Actor James Caan once talked about what it was like working with legendary actor John Wayne on El Dorado. The then-young actor didn’t initially get along with the Western star. However, they would ultimately develop their relationship in unexpected ways, as Wayne turned into a “big prankster” with Caan on the set. It’s a whole other side to the iconic actor that the world didn’t get to see very often.
Wayne and Caan co-starred in Howard Hawks’ 1966 American Western called El Dorado, which was loosely based on Harry Brown’s novel called The Stars in Their Courses. The story begins when a heartless tycoon named Bart Jason (Edward Asner) brings in a group of thugs to claim the MacDonald family’s home right from under them. However, the town’s sheriff is too drunk to lend his aid.
An elder gunfighter named Cole Thorton (Wayne) agrees to lend his aid when he hears about the situation. He makes a trip to El Dorado, but he isn’t alone. Mississippi (Caan) joins to clean up the sheriff in time for the inevitable shootout to come.
John Wayne and James Caan turned into ‘big pranksters’ on the set
The official Wayne Twitter account tweeted an interview with Caan, where he talked about filming El Dorado. However, the situation that unfolded is anything but expected, as the tweet referred to Wayne as a “big prankster.”
“Wayne told me every time, he says, ‘Take a step, turn around.’ So, I do it and Hawks would yell ‘Cut’ and come walking, they’d reset everything, which took a half hour,” Caan recalled. “He’d go, ‘Look, kid, when you say the line, just go.’ ‘All right, coach. I’m sorry.’”
Caan continued: “Now, he walks, he does, as he’s walking back to the camera, he goes, ‘Now, look, kid. Don’t take a whole step. Just take a half a step and then turn around and give me that look you give me.’ I still have no idea what the freaking look is. I think I was smiling, just laughing at him. Action, everything starts up again, I take a half a step, turn around: ‘Cut!’ (Laughs). He comes up, yelling, ‘What’s the matter with you? Can’t you just say the line and go?’ ‘Coach, I’m really sorry. I don’t know what happened. I had a brain fart, something.’”
However, the next interaction would nearly put Wayne and Caan on very bad terms.
“He starts walking back and he goes, ‘Now look, kid,’ and I turn around and [Robert] Mitchum grabbed me, I was going to hit him,” Caan said. “From that day, we were … he knew what he was doing, you know? He was having a good time at my expense.”
The relationship between Wayne and Caan made a sudden turn for the hilarious when they started to play jokes on one another, but it clearly confused Hawks.
“But as a week went by, I’d be off camera and Hawks would be next to me, and Duke would be sitting there. Right in the middle of my scene, I’d go, (mouths) ‘You stink’ and he’d laugh. ‘Oh, what’s the matter there?’ ‘Oh, nothing. Sorry.’ It just became who can screw up who.”
Caan concluded: “Like, one day, you remember those wooden dressing rooms they had? I’d come to lunch, my dressing room’s locked. I go, ‘Excuse me, guys, how come it’s locked? I can’t get in there.’ ‘Well, here’s the key.’ Garbage just came out. He’d just pile it with garbage. He was like a 12-year-old kid.”
El Dorado would ultimately prove to be a success for both Wayne and Caan. The film earned critical praise, but the legendary Western actor often gave off the impression that he didn’t care what they had to say. Wayne would prefer for the audience to enjoy what he put up on the silver screen. Luckily, he would be in luck with El Dorado, which was a commercial success.
This particular Western would become one of Wayne’s more iconic genre pieces. Even his final movie, The Shootist would incorporate footage from it.