James Caan once recalled a hilarious story about his co-star John Wayne while on the set of the 1966 film El Dorado.
While Wayne portrayed the noble elder gunfighter Cole Thorton, Caan plays his loyal friend, Mississippi. Furthermore, the movie was directed by esteemed producer Howard Hawks.
James Caan Reflects on El Dorado
James Caan notes that the first big-name he worked with in Hollywood was John Wayne. Wayne was 33 years older than Caan and already had booming success in the industry, so naturally, James Caan admired the Duke.
“He was great because he could intimidate you,” explains Caan. “He’d stay on you forever, and you’d just crumble. I mean, he’d just try you.”
However, on the set of El Dorado, James Caan recalled getting directions from Howard Hawks, also known as Coach.
“So this one night I remember I was between he and Mitchum and Howard Hawks was about 72 at the time, and we’re outside in this old Tucson. This big old western town and Hawks comes up and says, ‘now look, Kid, when you say that line, here’s what’s going to happen. Duke, you go down the middle of the road right down the center because we are going to surround this bar. Mitchum, you go around that way, and Kid, you go around.’ I said, ‘alright, Coach.’ because that’s what we called him, Coach.'”
“He was coach,” notes Letterman. “John Wayne was Duke, and you’re the Kid.”
After Hawk gave the instructions, he began walking back to the cameras. James Caan, who does a perfect John Wayne impression, reflected on when Wayne tried to offer the then-youngster a few tips.
“So now he has to walk back up 50 yards back to the camera. There’s all kinds of extras, and he’s walking back, and the dude looks at me and goes, ‘now look, Kid.’ He says, ‘when you say that there line, I want you to turn around and give me that look you give me.'”
“Give Me That Look That You Give Me.”
The men begin to laugh hysterically because Jame Caan has no idea what John Wayne is talking about. Regardless, Caan still gave it a try.
“I have no idea what he’s talking about. But the truth is that Mitchum reminded me that I was laughing at him all the time. Every time he talked because you had to. How can you take him seriously? That ‘why did you do it’ look. So he said, ‘give me that look that you give me.’ I said, ‘alright. Alright Duke.'”
At this point, it isn’t Wayne who is mad about Cann’s performance. It is Hawks. However, the Duke still offered his advice. James Caan obliged.
“He gets behind the camera everything starts going, and they go ‘ACTION!’ and I send my one line and I take a step, and I turn around. Coach goes ‘CUT’. Comes running up, and he goes, ‘look, when you take the step. Don’t take the step. I want you to say the line and go. Just go!’ He starts to walk back to the camera, and Wayne goes, ‘now look, Kid. Don’t take a whole step, take a half a step and then turn around and give me that look you give me.’
Well, it turns out, Hawks didn’t like this version either, calling James Caan a moron. John Wayne, however, was silent as a church mouse watching Caan get yelled at for his suggestion. When Hawks walked away once again, Wayne tried to offer more advice. James Caan did not welcome it.
“He goes ‘now look, Kid’ and I went, ‘Hey!’ has Mitchum grab him, and he went ‘Woah. Easy big fella’. I was going to nail him. And then we became great friends, but yeah, I was waiting for him to defend me, and you know.”