John Wayne’s Co-Star Chris Mitchum Talks Working With Duke’s Sons

by Josh Lanier

Chris Mitchum said John Wayne looked 20 feet tall when they worked together on iconic western Big Jake. The actor and screenwriter played The Duke’s son in the movie. John Wayne’s real son Patrick Wayne also played the star’s progeny along with his brother Ethan, who portrayed JW’s grandson in the film.

Several of John Wayne’s seven children followed him into the entertainment business, and he loved working with them. He spent much of his life on a movie set, so it doubled as family time.

Chris Mitchum said The Duke was the father of the western, as well. He realized how much impact Wayne had on the genre when they filmed Big Jake, he told A Word on Westerns. Director George Sherman often looked to Wayne for advice throughout the production and always did “what Duke told him to.”

“I’d see him off discussing the scene. George was about five feet tall. The Duke is, you know, 20 feet tall, so Duke is talking to him like this,” he said, folding his arms and looking down. “Dick Boone kind of summed it up. He said ‘you know, what we have here is a movie starring John Wayne and 14 people playing John Wayne.’ So he had quite a bit of influence.”

John Wayne’s Son on Trouble Filming Classic Western with His Dad

Patrick Wayne started acting alongside his dad at 11 years old. He said it showed him another side of his legendary father. It taught him how to act on camera and behave while off of it.

He also learned that the glitz and glamour of Hollywood stop at the end of the red carpet. Patrick Wayne explained on The Gritcast, his podcast with his brother and sister about their iconic dad, that filmmaking can be a dirty business. For instance, the 1963 John Wayne comedy Western comedy McLintock! is a fun watch though making it was anything but fun, he remembered.

They filmed the movie in Arizona. The weather went from freezing to boiling in a few hours. It made life on set miserable sometimes, Patrick Wayne said. The movie’s most iconic scene was one of the worst to film.

“We were working in Tucson (Arizona) … the temperature was 85 to 100 every day,” Patrick says on the podcast. “So then we had a sequence we had to do called ‘The mudslide.’ And we were going to be four days on the mudslide. The mudslide was out of Tucson quite a ways. So we stayed in Tombstone. The temperature dropped to 40 degrees. I’m not kidding you. They had to put space heaters in the pond at the bottom of this mudslide hill because it was frozen every morning.”

Patrick shared a hotel room with John Wayne. The location was remote, which meant the accommodations were limited. Even at night, they couldn’t escape the weather.

The linoleum floors and bad insulation kept their room nice and cold, and the single thin blanket made sure they felt it.