John Wayne’s Co-Star Explained How the Duke Helped Him Land Role in ‘Rio Lobo’

by Allison Hambrick

Actor and frequent collaborator of John Wayne, Chris Mitchum, revealed how the movie icon helped him score a role in Rio Lobo. He describes an interaction with Wayne on the set of Chisum.

“That was the film that got me real knowable,” Mitchum said on A Word on Westerns. “I was like the fourth guy in the back, and I played actually a historical character named Tom O’Folliard. I’m sitting on the horse, and [Wayne] is sitting there with a child watching the scene. 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.’ A kid named Geoff Deuel played the part.”

“[Wayne] said, ‘Well when Howard Hawks is coming down to talk to me about my next film, I’d like to introduce you to him.’ That’s how I got the part in Rio Lobo. 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.”

“I actually went in for the part that Jorge Rivera ended up playing, and they switched the roles,” Mitchum revealed. He would go on to make several films alongside Hawks.

Mitchum Talks Working with John Wayne and Howard Hawks

Additionally, Hawks had a very specific formula to make films a success. He’d certainly know. His films are considered the standard for westerns.

“He made that movie three times,” Mitchum said. “First it was called Rio Bravo. Then he did Rio Lobo, and then he did El Dorado. It’s the same movie. If you watch all three movies, you see five scenes in it that are similar. He told me, he said, ‘You don’t need to advertise film, just get five scenes that people talk about, picture will be a hit. So, in all three movies, there’s one where the guys’ running down the alley [past] the bad guy, breaks into the store and there’s a girl topless.”

He then explains that all three movies featured those three components. Mitchum then added “matter of fact, in Rio Lobo, the girl who was topless in that movie was a young lady by the name of Sherry Lansing, who found another career.”

Interestingly, Lansing stepped behind the camera. The actress later became President of Production for 20 Century Fox in 1980 and served as chairman of Paramount Studios from 1992 to 2004.