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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.”

John Wayne

Here Are the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Westerns of All Time

The American Film Institute decided the top 10 Westerns of all time and we’ve got the 411 on the ones that ranked. People have always loved Westerns, and we’ve listed 8 of the most popular according to AFI.

First up, Cat Ballou, the 1965 Western comedy from Elliot Silverstein. It starred Jane Fonda as Cat and Lee Marvin in a dual role as both the man who killed Cat’s father and the gunslinger who helps her get revenge. Narrated through song by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye, what made “Cat Ballou” so special was the female lead, which was rare for a Western.

Next, John Ford’s turning-point 1939 film, Stagecoach. It starred John Wayne and Claire Trevor. The film follows a group of interesting characters as they travel in a stagecoach together, which paved the way for the road trip trope. The passengers have to contend with the Ringo Kid, an outlaw, and the threat of Apache attack as they travel to New Mexico in the 1880s.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Robert Altman’s 1971 film, was a Revisionist Western piece starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. The film follows gambler John McCabe as he upstarts a successful brothel in a Washington town with Constance Miller’s help. The two strike up a romance, but when a mining company offers to buy his property, McCabe refuses.

No list of Westerns would be complete without Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The 1969 film from George Roy Hill starred Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid. The two got into all sorts of trouble, fleeing from the law after train robbing. The pair escape to Bolivia, but find they must fight the urge to commit crimes.

AFI’s Top Ten Westerns: Stagecoaches, Shoot-Outs, and Searchers

Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch comes up next. The 1969 Western starred William Holden, with Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, and Ben Johnson as his gang. The outlaws prepare to go through with a heist, only to find out the whole thing is a setup. The film is full of gratuitous violence and bloody shootouts; sure to satisfy fans of more gory Westerns.

Up next on the list, Red River. This 1948 Howard Hawks film follows John Wayne as Thomas Dunson, who aims to drive his cattle to Missouri for a better price. Montgomery Clift stars as Matt Garth, an orphaned youth whom Thomas takes under his wing. The film was shot on a grand scale, with sweeping landscapes and plenty of cattle. This is a must-watch for those who love big Westerns.

Then, Western star Clint Eastwood took a stab at directing his own with 1992’s Unforgiven. Starring Eastwood and co-starring Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris, the film follows Eastwood’s William Munny as he comes to town to catch a group of bandits. Harris’ English Bob comes to town as well, for the same reason, and the two outlaws clash with the local sheriff.

Additionally, the 1953 film Shane takes the American cowboy and turns him on his head; the cowboy retires to a ranch in Wyoming, but while working there falls in love with the ranch owner’s wife. He realizes that to save the ranch he has to fight the big cattle baron threatening to take the land. There’s something about watching a kid shout “Shane! Come back!” over an echoing, barren wasteland that tugs on the heartstrings.

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John Wayne

John Wayne: Which of the Duke’s Films Made the Most Money?

During his iconic Hollywood career, John Wayne made many popular films. These filmed are remembered for their drama, action, locations, scenes of heroism, and of course, for the Duke himself.

His films were usually Westerns or were about war. Wayne’s was a career that pretty much anyone hoping to make it in the movie business would envy.

Here’s an interesting question: Out of all of those popular movies, which of the Duke’s films was the most successful financially? Let’s find out.

According to, that title goes to the 1962 film, “How the West Was Won.” This film also starred James Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Gregory Peck in this movie about the expansion into the American West. It made $440 million. (The website has adjusted the earnings of each of these films. The figures presented here are the films’ domestic grosses.)

Interestingly, the second most financially successful film of Wayne’s career was also released in 1962. It was “The Longest Day” and made $382 million. This film told stories from D-Day during World War II. The cast also included Fonda, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Eddie Albert, and Richard Beymer.

Bringing in the third-highest gross of the Duke’s career was “Reap the Wild Wind.” It was released in 1942 and made $361 million. It also starred Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland and followed the events that took place after a shipwreck in Key West.

The 1954 film “The High and the Mighty” comes in fourth place on the list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films. It made $347 million. In fifth place is the 1955 film “The Sea Chase.” It also starred Lana Turner and “Gunsmoke” star James Arness.

List of John Wayne’s Most Financially Successful Films Also Includes One That Won Him an Oscar

The top 10 list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films includes some of his most popular, as well as the film that won him an Academy Award.

Rounding out the top 10 highest-grossing John Wayne movies include “The Alamo” from 1960 in sixth place with $300 million. “The Sands of Iwo Jima” from 1949 comes in seventh place with almost $296 million. “Red River,” which was released in 1948 is in eighth place with almost $270 million.

The 1969 film “True Grit” is in ninth place with $262 million. It was his role as Rooster Cogburn that won John Wayne an Academy Award. The movie also starred Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, and Kim Darby.

Rounding out the top 10 was the Duke’s 1959 film “Rio Bravo” with almost $251 million.

Now we know which John Wayne’s movies were his biggest financial successes in the United States. So, which film came in last on that list? This title goes to the 1929 film “Words and Music.” It reportedly grossed $13.6 million.

Interestingly, the list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films worldwide is different from the domestic list shared above. The top five films on this list, from No. 1 to No. 5, are: “How the West Was Won”; “The Alamo”; “The High and the Mighty”; “Rio Bravo”; and “The Sea Chase.”

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John Wayne

John Wayne Turned Down ‘Waco Kid’ Role in 1974’s ‘Blazing Saddles’: Here’s Why

“Blazing Saddles” fans, you almost had John Wayne playing the “Waco Kid” in Mel Brooks’ classic film. But “The Duke” said no.

Mel Brooks, who directed and co-wrote the script for “Blazing Saddles,” was asked about Wayne turning down the role in a 2016 interview with Philly Metro.

“He did,” Brooks said in confirming Wayne turned down the role. “I wanted him to play the Waco Kid, because the Duke was such a good actor. His reality is that he is the cowboy Western.

“We were in the commissary at Warners, I gave him the script and he promised he’d read it overnight,” Brooks said. “The next morning I saw him and he says that he loves it — every beat, every line — but that it’s too blue, that it would disappoint his fans. He said, though, that he would be the first one in line to see it.”

Gene Wilder Takes Over Role In ‘Blazing Saddles’

When Wayne passed on it, Brooks initially looked to actor Gig Young to play the “Waco Kid.” Young, who battled alcoholism, showed up for the first day of filming. It did not go well. He collapsed during his first scene while dealing with withdrawal symptoms.

So, who did Brooks eventually turn to for this role? It just took one phone call to Gene Wilder, who flew out to Los Angeles and started filming.

Brooks and Wilder had worked together on an earlier Brooks film, “The Producers.” Wilder actually turned down another role in the film, that of Hedley Lamarr. Comedian Harvey Korman, who made a name for himself on “The Carol Burnett Show,” eventually was cast in that role.

Cleavon Little Role Originally Set For Richard Pryor

Of course, Cleavon Little plays Sheriff Bart in the movie. It was a role that Brooks wanted to give to Richard Pryor, who was a co-writer of the movie script. Warner Bros., though, was reportedly scared off by his drug arrests.

They wouldn’t insure Pryor for the movie, so the part went to Little. Other cast members include Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, and former National Football League star Alex Karras.

The studio gave Brooks a $2.6 million budget for his 1974 release. As of 2012, “Blazing Saddles” had earned $119.6 million in the United States and Canada combined.

One could say that Warner Bros. earned back what it put out, and then some, from the witty, wild mind of Mel Brooks.

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