan: Searching for John Wayne mentioned that Chata wanted to get a real role in a movie, but Wayne didn’t want her to have the life of a movie star. As a result, he told her that she belonged at home. Chata didn’t take this very well and turned to alcohol, developing an addiction.

Wayne ultimately turned to Bond to complain about Chata and his mother-in-law speaking Spanish and their desire for a bigger home. His new wife and her mother would often sleep in the same bed, forcing the actor to sleep on the couch in the living room.

Eliot wrote that Wayne took pride in his physical appearance and kept it in a specific condition for the camera. His ex-wife also took care of her physical appearance, but Chata refused to remove her facial hair, as she had a bit of a mustache. She also wouldn’t bathe very often and refused to shave her legs, which would make Wayne angry. Their arguments became increasingly frequent, which Wayne told Bond.

“Our marriage was like shaking two volatile chemicals in a jar,” Wayne said, admitting that marrying Chata was “the stupidest damn thing I ever did in my life!”

The actor would marry one final time

Wayne’s life moved on past Chata, as they divorced in 1954. Tragically, she died from a heart attack in 1961. Wayne married one final time to Pilar Pallete in the same year that he divorced Chata. They would ultimately remain married until the actor died in 1979, although they no longer lived together. The couple separated, but it was never legally so.

Meanwhile, Wayne became romantically involved with his former secretary, Pat Stacy, until his death.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Was a ‘Big Prankster’ With James Caan on ‘El Dorado’

Actor James Caan once talked about what it was like working with legendary actor John Wayne on El Dorado. The then-young actor didn’t initially get along with the Western star. However, they would ultimately develop their relationship in unexpected ways, as Wayne turned into a “big prankster” with Caan on the set. It’s a whole other side to the iconic actor that the world didn’t get to see very often.

John Wayne and James Caan co-starred in ‘El Dorado’

'El Dorado' James Caan as Mississippi and John Wayne as Cole Thornton wearing Western outfits surrounded by barrels

L-R: James Caan as Mississippi and John Wayne as Cole Thornton | FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

Wayne and Caan co-starred in Howard Hawks’ 1966 American Western called El Dorado, which was loosely based on Harry Brown’s novel called The Stars in Their Courses. The story begins when a heartless tycoon named Bart Jason (Edward Asner) brings in a group of thugs to claim the MacDonald family’s home right from under them. However, the town’s sheriff is too drunk to lend his aid.

An elder gunfighter named Cole Thorton (Wayne) agrees to lend his aid when he hears about the situation. He makes a trip to El Dorado, but he isn’t alone. Mississippi (Caan) joins to clean up the sheriff in time for the inevitable shootout to come.

John Wayne and James Caan turned into ‘big pranksters’ on the set

The official Wayne Twitter account tweeted an interview with Caan, where he talked about filming El Dorado. However, the situation that unfolded is anything but expected, as the tweet referred to Wayne as a “big prankster.”

“Wayne told me every time, he says, ‘Take a step, turn around.’ So, I do it and Hawks would yell ‘Cut’ and come walking, they’d reset everything, which took a half hour,” Caan recalled. “He’d go, ‘Look, kid, when you say the line, just go.’ ‘All right, coach. I’m sorry.’”

Caan continued: “Now, he walks, he does, as he’s walking back to the camera, he goes, ‘Now, look, kid. Don’t take a whole step. Just take a half a step and then turn around and give me that look you give me.’ I still have no idea what the freaking look is. I think I was smiling, just laughing at him. Action, everything starts up again, I take a half a step, turn around: ‘Cut!’ (Laughs). He comes up, yelling, ‘What’s the matter with you? Can’t you just say the line and go?’ ‘Coach, I’m really sorry. I don’t know what happened. I had a brain fart, something.’”

However, the next interaction would nearly put Wayne and Caan on very bad terms.

“He starts walking back and he goes, ‘Now look, kid,’ and I turn around and [Robert] Mitchum grabbed me, I was going to hit him,” Caan said. “From that day, we were … he knew what he was doing, you know? He was having a good time at my expense.”

The relationship between Wayne and Caan made a sudden turn for the hilarious when they started to play jokes on one another, but it clearly confused Hawks.

“But as a week went by, I’d be off camera and Hawks would be next to me, and Duke would be sitting there. Right in the middle of my scene, I’d go, (mouths) ‘You stink’ and he’d laugh. ‘Oh, what’s the matter there?’ ‘Oh, nothing. Sorry.’ It just became who can screw up who.”

Caan concluded: “Like, one day, you remember those wooden dressing rooms they had? I’d come to lunch, my dressing room’s locked. I go, ‘Excuse me, guys, how come it’s locked? I can’t get in there.’ ‘Well, here’s the key.’ Garbage just came out. He’d just pile it with garbage. He was like a 12-year-old kid.”

‘El Dorado’ became a box office success

John Wayne Wanted to Make His Home Alarm a Hilarious Tape Recording of His Voice: ‘I See You, You Son of a B****’

El Dorado would ultimately prove to be a success for both Wayne and Caan. The film earned critical praise, but the legendary Western actor often gave off the impression that he didn’t care what they had to say. Wayne would prefer for the audience to enjoy what he put up on the silver screen. Luckily, he would be in luck with El Dorado, which was a commercial success.

This particular Western would become one of Wayne’s more iconic genre pieces. Even his final movie, The Shootist would incorporate footage from it.

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