Few films boast the sort of Hollywood history ‘High Noon’ is steeped in. In a well-documented saga, John Wayne would staunchly refuse the film’s lead role of Marshal Will Kane. His reason? The story was, in his and many eyes, an obvious attack on the Hollywood blacklisting movement.
In light of this, producer Stanley Kramer would offer the role to Gregory Peck. Yet Peck, alongside other icons Montgomery Clift, Charlton Heston, and even Marlon Brando – would turn down the role, too.
Eventually, Will Kane would famously go to Gary Cooper. Fate must have willed it so, as Cooper was a longtime friend of John Wayne. The two would remain so through production, too, despite ending up on different sides of Hollywood blacklisting history.
In a true twist of fate, ‘High Noon’ would win dozens of prolific awards, including four Oscars in 1953. Gary Cooper himself would end up winning the Academy Award for his portrayal of Kane – the role John Wayne so famously refused.
Yet it only gets more bizarre, as John Wayne would accept this Oscar on Cooper’s behalf, bringing ‘High Noon’s stranger-than-fiction casting debacle full circle. At the time, Cooper was in Europe filming another feature, and as such asked his old pal Wayne to receive the award for him. Wayne did what any good friend should and put his personal and highly-public contempt for ‘High Noon’ aside – and showed up for Cooper at the 1953 Oscars.
John Wayne Sings Friend Gary Cooper’s Praises
Relive this incredible happenstance below as fellow Hollywood star Janet Gaynor presents the award. Remarkably, as Gaynor states in the Academy Awards‘ archival clip, Cooper beat out Marlon Brando, Alec Guinness, and Kirk Douglas for his ‘Best Actor’ Oscar.
“In the absence of the winner, John Wayne will accept the award for… Gary Cooper!” Gaynor lauds to thunderous applause.
Within his acceptance speech, Wayne details the incredible friendship these two men held. Right off the bat, it becomes clear Wayne is nothing but thrilled for Cooper – despite the intense history behind ‘High Noon’ and the Hollywood blacklist.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m glad to see they’re giving this to a man who’s not only most deserving, but has conducted himself throughout his years in our business in a matter that we can all be proud of him,” Wayne begins of his close friend. His opening words come as a direct reference to Cooper’s then stance as a pro-blacklist celebrity. He would, however, become a staunch opponent of the practice later on.
“Cooper and I have been friends – hunting and fishing – for more years than I like to remember,” Wayne continues with his trademark swagger and smile. “He’s one of the nicest fellows I know. I don’t know anybody any nicer. And our kinship goes further than that friendship, because we both fell off our horses in the pictures together,” he grins.
“Now that I’m through being such a good sport…”
“Now that I’m through being such a good sport… Spouted all this good sportsmanship… I’m gonna go back and find my business manager and agent, producer… and find out why I didn’t get ‘High Noon’ instead of Cooper!” he professes to wild laughter.
As history documents, however, Hollywood royalty John Wayne knew exactly why he wouldn’t touch ‘High Noon’ with a hundred-foot pole.
Watch the rest of John Wayne’s historic acceptance speech below, including a last hilarious one-liner delivered as only The Duke could – right before he swaggers off stage, Oscar in hand:
Gary Cooper winning the Oscar® for Best Actor for his performance in “High Noon” at the 25th Academy Awards® in 1953. Presented by Janet Gaynor and accepted by John Wayne.The Oscars