John Wayne was so sick before Rooster Cogburn that he almost had to be re-cast. According to IMDb, the star contracted Pneumonia while in London after appearing on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and Parkinson. In fact, John Wayne was coughing so hard that he damaged a valve in his heart.
The star was already working on one lung for years. Due to the high altitude, he had great difficulty breathing. So, who could have possibly replaced the icon?
John Wayne’s Replacements
Producers were planning on offering the part to Marlon Brando in the event that John Wayne was too sick. The other stars who were considered were Kirk Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Charles Heston, Rock Hudson, Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen, Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, George C. Scott, Gregory Peck, and Anthony Quinn.
Effectively “replacing” someone such as John Wayne would be near impossible. Marlon Brando, however, whose roles in The Godfather and Apocalypse Now are some of the most famous performances of all time, could have given a fantastic performance in his own right.
Wayne’s On-Set Behavior
John Wayne wasn’t one to shy away from a challenge, however. He went on to film Rooster Cogburn even though he was recovering from pneumonia. His co-star, Kathrine Hepburn, was quite surprised by Wayne’s argumentative behavior.
At the wrap party, Hepburn teasingly told Wayne, “I’m glad I didn’t know you when you had two lungs, you must have been a real bastard. Losing a hip has mellowed me, but you!”
One of John Wayne’s more notable arguments on set was with the director, Stuart Miller, who Wayne reportedly found incapable. After Miller had made them run over the lines many times, Wayne snapped, “God d**** it, Stuart, there’s only so many times we can say these awful lines before they stop making any sense at all.”
John Wayne contracted Pneumonia again once filming had wrapped. He refused to promote the movie, claiming he was still ill.
Pneumonia wasn’t the only physical problem John Wayne faced during filming. While working on Rooster Cogburn, Wayne got injured while teaching his eight year old daughter how to golf. Thankfully, the injury could be covered with Rooster Cogburn’s iconic eyepatch.
While Marlon Brando surely would have done great, John Wayne persevered so he could act in the film. His work alongside Hepburn makes an enjoyable watch, even if there were criticisms that both were “too old” for their parts. While Rooster Cogburn wasn’t beloved by critics, many Western film fans still cite the film as one of their favorites.