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John Wayne

John Wayne ‘exploded in rage’ when caught using oxygen mask on set with Dean Martin

Back in September 1964, John Wayne was set to re-team with Rio Bravo director Howard Hawks and co-star Dean Martin in The Sons of Katie Elder, which is on ITV4 today. The Western saw four brothers, with Duke playing the eldest, return home to their mother’s funeral before avenging their father’s murder and winning back the family ranch. However, the shoot was delayed until January 1965 so that the Hollywood cowboy star could have a cancerous lung and two ribs removed. Following Wayne’s diagnosis at 57-years-old, he recommended Kirk Douglas play his role, but director Henry Hathaway was insistent that Duke should do the part. Despite a successful operation, the Hollywood legend would suffer with ill health for the rest of his life. Yet just four months after surgery, he still insisted on doing some of his own stunts on the new movie to show the public that he wasn’t slowing down.
One stunt included being dragged into a river and almost catching pneumonia, but narrowly getting away with a serious cold. In fact, if you watch that scene you can hear a child crying out “Come on Dad!” This was Wayne’s three-year-old son Ethan who was watching off-camera and knew his father wasn’t in the best of shape.

Duke shot this without a wet suit as he was already too fat for the role, something the crew were working overtime to hide. The scene took five days to film and after one particularly freezing take, the star took some vitamin C tablets, washed down with mescal. Spotting he’d been observed by reporters, he shook off the hit of the drink, smiled and said to them: “Goddamn! I’m the stuff men are made of!” His The Sons of Katie Elder co-star Dean Martin was really struck by his co-star’s tenacity.

wayne and martin


John Wayne ‘exploded in rage’ when caught using oxygen mask on set with Dean Martin (Image: GETTY)

wayne riding into a river
John Wayne riding into a river (Image: GETTY)Martin told a reporter for Time: “Someone else would have laid around, feeling sorry for himself, for a year. But Duke, he just doesn’t know how to be sick. He’s recuperating the hard way. He’s two loud-speaking guys in one. Me, when people see me, they sometimes say, ‘Oh, there goes Perry Como.’ But there’s only one John Wayne, and nobody makes any mistakes about that”.
Hathaway made sure to reshoot scenes that had too much of Wayne’s gut on display, while his makeup man kept on top of things. This included redoing the star’s eyes, continuing to smear Nivea cream over his double chin and styling his hairpiece. Additionally, Duke’s trainer Ralph Volkie would rub the star’s aching muscles with Absorbine Jr pain relief which made the set smell. Nevertheless, it all paid off and the director’s wish for America to see John Wayne as they had known him worked a treat.
However, during filming Duke had to rely on an oxygen tank on set, which was particularly needed since their filming location of Durango, Mexico was 6000 ft above sea level. At one point he “exploded in rage” after a photograph of him using it was taken by Gene Sysco from The Globe.

the film's stars on horses
The stars of The Sons of Katie Elder (Image: GETTY)

The Sons of Katie Elder poster
The Sons of Katie Elder poster (Image: GETTY)According to Randy Roberts’ John Wayne: American, the star threw a can at the photographer and screamed: “You goddamned son of a b****! Give me that f***ing film!” Sysco handed it over to Duke on the now deathly silent set, which made the star realise how much he’d overreacted and that he needed to apologise.
A few hours later in the motel dining room, Wayne walked over to the photographer’s table and said publicly: “I’m a grown man. I ought to be able to control myself better than I did today. I’m sorry.” However, the film remained with him, fearful that his public image would be tainted by seeing his face in an oxygen mask. After all, he felt it was crucial to re-establish his tough persona after such major surgery.
Even though he was reliant on the oxygen tank, actor George Kennedy recalled that although Wayne had stopped smoking cigarettes, he would continue to puff away on cigars despite now only having one lung.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Once Revealed His Favorite Western Scene He Ever Filmed

John Wayne is known as the gritty, rugged cowboy who will go to any length, including putting his own life at risk, to save his town or those he loves. Though his catalog isn’t wall-to-wall action films, the movies for which he’s best known involve shootouts, chasing outlaws on horseback, and plenty of high-stakes stunts.

Surprisingly, however, the scene The Duke calls his best involves neither a galloping steed nor a deadly gun battle. In fact, it breaks from his typically unwavering machismo entirely. Rather than a brave defense of the Alamo or a passionate sequence with a love interest, John Wayne’s favorite scene is a melancholy-filled moment in True Grit (1969).

In the film, a 62-year-old Wayne plays Rooster Cogburn, a one-eyed federal marshal who’s let himself go. The Duke’s favorite scene is a rare one for a John Wayne character. During a stakeout, Cogburn opens up about his failed marriage, his relationship with his son, and his days making ends meet as a bank robber. In that moment, all the stoic roughness melts away and is replaced by a touching wistfulness.

For John Wayne, the break from his typical strapping cowboy persona was welcome. “It’s sure as hell my first decent role in 20 years,” he said of True Grit in an interview with Roger Ebert. “And my first chance to play a character role instead of John Wayne. Ordinarily, they just stand me there and run everybody up against me.”

John Wayne Once Described Creating the Western Genre

The Western genre can’t be discussed without mentioning The Duke. The original cowboys, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, changed the face of cinema forever, shaping Westerns as we know them today. For Wayne, that was something for which he felt an immense amount of pride. Even in 1969, he knew that he had built a legacy that would last forever.

