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John Wayne

John Wayne Fought A Constant Battle Behind The Scenes Of The Shootist

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John Wayne spent nearly 50 years as a working actor in Hollywood, from the no-budget poverty row westerns of the ’30s to ascendant, unprecedented stardom following his role in the 1939 John Ford classic “Stagecoach.” He brought his sometimes-warm, sometimes-hostile persona to a number of film genres, but he’s best associated with the western — after all, he was in many of the all-time greats. 

In his final western, 1976’s “The Shootist,” the nearly 70-year-old Wayne had visibly aged. He certainly couldn’t play characters like “The Ringo Kid” anymore. He couldn’t even play the cranky middle-aged character type he developed through much of the ’50s and ’60s, macho guys like Cole Thornton in Howard Hawks’ “El Dorado.” Even though he insisted on doing his own stunts for 1971’s “Big Jake,” there was a shift in his presence in his final years. “The Shootist” took advantage of that, using the shadow of the John Wayne legend to contrast against the sick, elderly human being, who had begun having heart problems and stomach cancer according to Scott Eyman’s biography “John Wayne: The Life and Legend.”

But there were other issues. “The Shootist” was a far cry from the kind of western Wayne liked to make, or thought he made. Like so many ’70s genre pictures, this would take the mythology of the past and subvert it. Don Siegel, the director, had big ideas for the movie. He and Wayne would not get along.

The legend

“The Shootist” begins with a veritable highlight reel of John Wayne westerns, as the bitter father figure of “Red River” and the beleaguered sheriff of “Rio Bravo.” This montage, full of classic John Wayne shootouts, effectively functions as backstory for the hero of this movie, J.B. Books. More importantly, it places “The Shootist” explicitly in a continuum of John Wayne movies, playing a more subdued take on the character against our memories of him. Neither he nor the filmmakers knew this would be his last western, but the montage makes it feel inevitable.

Coming from Don Siegel, the filmmaker who had revolutionized the “urban vigilante” genre with the “Dirty Harry” series, this movie would be tough, but with enough light and humor to prevent it from being a depressing slog. Wayne had expectations too and liked to craft characters of a similar type. According to Scott Eyman’s biography “John Wayne: The Life and Legend,” the actor liked to play characters who have “a little more good than bad in him.” It’s no wonder he almost walked away from playing Ethan Edwards in “The Searchers.”

For Wayne, J.B. was one such character. He has a tough hide, a violent past, but a tenderness that emerges in unlikely scenarios. When the old shootist, privately sick with cancer, ambles into turn-of-the-century Carson City, Nevada, he’s an easy target. Aspiring gunmen vie for the chance to take on a legend.

Behind the scenes, that would be Don Siegel’s job.

Script changes

According to “Duke: The Life and Times of John Wayne,” his contract gave him final script approval for “The Shootist.”

John Wayne could be demanding and dismissive behind the scenes. His decades in the business gave him experience and authority enough to know how to give the audiences what they wanted. He was protective of his image, evidenced by the control he exerted on 1969’s “True Grit,” which partly led to Mia Farrow’s departure from the movie. 

For “The Shootist,” he wanted changes from Glendon Swarthout’s original novel and the original draft of the screenplay. According to Scott Eyman, Wayne mostly took issue with the climax. The movie’s relaxed pace gives room for Books to ruminate on his life, befriending young adult farmhand Gillom (Ron Howard) and his widowed mother (Lauren Bacall).

Wayne’s image changed the ending

By the movie’s end, his identity has been uncovered and many young gunmen are descending on the town. In the book, he takes out his assailants in a saloon, shooting one of them in the back before getting shot by the bartender. Now fatally wounded, he looks to Gillom to take him out of his misery.

Wayne didn’t like shooting someone in the back, as it would look dishonorable. Nor did he like good guy Gillom performing an execution. Per Eyman, these factors led to him demanding and receiving script rewrites, the better to maintain his image. The movie would not have Books shooting anyone in the back, and Gillom would instead shoot the bartender responsible for Books’ death.

Take after takeBesides taking charge of the narrative direction of the movie, John Wayne also just didn’t like working with Don Siegel. Wayne had worked with some of the all-time American auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford, as well as studio masters like Henry Hathaway. There was a slight generation gap between him and Siegel, best exemplified by the differences in Siegel’s frequent lead actors Clint Eastwood and Wayne. 

As Videomaker puts it, John Ford rarely did more than one take, and he liked the raw emotion and improvised dialogue that could come from it. The legendary director worked with Wayne over a dozen times (and on one uncredited television collaboration), effectively training Wayne on the art of filmmaking. Meanwhile, Siegel had come up in television, learning how to negotiate multiple camera setups to get coverage of a scene, and following the script to the letter.

Per Scott Eyman, Siegel would demand take after take from the ailing Wayne, once even getting into an argument with the actor and his scene partner James Stewart (playing the town doctor). Because Stewart had a hard time hearing his cues, he threw off Wayne’s timing, causing the director to get frustrated.

Wayne flares up“The Shootist” author Glendon Swarthout would be quoted in Scott Eyman’s book as saying that Siegel “had a short man’s complex” and “was a bit of a martinet.” And as future director Ron Howard would recall to Eyman, Wayne had a number of “flare-ups.”

Wayne’s biggest flare-up was not due to any particularly demanding bit of direction from Siegel. It didn’t involve being asked to do more takes than he could manage and it didn’t have much to do with the story. Wayne just couldn’t abide a particular camera setup. According to Howard, while shooting a scene in a barn, Wayne noticed the location of the camera: sitting in a bale of hay, pointed directly upward at him. Besides being an unflattering angle that would capture his nose and jowls, it was an ostentatious angle that drew attention to itself. He silently signaled for the camera operator to move the camera up, and then loudly told him to. Then he growled at Siegel to finally do the scene.

Besides that, Howard claimed they kept it professional until the end of the shoot. “They never kissed and made up, but both of them respected the work.” Wayne might have grumbled and fought for control of the story (as well as the camera angles), but he and Siegel made an excellent film together. The union of director and star was contentious, but ultimately fruitful, as “The Shootist” is a touching elegy to a long-gone version of the Old West.

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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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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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