John Wayne Once Explained Why He Rejected ‘Petty’ Films

by Sean Griffin
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John Wayne is an American legend. A leading man of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Wayne is one of the best-known stars of classic American cinema.

The actor’s official Twitter account published an exclusive interview. It was a behind-the-scenes look at his 1976 film The Shootist. It was the star’s final film role before his death. In the clip, he talks about violence in modern cinema and how he approaches choosing what movies to make. However, John Wayne’s takes on “modern” filmmaking may seem outdated by today’s standards nearly fifty years later.

In the clip, the actor starts by turning to an associate and asking a question. He asks, “how do you like the red buttonholes?” referring to the bullet-holes soaked with fake blood on his costume. The man laughs and responds, “Oh, I’d rather have red buttons.”

Then, John Wayne speaks about the changing film industry from the perspective of an icon with decades of filmmaking experience.

“The whole idea of our business is illusion. And they’re getting away from that now. They’re putting electric squibs in livers and blowing them up in slow motion. And having blood all over everything. I mean, it’s not that there’s more violence in pictures today, it’s that it’s done with such bad taste that people turn their stomachs. Their emotional insides are affected. It turns their stomach. I just don’t want to play anything petty, or small, or mean. I don’t mind being rough, or tough, or cruel. But in a big way, no little, petty things.”

John Wayne’s Filming of ‘The Shootist’

John Wayne owned much creative power in the film, from beginning to end. When it was announced the film was being made, Wayne jumped at the opportunity to play the titular character. Wayne reportedly wanted the role because of similarities to character Jimmy Ringo in 1950’s The Gunfighter. He had turned down that role and regretted it.

Since Wayne was aging and encountered health problems on his previous film, he was not initially considered for the role. However, after actors like Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman turned down the spot, Wayne claimed the role.

In Wayne’s contract, he maintained script approval. He made major and minor changes to the script and production.

Wayne also leveraged his stardom to influence casting. Many of his friends and previous costars signed on the film. These included Lauren Bacall, James Stewart, Richard Boone, and John Carradine.

Some claim that Wayne’s heavy involvement with directing and script alterations weren’t always well-received. Apparently, it may have caused lots of friction between Wayne and director Don Siegel. However, Siegel would later refute that claim. He said, “He had plenty of his own ideas … some I liked, which gave me inspirations, and some I didn’t like. But we didn’t fight over any of it. We liked each other and respected each other.”

In another related story, John Wayne once shot down Clark Gable’s hopes of being friends with John Ford.

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