John Wayne Almost Lost His House Trying to Make This Classic Western

by Josh Lanier

John Wayne never forgot The Alamo. Mostly because it nearly cost him his house, yacht, and cars to finance the film about the famous 13-day siege. That’s because he believed in the project so much that he put nearly everything he owned on the line to get it financed. He even produced, directed, and starred in the film to drum up interest.

Wayne had been wanting to make a movie about the Alamo for years. He hired a screenwriter in 1945 but was never able to get full funding for the project. He fought with the studio, Republic, over funding, but they wouldn’t budge. They were known for B-movies with much smaller budgets than Wayne had wanted. He wanted $3 million to capture the epic nature of the battle, but Republic said no. The book A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory documented Wayne’s struggles getting the movie made.

So Wayne walked, but Republic kept the script and turned it into The Last Command in 1955.

But Wayne was set on recreating the stand-off at the Alamo. Wayne’s daughter Aissa said there was something about getting the movie that made it one of the most personal of his career.

“I think making The Alamo became my father’s own form of combat,” she told historians Randy Roberts and James Olson. “More than an obsession, it was the most intensely personal project in his career.”

John Wayne Sets Out on His Own to Make It

John Wayne decided to produce and direct the movie but not act in it, but was unable to secure funding. So, he stepped in to play Davy Crockett to secure some money from United Artists. They put up $2.5 million, Wayne and fellow producer put up a similar amount, and they also secured several loans and found some benefactors to help fill in the gaps.

It took two years to build the sets, and the budget ballooned. By the end, Wayne’s massive vision for the film cost $12 million. Wayne had to take out a second mortgage on his home and take a loan against his yacht to get the extra money.

And every penny went into the film. The final scene features 7,000 extras, 1,500 horses, and 400 Texan longhorn cattle, according to IMDB.

The film went on to be a big hit, raking in $20 million at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo. It received mixed reviews, but still netted seven Oscar nominations.

But despite it being a modest hit, Wayne didn’t see a dime of the profits. The cost overruns had eaten into his portion of the proceeds. He didn’t see any money from the film until 1970 when he sold the television rights, according to A Line in the Sand.