On Saturday, November 19, John Wayne stars as John T. Chance in the 1959 western classic Rio Bravo, which airs at 10.30pm on TCM. It follows Chance in 1860s Texas, where he and his old deputy are forced to try and keep a murderous brute behind bars long enough for the US marshal to arrive on the scene and take him away. Such was the film’s significance, influential director Quentin Tarantino described it as his “favourite ‘hangout’ movie”, even claiming he wouldn’t date someone if they didn’t like the film.
By the time Rio Bravo was released, Wayne was already a huge Hollywood star, commanding leading roles in the films he starred in. A decade later and he’d reach the pinnacle of his career, earning an Oscar for Best Actor in 1969’s True Grit.
This success was not, however, met without the occasional controversy or hiccup.
In 1935’s Paradise Canyon, Wayne was in some scenes played by his body double Yakima Canutt, who also starred as his own character in the film, leading to some confusion with viewers.
Canutt, who claimed an honorary Academy Award in 1967 for his achievements as a stuntman and for developing safety devices to protect stuntmen, described having a “tough” fight scene between his and Wayne’s character in the flick.
During the fight, Michael Munn’s 2001 book John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth noted, Canutt had to flip his opposite number over his head, and so actually doubled for Wayne in the scene.
This saw a camera shot of Canutt crashing through a table — as Wayne’s character — giving viewers a perfect view of the stuntman’s bald spot. Except Wayne didn’t have a bald spot.
Canutt said: “When they ran the picture the bald spot was very noticeable, and I got a real chewing out from John and from Paul Malvern, who was the producer. We couldn’t afford to reshoot it, so it went out as it was.”
Wayne was reportedly furious over the matter, and didn’t want viewers to be led to believe that he had a bald spot. Assessing the situation and wanting to wind the star up, Canutt enlisted the help of a fan to write in to complain about it.
In the letter, the fan wrote: “Dear Mr Canutt, I saw Paradise Canyon with you and John Wayne. It was a good picture and you did some fine work.
“But why doesn’t the producer find you a younger man than John Wayne who must be getting old because I noticed that he is getting a bald spot.’”
After seeing the letter, Wayne, convinced it was “authentic”, lashed out, though soon realised that Canutt likely had a hand in it. He told his double: “Yak, you’re gonna have to watch that damn bald spot if you’re gonna double me.”
Wayne got his revenge on Canutt when they next worked together on the film Westward Ho. The pair were embroiled in another fight scene, and Wayne’s character knocked down one of his rivals before stepping out of the way of one of Canutt’s punches.
John Wayne was not friends with other Hollywood stars like Clark Gable (Image: GETTY)
Wayne then knocked Canutt through the glass front window, before performing a “flying football tackle on him”, knocking the wind out of the stuntman. Wayne then told him: “That’s for the letter from your ‘fan’ in New York.”
While Wayne’s jokey relationship with Canutt endured, he was hostile towards some other stars, including Hollywood legends Clark Gable and Gene Hackman, according to his daughter Aissa.
She said in the 1991 book John Wayne: My Father: “My dad called Gable handsome but dumb at least four or five times, and now I wonder if it had something to do with my father’s friend, John Ford. During the filming of Mogambo, Ford and Gable had clashed again and again and the subsequent feud had simmered for years.
“In my father’s way of thinking, disloyalty to allies, support in any fashion for their enemies, was expressly forbidden. If Clark Gable took on John Ford, my father’s code demanded that John Wayne stand by his old pal.”
She added: “Gene Hackman could never appear on-screen without my father skewering his performance.
“I wish I could tell you why he so harshly criticised Hackman, but he never went into detail. Although it’s pure speculation, had my father lived to see more of his work, I think his view of Mr Hackman would have changed. Back then, however, my father called Hackman ‘the worst actor in town. He’s awful’.”