Out of 18 stuntmen who worked on The Alamo, there are only about two who are still living. And one of them is John Wayne’s stunt double, Dean Smith.
In a recent interview with A Word on Westerns, Smith told the story of how he landed a role on The Alamo, and what it was like being a stuntman on the classic picture. He did seven or eight movies with Wayne over the course of his career, but perhaps none was as iconic as The Alamo.
Smith explained that he had been on an Olympic team with Bob Mathias, who was under contract to Wayne. So when Smith came out to Hollywood, a friend got him into the industry and got him into the showbiz unions.
“Once I got in the unions, then I went over to see Duke about… that movie The Alamo,” the stuntman recounted. “So I go over and get acquainted with Bob Morrison and [Wayne’s eldest son] Michael Wayne, and Patrick [Wayne], and all of them, and got on that movie The Alamo.”
Watch Smith recount the story here:
John Wayne Labored for Years on The Alamo
During Wayne’s time, it was unusual for action stars to also direct movies. But Wayne’s contract with Republic Pictures gave him the option to direct his own films under the Republic brand, True West Magazine reports.
For 15 years, Wayne labored with ex-Chicago journalist James Edward Grant on the script for The Alamo. He raised the idea of the film with Republic president Herbert J. Yates in the late 1940s. Yates humored Wayne, but he kept putting the picture off.
Finally Wayne, in frustration, moved on from Republic. But it wasn’t until 1959 that he finally lined up the financing, the locations, the studio, the cast and the cinematographer to make The Alamo.
Wayne actually didn’t want to play Davy Crockett at first. He thought he would play Gen. Sam Houston, a more modest role that would give him more time to direct. But the investors in the film insisted on seeing Wayne in the starring role, so Crockett it was.
Did Wayne Make the Movie to Compensate for Not Serving in WWII?
According to True West, one of Wayne’s wives claimed Wayne felt compelled to make The Alamo because he felt guilty about not having served in World War II. And his daughter seconded that idea in an interview for the book A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory.
“I think making The Alamo became my father’s own form of combat,” she said. “More than an obsession, it was the most intensely personal project in his career.”
The film was commercially successful, but all the same, Wayne had to sell his interest in the movie to United Artists to earn back the amount he’d invested in The Alamo. Wayne would go on to tell people that everyone made money on The Alamo except him.