John Wayne, Clint Eastwood Almost Starred in a Movie Together But Didn’t: Here’s Why

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Photo credit: John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

One of the greatest western what-ifs almost became a reality. Legendary cowboys John Wayne and Clint Eastwood almost starred in a movie together.

In 1973, Eastwood was fresh off his successful film “High Plains Drifter,” which he starred in and directed. He opted for a script from Larry Cohen called “The Hostiles,” as a vehicle for both himself and Wayne. The script would have united the two as two generations of cowboys. According to the biography “John Wayne: The Life and Legend,” the film would have cast Eastwood and Wayne as rivals.

Eastwood would have played a gambler, who won a 50 percent stake in Wayne’s character’s ranch. The two would spend most of the film at odds with each other. But the duo reluctantly join forces when a group of bandits comes to destroy the ranch. They team up to defend the homestead. The film sounded like a mash-up between both Wayne’s and Eastwood’s styles of movies. There’s the human element that Wayne made a career off of. But the film also incorporated a big bloody finale more at home in one of Eastwood’s gritty westerns.

John Wayne Refuses the Film

So why didn’t the greatest western collaboration ever happen? Audiences can thank Wayne and his penchant for being selective with his scripts. Eastwood saw promise in the script. But Wayne simply said, “No Thanks.”

After his option ran out, Eastwood again tried to get Wayne’s attention for the film. He re-optioned to make the film at Warner’s Bros. But rather than agree to make the film, Wayne sent Eastwood an angry letter about his film “High Plains Drifter” instead. There was a bit of bad blood between the two, with Wayne feeling boxed out by Eastwood. Eastwood saw the film as a critique of the types of westerns that he made.

Eastwood never responded to the letter. After his option expired, Wayne and his representatives considered buying the film as a vehicle for Wayne, perhaps out of spite. But Wayne, once again, refused to make the film after reading the script. In fact, he hated the idea of the movie so much that he chunked the script overboard while he was out at sea. He rather give the characters and the story a watery grave, than have it see the light of cinema.

The film was never made, and Eastwood and Wayne never crossed paths on the silver screen.

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