John Wayne Turned Down Role Written for Him in ‘The Gunfighter’: Here’s Why

by Joe Rutland

Hollywood’s fabled studio system probably cost “The Gunfighter” a lead role for John Wayne, who wanted to play in the movie.

Why didn’t “The Duke” go ahead with the part? He couldn’t stand Columbia Pictures President Harry Cohn, whose studio had the movie rights at the time.

Cohn had a reputation for being quite intimidating and for harassing female employees, requesting sex in exchange for work. These included especially actresses under contract to the studio.

All of this and more didn’t sit well with Wayne, so he turned it down. The movie was written with Wayne in mind. Once Columbia bought the film rights, though, he was out. John Wayne wanted to buy the script but that never happened.

Gregory Peck Takes Role Once Desired By John Wayne

Obviously, with Wayne out, the movie needed a new lead actor. The movie, in the meantime, was sold to Twentieth Century Fox.

Gregory Peck was tapped for the lead role and the movie was made in 1950. Peck plays gunfighter Jimmy Ringo, who gets challenged by every young gun in the West.

How does the movie end? Well, Ringo gets shot in the back and dies. Other cast members in “The Gunfighter” included Karl Malden, Ellen Corby, and Helen Westcott.

Wayne Reportedly Draws Upon Movie For ‘The Shootist’

“The Gunfighter” would actually be a movie upon which Wayne reportedly pulled a little bit from for one of his films. “The Shootist,” which would be Wayne’s final movie, appears to have a touch or two of moments that harken back to Peck’s film.

Maybe Wayne still had a heart for that movie part and wanted to get a chance to play it on film.

Speaking of the old studio system, Twentieth Century-Fox chief Darryl F. Zanuck didn’t like the original ending to “The Gunfighter.” In it, Hunt Bromley, who shot and killed Ringo, was arrested by the town marshal. Reportedly, director Henry King and producer Nunnally Johnson rewrote it to satisfy Zanuck.

The movie received an Oscar nomination for Best Motion Picture Story. Still, John Wayne fans probably always will wonder what if he had gotten a chance to play Jimmy Ringo.