‘True Grit’ Star Robert Duvall Spoke Highly of John Wayne

by Suzanne Halliburton
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One of Robert Duvall’s early breakout roles was in True Grit. You remember Ned Pepper, don’t you?

Folks ask Duvall about his other work, like his performances in Lonesome Dove, The Godfather or Tender Mercies, which won him an Academy Award.

But Duvall also was brilliant in True Grit. John Wayne’s character Rooster Cogburn didn’t like Ned Pepper one bit. And sometimes The Duke didn’t like Duvall, off-screen, either.

“The director and I didn’t get along — I don’t get along with a lot of directors, but I do OK! ,” Duvall told a Virginia TV station in 2016. “But John Wayne was great working with. He was a good man and a very good natural actor, a lot better than a lot of people gave him credit for.

“He was an institution unto himself,” Duvall said of The Duke. “And that final film he did, The Shootist, it was wonderful what he did. So he was a good guy to work with, absolutely.”

We probably should offer a bit more history. Wayne didn’t like Duvall arguing with the True Grit director Henry Hathaway. He threatened to punch the younger Duvall if he didn’t shut up and do as the director told. Wayne also didn’t like some of the other casting choices, namely Kim Darby.

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Remember That ‘One-Eyed Fat Man’ Scene?

However, there’s at least one famous scene, one famous line from True Grit that everyone remembers decades after the movie first hit the screens. Ned Pepper was an infamous outlaw. He added Tom Chaney, who killed Mattie’s father, to his gang of criminals. Mattie (Kim Darby) went to Fort Smith, Arkansas and hired Cogburn, the aging U.S. Marshal, to capture Chaney. Pepper, along with Chaney and the rest of the thugs, were hanging out in Indian Territory in what is now in Oklahoma, just west of Arkansas.

Now, about that True Grit scene and dialogue. Let’s refresh the memory:

Ned Pepper “What’s your intention? Do you think one on four is a dogfall?”

Rooster Cogburn “I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned. Or see you hanged in Fort Smith at Judge Parker’s convenience. Which’ll it be?”

Ned Pepper : “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”

Rooster Cogburn : “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!”

Pepper ends up killing Cogburn’s horse. But Cogburn wounds Pepper and shoots most of his men. Glen Campbell’s La Boeuf ends up killing Pepper.

The Duke earned an Academy Award for Best Actor for Rooster Cogburn. In his acceptance speech, he told the crowd “Wow. If I’d have known that, I’d have put that patch on 35 years earlier.” Cogburn’s eye patch was very much part of his character, which is my Pepper described him as a “one-eyed fat man.”

Christmas is the perfect time to catch up on John Wayne classics.

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