Connect with us

John Wayne

True Grit’s TV Rights Sparked A Legal Battle With John Wayne

Just how much is an Academy Award worth? That’s exactly what John Wayne wanted to know after he starred in the 1969 film “True Grit.” In the Western, based on the Charles Portis novel of the same name, a drunken, grizzled, one-eyed U.S. Marshal (Wayne) teams with a Texas Ranger (Glen Campbell) and a teenage girl (Kim Darby) to track down the killer of the girl’s father.

“True Grit” is not only a throwback to director Henry Hathaway’s older Westerns, but it’s a drama that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The movie gave audiences a respite from the gritty realism and counter-culture movement happening in U.S. cinema in the late 1960s. After the movie’s release there was talk that Wayne might win his first Academy Award for Best Actor. Even Roger Ebert, admittedly not the biggest fan of The Duke, praised his performance in the film.

“Wayne towers over this special movie. He brings an ease and authority to the character. He never reaches. He never falters. It’s all there, a quiet confidence that grows out of 40 years of acting.”Despite Wayne’s Oscar buzz and the critical success of “True Grit,” Paramount Pictures was in a hurry to sell the film’s television rights. It prompted a battle that played out in the courtroom, far from the Colorado plains of the western drama.

Paramount sold the TV rights while it was still in theaters

John Wayne in True Grit

“True Grit” was released in theaters on June 11, 1969 to immediate critical acclaim. The New York Times called it “a marvelously rambling frontier fable packed with extraordinary incidents, amazing encounters, noble characters and virtuous rewards.” The film also features what Wayne considered the best scene he ever shot.

The western was also a commercial success, and Paramount Pictures wasted no time in trying to capitalize on the momentum. In September of 1969, while the film was still in theaters, Paramount sold the television rights to “True Grit” along with 24 other films to ABC in a $15 million package.

In the book “John Wayne: The Life and Legend,” author Scott Eyman explains why Wayne and fellow film producers took umbrage with the Paramount sale. It all centered around the value in the potential Oscar win for Wayne. Eyman notes a letter from film producer Joseph Hazen to Paramount on behalf of Wayne and co-producer Hal Wallis. In his letter, Hazen pleads:

“There is nothing to be gained by making a sale of ‘True Grit’ now. As 66% owners of the profits from the network telecast of ‘Grit,’ it is our deep conviction and strong feeling that Paramount should neither offer nor sell ‘True Grit’ to the networks at this time, and that it should definitely and positively await the results of the Academy Awards before it offers the picture for network showing.”Paramount ignored their request and sold the rights anyway, prompting Wayne and the producers to sue the studio. If you know anything about classic westerns, you know to never bet against The Duke, and the same applied in the courtroom.

In April of 1970, Wayne won his first Oscar for Best Actor. It was enough ammunition for The Duke to take down the big, bad studio. The court agreed that Wayne’s Academy Award made “True Grit” much more valuable and Wayne’s group received a settlement from Paramount for more money.

John Wayne smiling Glen Campbell True Grit

It was John Wayne’s only OscarJohn Wayne is one of the most iconic and well-known names from the classical Hollywood era. So it makes sense that Wayne might have been a bit more sensitive to the issue given that the impending Academy Award would be his one and only Oscar.

In 1949, he earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Sgt. John Stryker in “The Sands of Iwo Jima.” In 1960, Wayne produced, directed, and starred in “The Alamo.” The movie was nominated for Best Picture. However, it was only his role as Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit” that allowed Wayne to bring home some hardware.

It was well-deserved, and some argued overdue, after his snub for “The Searchers.” Wayne’s performance in “True Grit” was praised by Variety:

“It’s mostly Wayne all the way. He towers over everything in the film – actors, script [from Charles Portis’ novel], even the magnificent Colorado mountains. He rides tall in the saddle in this character role of ‘the fat old man.’”Perhaps even more important than the statue, Wayne’s performance in “True Grit” redeemed the actor after his castigated propaganda war film, “The Green Berets.” The movie also created an aging character archetype that would launch the second half of his career. “It was a role he would play, with some variations, for the rest of his life,” Eyman writes in his book. “Not a culture warrior, but an old man dredging up enough strength for one last hurrah.”

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.

Continue Reading

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.”

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading