John Wayne’s ‘The Alamo’: How the Movie Seemed Cursed During Filming

by Matthew Wilson

It may now be a classic and one of his best westerns. But getting “The Alamo” proved to be a vast undertaking and a headache for cowboy icon, John Wayne.

It’s all the sadder considering Wayne campaigned for decades to get the film made. The actor first got the idea for a film about one of history’s greatest last stands back in 1944. Hollywood studio after studio turned down the project, reminding Wayne that he was an actor, not a director. United Artists finally agreed to let Wayne direct the film if he signed a three-picture deal and also star in it, according to ListVerse.

Originally, Wayne had only wanted to make a small cameo as Sam Houston. But he reluctantly agreed to fill the coon hat of Davy Crockett if it meant he could make the film. Then, disaster after disaster happened. Wayne initially wanted to film the flick for cheap down in Mexico. But a group of Texas businessmen threatened to boycott the film if Wayne didn’t film it in Texas.

The actor finally agreed even though it would cost him a pretty penny of his own money. This was Wayne’s first big production as director. And the actor dealt with his mentor and director John Ford, notorious for being strict, trying to take over while on set.

John Wayne Dealt with Mishaps and Murder

A local Catholic priest led the cast in prayer prior to shooting. But almost immediately after, a typhoon delayed filming on set. In total, the storm deposited around 29 inches of rain on the set during production. This was just the first of several mishaps that led to John Wayne smoking 100 cigarettes a day.

Wayne’s set became notorious for the numerous rattlesnakes and scorpions roaming as well.

In another bit of bad fortune, the property owner and two other crew members almost died in a car wreck. Shortly after, the publicity office on set went up in flames. Though crew members managed to put out the blaze, the fire destroyed all the payroll files and other materials that Wayne needed to keep things moving smoothly.

And that’s before 80 percent of the cast and crew caught the flu. But actor Laurence Harvey probably had it rougher than most. While firing a cannon during a battle scene, the canon rolled back from the force of the blast and smashed his foot. The actor fought through the pain to stay in character to preserve the shot. But the injury ended up causing him much agony and pain. The actor refused to go to the hospital, trying to treat his injury on set instead.

But the hardest incident for Wayne was when one of his actors died. The murder of LaJean Ethridge broke Wayne’s heart and almost derailed the entire production. Ethridge had caught both Wayne’s and the casting director’s eye, who upgraded her part in the movie and gave her a speaking role. This made Ethridge’s boyfriend, an extra, envious, and he ended up stabbing her to death.

Wayne couldn’t even shut down production to properly mourn and allow an investigation to ensue. To keep on schedule, the actor continued to film around the police. Despite all of the incidents, tragedy, and tensions, Wayne’s film ended up being a hit with audiences. And it’s still celebrated as one of his very best.