“I’m very conscious that people criticize Hollywood,” Wayne explained to Roger Ebert. “Yet we’ve created a form, the Western, that can be understood in every country. The good guys against the bad guys. No nuances. And the horse is the best vehicle of action in our medium. You take action, a scene, and scenery, and cut them together, and you never miss. Action, scene, scenery.”

“When you think about the Western…ones I’ve made, for example,” he continued. “Stagecoach, Red River, The Searchers, a picture named Hondo had a little depth to it…it’s an American art form. It represents what this country is about.”

“In True Grit, for example, that scene where Rooster shoots the rat. That was a kind of reference to today’s problems. Oh, not that True Grit has a message or anything. But that scene was about less accommodation, and more justice.”

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John Wayne

John Wayne Pushed Through a Severe Injury to Ensure ‘The Train Robbers’ Premiered on Schedule

John Wayne is known around the world as one of the most iconic cowboys of all time. Decades after his death, John Wayne continues to be praised for his nearly 200 unforgettable appearances in film and television. And though his larger-than-life presence, good looks, and husky voice took him far in Hollywood, it was his commitment to his films that led to John Wayne playing such a large role in cinema history.

The Duke began his career in 1926. As time went on, the stoic superstar developed a reputation as a stunt man. Many of his Westerns involved action-heavy scenes, and the technology to make stunt work easier to fake didn’t yet exist. As such, many legendary John Wayne films were extremely physically demanding.

Hiring a stunt man was an option used by many in Hollywood. But The Duke refused. Instead, he insisted on doing his stunts himself. Though this was an admirable step to take, it led to many injuries for Wayne throughout his career.

The audience knew that the hero would win in the end, but reaching victory often involved getting punched, kicked, shot, and stabbed along the way. He was even blown up and crushed by a bulldozer (on separate occasions, of course).

John Wayne Filmed ‘The Train Robbers’ With Broken Ribs

Perhaps the most horrifying injury of John Wayne’s career occurred on the set of the 1973 Western The Train Robbers. In the film, Wayne plays the starring role of Lane, the leader of a group of cowboys hunting down a dastardly train robber.

According to the John Wayne biography entitled Duke by Ronald L. Davis, The Duke broke two ribs mere days before filming began on The Train Robbers. As Wayne was an irreplaceable star, the injury led to a rearranging of the film. Rather than focusing on high-speed chases and deadly battles between cowboys and outlaws, The Train Robbers honed in on dialogue and character building.

That said, it was still a Western, and every Western needs a certain amount of action. For The Duke, it was essential that “the action scenes looked believable”. Wayne was so committed to his scenes that he flat-out refused to work around his injury. “He wasn’t a crybaby,” his wife Pilar Wayne told The LA Times. “He could tolerate pain.”

And tolerate pain, he did. John Wayne pushed through the broken ribs, determined to keep the film as close to the original script as possible. While filming, he was clearly limited with his movements and he appeared somewhat ill on set.

On-screen, however, no one could tell the difference. The Duke still gave a fantastic performance. Three years later, his Hollywood career came to an end, but John Wayne will always be remembered as the tough-as-nails actor he truly was.

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John Wayne

Original Cast of John Wayne’s ‘The Cowboys’ to Celebrate Film’s 50th Anniversary With The Duke’s Family

The career of John Wayne is one of the most revered in all of American filmmaking regardless of genre. Even long after his death, his unmatched contributions to the Western film genre are still a thing of legend.

John Wayne: An American Experience, The Cowboy Channel, Stockyards Heritage, and Hotel Drover have partnered up with the members of the cast of The Cowboys and Wayne’s family. Together, they will host a celebratory festival in honor of the 50th anniversary of the fan-favorite film. The official John Wayne Instagram page announced the event by paying tribute to one of Wayne’s many iconic moments.


“In honor of the 50th Anniversary of The Cowboys, celebrate with members of the original cast & the Wayne family June 24, 25, & 26 in the Fort Worth Stockyards! For a list of events and tickets, head to JohnWayne.com”

The 1972 film is based on the book of the same name by William Dale Jennings. Wayne stars alongside Roscoe Lee Browne, Slim Pickens, Colleen Dewhurst, and Bruce Dern. The Cowboys tells the story of a down on his luck rancher being forced to hire a group of inexperienced cowboys to get his herd to market on time. It’s one of Wayne’s most enduring films with his performance often regarded as one of his best.

The Cowboys Still Holds A Special Place in Hearts of Film Fans

Fans of the film will no doubt be thrilled by the opportunity to hear directly from the people who worked and lived alongside Wayne during the making of the classic film. One member of the cast, A Martinez who played Cimarron, took to his own Instagram account to post a message about his experience shooting The Cowboys for its 50th anniversary.


“It was a thrill and an honor to be a part of this project,” said Martinez in his post. “A haunting, timeless theme, adapted from the novel by William Dale Jennings, brilliantly directed by Rydell. With gorgeous cinematography by Bob Surtees, an indelible score by John Williams –– and a great performance by John Wayne –– the power of #TheCowboys abides.”

The 3-day celebration includes outdoor screenings after sunset on the Livestock Exchange lawn all three nights. Fans will have meet and greet opportunities with 9 members of the cast. Then, A live televised film panel with a studio audience will film at The Cowboy Channel Studio Sunday night. In addition, there will be special installations and reception at John Wayne: An American Experience, a sprawling 10,000 square foot exhibit providing an intimate look at the life of The Duke.

Any fan of John Wayne who can make it to Fort Worth, Texas for this celebration of a beloved piece of Wayne’s filmography should purchase tickets as soon as possible. Relive the memories of this classic film alongside cast members and Wayne’s family with the special event.

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