John Wayne Almost Made a Film About Legendary WWII Officer Bill Donovan

by Chris Haney

During a recent podcast, western icon John Wayne’s son explained that his father almost made a movie that revolved around WWII intelligence officer William “Wild Bill” Donovan.

In Episode 1 of the John Wayne Gritcast, his son Ethan Wayne opened up about his dad’s career. Ethan is the son of the Hollywood actor and his third wife, Pilar Pallette. He also welcomed his half-brother, Patrick Wayne, to the podcast. Patrick is from Wayne’s first marriage to Josephine Alicia Saenz. In addition to the two half-brothers, Ethan welcomed his sister Marisa Wayne to the debut podcast as well.

The three siblings reminisced about their dad throughout the show. They shared amazing insight that only The Duke’s children could provide. Not only did they obviously grow up with John Wayne as their father, but they each acted as well. In fact, Patrick starred in eleven movies alongside his famous father.

In one segment of the podcast, the siblings discussed a film that never got made. John Wayne and director John Ford worked on numerous movies together through the years. A few included Fort Apache, The Quiet Man, Rio Grande and more. The pair wanted to work together once again, and even had a script written for a movie about Bill Donovan – the head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during WWII. His agency would later become the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with Donovan regarded as the founding father.

You can listen to the three siblings briefly talk about the project that wasn’t meant to be on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Fast forward to the 33-minute mark for their “Wild Bill” Donovan conversation on Episode 1 of the John Wayne Gritcast.

John Wayne Turned Down Another Famous Role and Suggested His Own Replacement

John Wayne’s movie about CIA founder William Donovan didn’t come to pass. But with a prolific Hollywood career like Wayne’s, there’s no surprise that there are multiple projects that didn’t pan out. One of the most prominent parts that Wayne turned down is the main character of Marshal Matt Dillon from the classic western TV show Gunsmoke.

Wayne’s busy schedule in the 1950s simply wouldn’t allow him to take on the role. From 1955 to 1975Gunsmoke became one of the most popular shows on television. However, John Wayne was in the middle of a fine run of movies over that 20-year period. Rio BravoThe Alamo, The Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceTrue Grit and many, many more all released while Gunsmoke aired on TV. Therefore The Duke suggested to showrunners that they look at another actor who worked under his wing. Wayne suggested James Arness who once recalled how he got the gig.

“Well, I was under contract to Duke’s company for two years before Gunsmoke came along,” Arness recalled. “I had been in about four pictures for his company with him. When the Gunsmoke offer came in, he said, ‘I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I have a young man here under contract who I think would maybe fit the bill.’ So he very graciously offered to introduce the first episode. And it was great. It was a wonderful thing. He was a one-of-a-kind guy. There just was never anybody else like him.”