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John Wayne

John Wayne Almost Walked Away From One Of His Most Beloved Roles

Early Hollywood Westerns, a staple of the classical film era, largely stereotyped Native Americans as bloodthirsty savages. The growing popularity of post-World War II social problem films had the film industry reflecting on its portrayals of minorities, including Native Americans. The man synonymous with the Western introduced a film in 1956 that sent ripples throughout all of Hollywood and reinvented the genre.

John Ford’s 1956 film “The Searchers” looked like a typical western. It pitted “Cowboys vs. Indians” in a familiar landscape, the wide-open desert plains of the Monument Valley area of Arizona and Utah. But its content was vastly different than any Western we’d seen before.

In “The Searchers,” Ford presents complex themes and a racist protagonist played by an actor that audiences had become programmed to root for — “The Duke” himself, John Wayne. The role became career-defining for Wayne — not that he needed it –— because of the depth of the film. It begs the question: How much of an impact would “The Searchers” have had without “The Duke” involved? We almost found out.

The legacy of The Searchers

Jeffrey Hunter John Wayne sitting on horse

The legacy of “The Searchers” is that it is a social problem film as much as it is a Western, exploring the inherent racism of Western heroes. The film turns a mirror towards its own stubborn, racist characters, mostly though Ethan Edwards, played by Wayne. Edwards is an explicitly racist former Confederate soldier, motivated by killing Comanches while searching for his kidnapped niece. When he learns she is living among the Comanche, he threatens to kill her, justifying it with, “Livin’ with Comanches ain’t being alive.”

Ford presents a version of John Wayne that challenges masculinity rather than defines it. The typically strong, stoic hero portrayed by Wayne instead slips into a baneful, obsessive hunter intent on killing not only his enemy but his own kin. Ethan Edwards’ hatred for “the other” is greater than the love of his family, something even the staunchest Wayne fan surely struggles with.

The impact of “The Searchers” has permeated throughout Hollywood masculinity. It inspired a new wave of adult-themed Westerns that would continue to challenge social conventions, including Ford’s own 1962 film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” The narrative of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” heavily echoes “The Searchers.” And Edwards’ redeeming line, “Let’s go home, Debbie” precedes Rocky Balboa’s “If I can change, and you can change, we all can change!” plea for foreign relations harmony in “Rocky IV” by nearly thirty years.

It’s hard to believe that John Wayne’s portrayal of Ethan Edwards, called by Martin Scorsese in THR as “the greatest performance of a great American actor,” almost didn’t happen.

Wayne almost wasn’t in the film

John Wayne holding Natalie Wood

On the film’s 60th anniversary, Newsweek revealed that John Wayne almost wasn’t in “The Searchers.” After being cast in the film he was offered the starring role in the Western “Seven Men from Now.” Because Ford and Wayne had such a close relationship — the two collaborated on more than a dozen films — Ford gave Wayne the chance to back out of “The Searchers.” Wayne kept his obligation and turned down the other film.

Randolph Scott was ultimately cast as the lead in “Seven Men from Now” and though the film opened to positive reviews, Newsweek points out, “It doesn’t come close to the legendary stats of ‘The Searchers.’”

Film critic Roger Ebert described Ethan Edwards as one of the most compelling character Ford and Wayne ever created. Ebert writes:

Did they know how vile Ethan’s attitudes were? I would argue that they did, because Wayne was in his personal life notably free of racial prejudice, and because Ford made films with more sympathetic views of Indians … I think it took a certain amount of courage to cast Wayne as a character whose heroism was tainted. Ethan’s redemption is intended to be shown in that dramatic shot of reunion with Debbie, where he takes her in his broad hands, lifts her up to the sky, drops her down into his arms, and says, ‘Let’s go home, Debbie.’”The film made such an impact that the American Film Institute ranks it as the 12th ranked film of all time and it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. And we got the performance of a lifetime out of John Wayne because he stuck to his guns and stayed loyal to a friend like only “The Duke” could do.

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 UltimateMovieRankings.com, 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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