Mayes :John Wayne’s a great pro. John Wayne never blows a line the other actors will blow lines, but he will stand there patiently
Longtime fans of movie star John Wayne never wanted to see any of his characters face their death. Therefore, the Hollywood machine understood exactly what they wanted out of the Western and war actor. In Harm’s Way screenwriter Wendell Mayes originally wanted to kill off Wayne’s character, but he changed the script to ensure that his character would survive the story.
The 1965 war drama In Harm’s Way was directed by Otto Preminger and written by Mayes. The plot follows Captain Rockwell Torrey (Wayne) and Commander Paul Eddington (Kirk Douglas). They work together to recover from and avenge the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But, Torrey strikes an unexpected romance with nurse Maggie (Patricia Neal).
Meanwhile, the captain tries to build up his relationship with his estranged son, Jeremiah (Brandon De Wilde), a young Naval officer. Even without Wayne’s character facing his death, the film earned mixed reviews from critics. However, audiences saw the film in a much better light.
According to an interview with Focus on Film, Mayes talked about his experience working with Wayne. He had nothing but praise for the movie star and the way he conducted himself on set.
“in a scene in which I know John Wayne is going to play a role, I will say to myself: ‘Well, John Wayne can’t say that line of dialogue,’ so I won’t write it,” Mayes said. “Now in In Harm’s Way, John Wayne was hired after the screenplay was written. It was not written for John Wayne and if I’d been writing it for him, there are certain speeches that I would not have written because I felt he could not read them. As it turned out, John Wayne was able to read the lines and read them very well indeed–so that I think it was a better film because I didn’t know he was going to play the role.”
Mayes continued: “John Wayne’s a great pro. John Wayne never blows a line. He’ll come in letter perfect. The other actors will blow lines, but he will stand there patiently, wait for them to get their lines, say his in his own way.”
Mayes and Preminger initially disagreed on whether or not to allow Wayne’s character to face death on the silver screen.
“I wanted Wayne to die and the son to live, and Otto wanted the son to die and Wayne to live,” Mayes said. “His argument was–you can’t kill John Wayne. So, he won, and perhaps he’s right. You can cut a leg off, or an arm, or an ear, or something, you can maim him for life, but you can’t kill him.”
Death isn’t necessarily unheard of for the characters in Wayne’s career. The Cowboys is perhaps the most popular example of this, where he plays a veteran rancher named Wil Andersen. He must work with a group of schoolboys to embark on a big cattle drive, but they run into a bandit named Long Hair (Bruce Dern). He ultimately kills Andersen in front of the children, who later avenge his death.
Wayne’s characters also died in The Fighting Seabees and Sands of Iwo Jima. Nevertheless, his fans generally didn’t ever want to see him die on the silver screen. Rather, they wanted to see him persevere over his hardships and foes.