The John Wayne estate honored James Caan’s memory Thursday, hours after the news broke of the star dying at age 82. The two charmed together in El Dorado, one of Duke’s most amusing Westerns.
The estate posted a snapshot from the movie, which was filmed in 1966 and released in the United States in 1967. Caan was all of 25 when he earned the role opposite two big Hollywood stars — John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. Caan had only one other big movie under his acting belt.
The estate captioned the photo: “We are saddened to hear about the passing of James Caan. John Wayne and James starred in El Dorado alongside Robert Mitchum in 1966. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”
James Caan Once Said John Wayne Tried to Intimidate Him
It seems that John Wayne liked to intimidate his younger co-stars. Maybe it was some sort of initiation. When Caan earned the role in El Dorado, he was a 25-year-old from the Bronx who didn’t have many acting credits to his name. He’d acted on Broadway. and worked as a guest star on several TV shows. There was his movie with Olivia de Havilland and Howard Hawks, who directed him in El Dorado, cast him in an auto-racing movie called Red Line 7000. So there he was, trying to hold his own against John Wayne, possibly the biggest star in the United States.
Caan played Alan Bourdillion Traherne. Or maybe you knew him by his nickname, Mississippi. John Wayne portrayed former gunslinger Cole Thornton. Mitchum was the always drunk sheriff, J.P. Harrah.
El Dorado, poster, top and center l-r: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, bottom center: James Caan on poster art, 1966. (Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)
Caan Said He Needed to Wear Lifts to Work on Movie
What did Caan think of his John Wayne experience? He talked about it several years ago with FilmSchoolArchive
“He was a piece of work,” Caan said. “I enjoyed (him), but it took a little while. He’d try and get ya intimidated. And we became pretty close, only because he knew I was like this half-ass stunt man. That’s what he liked. … And he would really try and intimidate you. First week, it was like me and him.”
Caan then imitated Duke’s famous voice and offered more thoughts.
“And I’m looking at him and I can’t believe I’m listening to this,” he said. “So every time he talked, the only reality was I was smiling the whole way. So when Mitchum came in, he look at the dailies and said “you’re doing a lot of smiling, Jiminy Cricket. He called me Jiminy Cricket. I said “what do you want me to do? I had a really good time with those guys. Course, I had to wear lifts this big between those two guys.”
Yes, the 5-foot-8 Caan needed lifts in his boots to stand next to Wayne, who was 6-4 and the 6-1 Mitchum.
Caan also told more John Wayne stories from the El Dorado set during a 2013 interview with AVClub.com.
“Yeah, that was quite the experience,” Caan said. “But I was always kind of a punk, you know? A real New York guy. John Wayne was always calling me “kid,” and he was a guy who, if he could intimidate you, he would. But I just kept laughing at him. And, thankfully, he respected that.”