John Wayne: Why One of His Famous Co-Stars Refused to Call Him ‘The Duke’

by Jon D. B.

While not one of his more successful films, die-hard John Wayne fans the world over love his Western: The Train Robbers. Yet few know that his beloved co-star couldn’t bear to call him The Duke!

If you’re a Golden-age Hollywood fan, then you know Ann-Margret. Known for her stunning screen presence, the actress is one of the most iconic living legends of our time. Throughout the 60s and 70s, the Swedish-born talent would make many prolific films. Yet only one saw her share the screen with fellow legend John Wayne: The Train Robbers.

Robbers hit in 1973, and despite the combined star power of Wayne and Ann-Margret failed to become a big hit. The Western has garnered a cult following in later decades, however, for this very pairing. And as fans of the Duke know, John Wayne’s nickname – a staple of his life since childhood – was a moniker almost everyone in his life used endearingly. But Ann-Margret simply couldn’t do it.

Was it out of shyness? Or respect? Known as an absolute class act, Ann-Margret, now 80, would’ve never refrained from calling the late Wayne “The Duke” to be disrespectful. So what was her reasoning?

Speaking to Interview Magazine in 2014, the iconic actress cleared the air.

Why Ann-Margret ‘Just Couldn’t’ Call John Wayne ‘The Duke’

“We were shooting in Durango, Mexico and my parents came down to visit me,” she began for the trade. “He was so great with my parents. So absolutely welcoming and gentle with them. And anybody who was great to my parents was on a throne in my eyes.”

It was her very upbringing with her parents in Sweden, though, that kept Ann-Margret from using the nickname:

“When I came to this country, first of all, mother and I didn’t know English,” she continues within. “I would curtsey, then say, ‘Thank you,’ and then when I was leaving, curtsey. For example, we went to Dallas to introduce a film I did with John Wayne. And I never called him Duke. I just couldn’t,” the star clarifies.

“That’s the way I was raised,” she says. “When you meet someone, you say either Mr. or Mrs. or Miss. You stand up.”

Now that’s the best reason we could imagine. Despite The Train Robbers not becoming a Western staple, the chemistry between these two legends is fantastic. This is in no small part due to the wonderful friendship John Wayne and Ann-Margret developed off-screen.

“When I die, I want Ann-Margret to dance on my coffin. If you don’t see me in five minutes, you’ll know I’m dead for sure,” quotes The Duke’s official estate twitter of the icon.

Relive one of their most iconic scenes from The Train Robbers below, and if you haven’t watched this ol’ Western, any John Wayne fan should absolutely give it a spin:

John Wayne Westerns Collection: The Train Robbers – “No Matter What” Clip

Warner Bros.