HomeEntertainmentArnold Schwarzenegger Was the Top Choice for This Western That Never Happened

Arnold Schwarzenegger Was the Top Choice for This Western That Never Happened

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images)

To say that bodybuilder turned businessman turned actor turned politician…turned actor again, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has had a spectacular life would be an understatement. With iconic films such as The Terminator and Total Recall as well as impressive titles such as “30-year-old millionaire” and “Governor of California,” under his belt, he’s done just about everything a human can do in this life. One thing he’ll never do, however, is play a cowboy in the fantastical Western imagined by Budd Boetticher – because the film was never made.

That’s not to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger has never been in a Western. In 1979, he played the cowboy Handsome Stranger in the comedy Western The Villain. The movie wasn’t exactly an instant classic, but it does exist, should you ever want to see Schwarzenegger in cowboy garb.

The Western that never was, A Horse for Mr. Barnum, sounds a bit more promising. Though we can never see it, we have an idea of what it might have looked like. Because, luckily for us, Tron star Bruce Boxleitner was there in the early stages of the film and explained it in detail.

Now, at this point, you’re probably thinking, “Mr. Barnum? The circus guy?” Yes. That one. Prepare yourself, because the non-existent movie is a wild ride.

The Story of the Arnold Schwarzenegger Western ‘A Horse for Mr. Barnum’

“It’s the story of three cowboys,” Boxleitner explains. “And P.T. Barnum hires them to go over to Spain and bring back these Andalusian Stallions. It was originally written for [John] Wayne and [James] Stewart or [Henry] Fonda.”

The director of A Horse for Mr. Barnum was Budd Boetticher, a Western aficionado handpicked by Clint Eastwood. And though Boetticher couldn’t make the film happen with the cast he wanted, he didn’t give up.

Bruce Boxleitner says that Boetticher simply turned his sights on a new line-up. “Robert Mitchum was cast as Barnum, James Coburn as the older cowboy. Budd suggested me to be the middle cowboy, and James Marshall to do the younger one.”

Sadly, the new set of actors didn’t work out either, as James Coburn developed severe arthritis. With the loss of Coburn, Warner Brothers began looking for another lead. But Boxleitner says that didn’t work for the selective director. “Warner Brothers is going, ‘What about Arnold Schwarzenegger?’ Budd had a very stubborn streak: it had to be Budd’s way or nobody’s way.”

After Budd Boetticher said no to casting Arnold Schwarzenegger, the film finally fell through completely. That was the end of Barnum, Boxleitner says with regret. “But I can say I was cast in Budd Boetticher’s last western that never got done.”

A Horse for Mr. Barnum sounds like it could’ve been a hit. Unfortunately, however, due to stubborn directors and unforeseen circumstances, we’ll never know for sure. That said, if Budd Boetticher watched The Villain, we understand his hesitation to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Western for a second time.