Official trailer for Big Jake starring John Wayne
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John Wayne, whose 1949 film She Wore a Yellow Ribbon airs on TCM from 6.15pm this Saturday, offered a brutal evaluation of where his Hollywood roles would go as he aged. Wayne, affectionately known as the Duke, was renowned for delivering his honest assessment of situations, often wearing his heart on his sleeve as a result. This was famously seen 50 years ago when he lashed out at Sacheen Littlefeather during the 1973 Oscars when she collected the Best Actor gong on behalf of winner Marlon Brando.
And in one damning comment Wayne, who clinched his own Oscar in 1970 thanks to his role in True Grit, admitted he’d never age as well as Cary Grant, despite his enduring career in Tinsel Town.
Wayne’s concern about his appearance on camera was also part of the reason he began to make the shift from actor to director, a shift which famously helped make the 1960 classic The Alamo.
As well as his concern regarding how he looked, unearthed accounts show he was also incredibly concerned with how the critics and public alike reacted to the content he produced.
The Duke was 53 when The Alamo was released, and according to the 1991 book Alamo Movies, written by Frank T. Thompson, this was one of the driving factors behind his directorial move.
“My problem is that I’m not a handsome man like Cary Grant … who will be handsome at 65,” Wayne said.
“I may be able to do a few more ‘man-woman’ things before it’s too late, but then what?
“I never want to play silly old men chasing young girls, as some of the stars are doing. I have to be a director – I’ve waited all these years to be one. The Alamo will tell what my future is.”
Wayne would go on to direct five films during his career. He continued acting well into his later years, which ended when the Iowa-born star died at 72 in 1979.
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In the years since his death, many famous stars have remarked on their encounters with Wayne, including the double Oscar winner Michael Caine, who found fame during the Sixties through films such as Alfie and Zulu.
Caine, who was born in London and is perhaps best known by younger film fans for his roles in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, recalled his meeting Wayne, and noted how the Duke chatted to him about Alfie.
Alfie was released in 1966 and is often cited as a film that helped Britain rejuvenate its reputation as a country of culture. It also saw Caine earn his first Oscar nomination.
And when Wayne saw the Londoner in a hotel, Caine was given some brilliant advice, the star once confessed.
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Wayne told Caine: “You’re gonna be a star, kid. But if you wanna stay one, remember this: Talk low, talk slow and don’t say too much.”
This piece of guidance, Caine once detailed, was the best he had received and helped him on his pathway to Hollywood domination.
The Muppet Christmas Carol legend added: “John Wayne said, ‘Never wear suede shoes,’ pointing at my shoes. I said, ‘Why not?’
“He said, ‘Cause you’re gonna be famous, and you’re gonna be in the toilet taking a piss and the guy next door to you is going to turn and recognise you and piss all over your shoes, kid.’ I gave all my suede shoes away to people who were unknown.”
Wayne was often remembered for offering his blunt take on life, including films. One friend to feel his wrath when it came to acting was Kirk Douglas, the actor often known as the best to never win a competitive Oscar.
Speaking on in a discussion with James Bawden and Ron Miller, on their Conversations with Classic Film Stars, Douglas noted how Wayne was not a huge fan of his film Lust for Life.
The 1956 film, which centred on the life of Vincent van Gogh, was a huge success both commercially and critically, with reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes giving it an 85 percent positive rating. Wayne wasn’t as impressed.
Douglas said: “When I played Van Gogh in Lust for Life, we had a private showing of it, and John Wayne was there. We had a little supper party, and Wayne had a few drinks.
“Afterwards, he motioned to me to go out on the veranda with him, and he berated me! He said, ‘How the hell could you play a goddamn character like that?’
“And I said, ‘What do you mean? I’m an actor. He’s a fascinating character.’ And Wayne said, ‘No, no. We should never play those kinds of weak, snivelling characters. I don’t ever want to see you in a part like that again! They have no dignity!'”
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon airs from 6.15pm on TCM this Saturday.
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