There was a time in the long, illustrious career of the late James Caan that he actually shared screen time with John Wayne. When did this happen? Back in 1966 and it was in the movie El Dorado, which also starred Wayne’s good friend Robert Mitchum. Caan, who died recently at 82 years old, was a guest on Late Show with David Letterman back in 1997.
After some good-natured back-and-forth between them, Letterman wants to know about the first big star Caan appeared in a movie with for his career. None other than The Duke, friend. Caan breaks down working on a scene. He’s talking about being with Wayne, Mitchum, and movie director Howard Hawks.
Caan recalls being in Old Tuscon, an old Western town where movies would be filmed. “And Hawks comes up and says, ‘Now look, kid, when you say that line, here’s what’s gonna happen,'” Caan tells Letterman. “‘Duke, you go down the middle of the road, right down the center ’cause we’re going to surround this bar. Mitchum, you go around that way. And kid, you go around.’ I said, ‘Alright coach,’ because that’s what we called him.”
James Caan Would Recall How John Wayne Wanted Him To Give The Duke ‘That Look’
Letterman has some good-natured fun with James Caan before he continues the story. “So now, he has to walk back 50 yards to the camera,” Caan said of Hawks. “As he’s walking back, Duke looks at me and goes, ‘Now look-it kid.’ He says, ‘When you say that there line, I want you to turn around and give me that look you give me.'” Caan adds that he doesn’t know what “look” Wayne is talking about. But Mitchum, according to Caan, would remind him how much Caan was laughing at Wayne all the time.
As the story goes on, James Caan regales Letterman and the audience about the back-and-forth between him, Hawks, and Wayne. Ultimately, after hearing The Duke tell him about giving him “that look” too much, Caan was about to take a swing at Wayne. Mitchum caught up with him and let the young actor know that’s not a good idea. In the end, though, Caan did say that he and Wayne would become good friends. By the way, Caan’s character in El Dorado was named Mississippi.
Obviously, there are more film roles in the pile of Caan classics. One of them that always deserves mentioning is The Godfather where he played Sonny Corleone opposite Marlon Brando. He had a memorable turn on the TV in the movie Brian’s Song along with Billy Dee Williams. Modern-day movie fans will remember Caan from his role in Elf starring Will Farrell.