John Wayne and ‘Bonanza’ Star Dan Blocker Were Wanted By Stanley Kubrick for Iconic ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Role

by Madison Miller

When famous director Stanley Kubrick (“Lolita,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Room 237”) set out to make “Dr. Strangelove,” he had a very specific vision in mind. A part of his vision involved possibly getting John Wayne or Dan Blocker in his iconic comedy movie.

The 1964 film satirizes the Cold War and focuses on a conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Kubrick directed, produced, and co-wrote the movie. He eventually chose Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, and Slim Pickens for the film.

Now, it’s considered one of the best comedy films ever made. In fact, it was one of the first 25 films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

“Dr. Strangelove” ended up being Slim Pickens’s most popular role in the film industry. He was originally a rodeo performer before moving on to acting and appearing in dozens of movies and TV shows. While Kubrick picked Pickens, he also had several other Western stars galloping through his imagination to play Major T.J. “King” Kong, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber’s commander and pilot.

John Wayne and Dan Blocker ‘Dr. Strangelove’

According to Mental Floss, Kubrick had his eyes on John Wayne for the role. At the time, John Wayne was in the midst of his highly influential acting and directing career. In 1963, he was in “How the West Was Won,” “Donovan’s Reef,” and “McLintock!.” In 1964, he was in Melville Shavelson’s “Cast a Giant Shadow.” Wayne ended up completely ignoring Kubrick’s messages about “Dr. Strangelove.”

Meanwhile, Kubrick was also trying to recruit Dan Blocker for the role. Blocker was known for his role as Hoss Cartwright on “Bonanza.” It’s unclear if the offer even made it to Blocker. His agent turned it down for him. He sent a telegraph that read, “Thanks a lot, but the material is too pinko for Dan. Or anyone else we know for that matter.”  

The year before “Dr. Strangelove” Blocker had starred with Frank Sinatra in the comedy “Come Blow Your Horn.” He also received partial ownership of Bonanza Steakhouse restaurants that year. He played his role on “Bonanza” until 1972. He passed away suddenly that year.

John Wayne and Dan Blocker turned down quite the influential movie. However, both still had plenty going on in their careers.

John Wayne has a subtle shoutout in another one of Stabley Kubrick’s movies. “Full Metal Jacket” has the line, “Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?” It’s a nod toward the kind of character and persona Wayne now represents in Hollywood and popular culture.

He is the blueprint for the “macho cowboy” character.