John Wayne’s Co-Star Chris Mitchum Talks Being Furious Over Getting Told to Get Speech Lessons

by Taylor Cunningham

When Christopher Mitchum decided to star in John Wayne’s Big Jake, he didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

As Mitchum told AWOW in 2018, before he officially won the role of Michael McCandles in John Wayne’s 1971 film Big Jake, two other stars were up for the part. But the Duke and his son Michael Wayne were rooting for Mitchum. So they told him, “whatever they tell you, just say ‘yes.'”

Christopher Mitchum agreed and he followed through with his word.

CBS Westerns was calling the shots at the time. And in the beginning, it agreed that the actor could be a day player. And because the studio liked him, they continued to extend his job.

But about eight weeks in, CBS Westerns told Mitchum that he had a speech impediment. And if he wanted to stick around, he’d have to take speech lessons. The request made the then 28-year-old furious.

“You know what they said to me?” he hilariously remembered telling his wife. “They said I have a peach inspedement!”

But in the end, the lessons ended up serving Chris Mitchum well. Because after working with a very eccentric coach, he was able to star alongside John Wayne for the third time.

“I got the part,” he continued. “And it all worked out.”

John Wayne Helped Christopher Mitchum Land His Role in ‘Rio Lobo’

During the AWOW interview, Christopher Mitchum also shared that John Wayne helped him land his role in Rio Lobo—which in turn, solidified Mitchum’s place in Hollywood.

“That was the film that got me real knowable,” said the actor.

As Mitchum remembered, while was working on the set of Chisum one day, John Wayne was watching the actors. And in between takes, the Duke walked over to have a word.

“He’s looking at me, and after the shot, he comes over, slaps me on the thigh, and says, ‘You know, you should have played Billy the Kid.’ I said, ‘Well, dude, that was kind of my thought when I was put through casting.’”

John Wayne liked Mitchum’s, so he offered to introduce him to the infamous Howard Hawks.

“That’s how I got the part in Rio Lobo,” he continued. “I went up and met with Hawks. It was about an hour [long] meeting. He had me read a while, then totally did a 180 on the character to see if I could take direction. I see why he did that. He totally changes things while you’re shooting. I did the reading again, and he said can you come in on Thursday and screen test.”

When Christopher Mitchum met with Hawks, he was hoping to score a secondary role. But instead, he won the part of Sgt. Tuscarora Phillips.

And the meeting not only led to his big break in the industry, but it also created a long-term working relationship with the director. Christopher Mitchum and Howard Hawks went on to film several films together.