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John Wayne

John Wayne Realized He Made a ‘Terrible Mistake’ Rejecting an Iconic Role That Went to Clint Eastwood

Western actor John Wayne was in for quite the change of scenery when Clint Eastwood stepped onto the scene. They will forever be compared for the type of movies they made and the characters they played within the same genre. However, there was one role that Wayne admitted he made a “terrible mistake” rejecting that ultimately went to Eastwood. That role would make its mark on the world of filmmaking forever.

John Wayne and Clint Eastwood offered differing Western movie star images

John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Wayne is posing in a chair wearing a coat. Eastwood is wearing a suit and tie from 'Dirty Harry'

L-R: John Wayne and Clint Eastwood | Getty Images, Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Understandably, Eastwood looked up to and admired Wayne as a performer, a filmmaker, and a man. However, they certainly represented different eras of Western moviemaking that undeniably set them apart. Wayne revolutionized “fighting dirty” on the silver screen, but he always played his characters with a sense of strict masculinity. The actor refused to compromise the signature character that audiences came to expect when paying to see one of his features.

Meanwhile, Eastwood represented a very different type of Western performance than Wayne. He starred in spaghetti Westerns, such as A Fistful of Dollars. The protagonist was an anti-hero with ambiguous morals that provided a totally different type of perspective role for the genre. As a result, the two actors brought very contrasting characters to the silver screen that earned them each a magnitude of fame and success.

John Wayne turned down playing Harry Callahan in ‘Dirty Harry,’ which Clint Eastwood accepted

Carolyn McGivern’s book, John Wayne: A Giant Shadow, revealed some of the roles that Wayne turned down over the years. He always stuck to his guns and refused to play characters that went against his moral compass. However, there were some roles that slipped out of his grasp that he regretted passing up.

Wayne wanted to steer clear of the Western genre and had the opportunity to play Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry. The plot follows a cop who isn’t afraid to break the rules to bring justice to those who cross him. He tracks down a rooftop killer who has a kidnapped girl in his possession. The movie star was working on several other projects that he was committed to and decided to turn this one down.

McGivern wrote that he “regretted” passing on the role and called it a “terrible mistake” in his career. The character was the perfect fit, as it took him away from an old Western setting and placed him in the middle of the city. The movie star asked himself, “How did I ever let that one slip through my fingers?”

Wayne ultimately lost out on Dirty Harry when Eastwood accepted it, achieving further fame and fortune as a result. Additionally, the film generated a positive $18 million profit.

They never worked together on a film

Wayne had negative feelings toward Eastwood regarding the films he made. Nevertheless, their fans have a great amount of crossover. A film starring both Western actors certainly would have brought a lot of audiences to the cinema. Unfortunately, it never came to be. Eastwood tried to pitch The Hostiles to the movie star, but he rejected it more than once.

Wayne sent a letter to Eastwood, specifically complaining about High Plains Drifter. He hated the way that the actor and the film depicted the Old West, refusing to associate himself with the actor. Nevertheless, they both still remain the biggest names tied to the Western film genre.

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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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