When John Wayne and Robert Mitchum met on the set of the 1966 movie El Dorado, a remake of Rio Bravo, they formed a fast friendship. After Rio Bravo and El Dorado, director Howard Hawks set out to make a third film following a heroic protagonist and his efforts to defend his town from nefarious outlaws.
For this film, called Rio Lobo, Hawks envisioned the return of both Wayne and Mitchum. Robert Mitchum, however, declined the role, as he was enjoying his retirement. With Robert off the table, Hawks cast his son, Christopher Mitchum, in the role of Sgt. Tuscarora Phillips.
John Wayne and the younger Mitchum already had a history together, as he and Wayne both appeared in Chisum earlier that year. Their third film together came a year later when the two starred in Big Jake, a 1971 Western adventure. Unfortunately, this marked their last appearance together, as John Wayne didn’t get along with Christopher Mitchum nearly as well as he had with Mitchum’s father.
The Interview That Ended John Wayne and Christopher Mitchum’s Friendship
After Big Jake hit theaters, John Wayne and Christopher Mitchum did a series of interviews together. And it was during one of these interviews that their friendship fell apart entirely.
On a 1972 episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, the subject of politics entered the conversation. Johnny Carson shifted the conversation to environmentalism, a topic on which John Wayne and Christopher Mitchum disagreed in every respect.
John Wayne was a major proponent of business and felt that environmentalism was directly opposed to industrial advancement. Christopher Mitchum, on the other hand, was a fervent environmentalist.
Rather than keep his disagreement to himself, Mitchum openly opposed John Wayne, leading Wayne to cut ties with the younger actor. Mitchum made many attempts to reconcile with John Wayne over the years, but Wayne refused to resume their friendship.
Christopher Mitchum Once Recalled Working With The Duke in ‘Chisum’
Though John Wayne staunchly refused Mitchum’s repeated attempts to rekindle their friendship, Christopher Mitchum maintains a positive opinion of The Duke to this day. In a 2018 interview, Mitchum described what it was like to work with the Western legend on the set of Chisum.
“He was big enough that he would state when he was wrong,” Mitchum recalled. “He also was extremely fair. I remember one time when we were doing Chisum, the prop guy asked the cast to check their guns when they left the set as it was unsafe around Durango and he did not want them to be misplaced.”
Mitchum went on to describe Wayne as “more of a mentor and a father in the business” than his own. “Duke did nothing but give me support,” Mitchum explained. “He took me from a two or three-line role to costarring with him. He basically made my career.”