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John Wayne

How John Wayne Helped Revolutionize The Art Of On-Screen Fighting

Before John Wayne began making low-budget Westerns in the 1930s, stunt performers were rarely, if ever, acknowledged or given credit for their work. Studios didn’t want to break the illusion to reveal that it wasn’t the main star on-screen performing their own stunts, so the practice became one of Hollywood’s biggest secrets. Looking back on the history of stunts from the era, the British Action Academy noted that, during that time, studios and directors began demanding more dangerous stunts that resulted in a large increase in on-set fatalities.
The marquee star wasn’t in mortal jeopardy and some actors like Harold Lloyd had it written into their contracts that it could never be revealed when a stuntman was utilized. Tom Mix, the first bonafide movie star, always claimed that he was the one who made the famous horse jump across the Beale’s Cut ravine in John Ford’s 1923 short film, “3 Jumps Ahead.” However, Mix biographer Robert S. Birchard, author of “King Cowboy: Tom Mix and the Movies,” insisted that it was actually a stuntman and horse trainer named Earl Simpson.
Up until the era of John Wayne, there was always a clear delineation between actor and stuntman. Once talkies became mainstream, the Western remained popular but the genre was relegated to B-movie status. After the failure of his first starring role in “The Big Trail,” Wayne took an interest in learning more about stunt work, becoming proficient in horse riding and the general cowboying skills needed to look the part on-screen. Over the next decade, Wayne would hone his skills and become fast friends with the legendary stuntmen Yakima Canutt. In the years ahead, Wayne would help usher in an entirely new approach to fight choreography that proved safer for performers and more realistic to audiences.
Acting like a real-life street fighter

Warner Bros.Most of John Wayne’s greatest movie moments involve punching something or someone. The sound of his punch alone echoed throughout movie halls and became a famous signature of his. Since the actors weren’t really punching each other, the sound of the hit would be added later in post and it always seemed like the hero’s punch was always a little louder. Back when the action star began his career, however, the actors really were making contact. “At that time, in pictures, the way they did a fight was, you and your opponent, you hit each other in the shoulders and faked it to look like real,” Wayne said in an interview in author Maurice Zolotow’s biography “Shooting Star.” Wanting the fights to be as realistic as possible, Wayne emulated world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, studying old newsreels of Dempsey training before a bout.
Unfortunately for performers like Yak Canutt, someone who found himself on the other end of those punches on more than one occasion, Wayne’s commitment to authenticity resulted in some real abuse. “I wouldn’t hold back when I felt myself gettin’ all worked up with hatred for a villain,” Wayne recalled. “I wanted to kill the son-of-a-b****. Matter of fact, I guess I liked these fight scenes more than any other stunts we did.”
Canutt went on to perform incredibly dangerous, spectacular stunts in “Stagecoach” and “Zorro’s Fighting Legion,” but he went up against John Wayne’s fists first. Complaints from Canutt and a little ingenuity from director Robert Bradbury (“West of the Divide,” “Westward Ho”) wound up leading to a completely new way to shoot a fight scene, with a technique still used today.
Inventing a new camera trick
United ArtistsInstead of punching the daylights out of his co-stars until they were black and blue, John Wayne described the day when director Robert Bradbury, one of Wayne’s early cohorts and collaborators, had a moment of inspiration. As told in the “Shooting Star” biography:
“[Bradbury] said that he thought if he placed the camera at a certain angle it would look as if my fist was making contact with Yak’s face, though my fist was passing by his face, not even grazing it. We tried it out one day, and when we saw the rushes we saw how good it looked. Bradbury invented this trick, which he called the pass system. Other stuntmen and directors picked up on it, and it became the established way of doing a fight.”
Before this simple but brilliant idea of the pass system was invented, there just wasn’t a lot of thought paid to protecting actors and efforts to make movie sets a little safer were still in early stages of development. Something as basic as changing the angle of the shot immediately lessened the blows performers were taking without compromising a fight scene’s believability. Wayne loved it because he could still pack just as much power into his punches. In the famous fight against Vic McLagen in “The Quiet Man,” Wayne played a retired American prizefighter for the first time. Watching the brawl, it’s clear both actors aren’t holding anything back but, miraculously, they never made physical contact once.
For a heavy like John Wayne who loved a good battle, the new technique was a welcome tool in his arsenal that allowed him to keep punching for years to come, in films such as 1975’s “Brannigan.” “I had plenty of fights on-screen. I’ve been told I’ve done more fighting in pictures than any other star –- and I’ve also had a few fights off the screen.”

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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”

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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John Wayne

This John Wayne Western Almost Starred Elvis Presley

When you hear the names Elvis Presley and John Wayne, the word icon undoubtedly comes to mind. Although they were famous figures in their own right, they had more in common than you might think. For instance, they nearly starred alongside one another in one of Wayne’s many westerns.

As the undisputed King of rock ‘n’ roll, Presley became a worldwide viral sensation for his gyrating hips and rock-n-roll music. Yet, he also dipped his toes into the world of movies.

He had performed in various movies like King Creole and Blue Hawaii in the past. In addition, he had some Western movie experience when he starred in Love Me Tender. According to IMDb, the movie is a Western set during the end of the American Civil War.

Elvis plays the role of Clint Reno, the brother of a Confederate soldier who becomes involved in a train robbery. The movie was released in 1956, just as Elvis became a rising star. As a result, he grabbed the attention of another acting veteran.

Love Me Tender was the hitmaker’s first movie role. Little did he know, John Wayne was watching at home. As a result, Wayne decided he wanted to collaborate with the rising star.

Elvis Presley’s manager decides on True Grit role

Billy Smith, Elvis’ cousin, once answered whether John Wayne asked Presley to star with him in a movie more than once. According to Smith, via his Youtube channel, co-starring alongside Wayne wasn’t Presley’s style, or rather, it wasn’t his manager’s preference.

Billy Smith, Elvis’ cousin, once answered whether John Wayne asked Presley to star with him in a movie more than once. According to Smith, via his Youtube channel, co-starring alongside Wayne wasn’t Presley’s style, or rather, it wasn’t his manager’s preference.

As Smith described, anytime anyone wanted to collab with The King, it was “always carried through Colonel.” Presley was at the height of his fame around this time. According to Smith, “Colonel didn’t want him to play … second star with anybody else.” 

Sadly, Presley would miss out on the role of LeBoeuf. In addition, he wouldn’t get to join forces with one of the genre’s most beloved figures. Glen Campbell would instead take on the part. 

However, maybe the decision happened for a better reason. When the film was released in 1969, it was a critical moment for Presley’s career. In December of 1968, just before True Grit premiered, Presley embarked on his now-legendary “comeback special.” In 1969, he delivered almost 60 performances at the magnificent International Hotel in Las Vegas. 

During this whirlwind of a year, Presley proved the point of his manager: Elvis Presley would play second fiddle to nobody, even John Wayne. 

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