Actor John Wayne put himself in harm’s way on several movie sets, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. It’s one of his favorite performances of his career, but he didn’t earn an Oscar nomination for his work. Wayne once recalled when he blacked out and nearly died on the set of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. As a result, the entire set broke out into a scene of chaos that truly stuck with him.
Wayne brought John Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon to his friend Howard Hughes’ RKO for both funding and distribution. However, they never expected the movie would bring as much controversy as it did behind the scenes. Marc Eliot’s American Titan: Searching for John Wayne took a look at the film’s production, which put Ford into a troublesome spot.
The opening shot features a flag of the Seventh Cavalry with the words “Custer Is Dead” printed on the screen, informing the audience that it’s a follow-up to Fort Apache. Ford suggested that Noble Johnson’s Chief Red Shirt should wear a bright red shirt. As a result, Hughes blew up with anger. Ford pointed to the fact that it was shot in color, but Hughes suggested that it meant the director was sympathetic toward Native Americans in the movie and Communists in Hollywood.
Wayne thought that Ford was pushing the limits a bit too far and so did the hard right, who called his film He Wore a Deep Red Ribbon.
Eliot pointed out that the She Wore a Yellow Ribbon set was quite difficult for Wayne. He almost died during production. The cinch belt on his saddle loosened, which threw him off of his horse during the scene where he waves his blue coat at the Native Americans.
“I hit the ground,” Wayne recalled. “Hit my head. Blacked out. Now there’s about 50 horses tear-assing at me. I came out of the blackout to hear the Old Man, Mr. Ford, yelling and there was general hysteria, but a wrangler with guts, he ran out and headed off the stampeding horses, which were within about a few feet of stomping me to death.”
American Titan: Searching for John Wayne claimed She Wore a Yellow Ribbon a success, grossing nearly $10 million at the worldwide box office. As a result, the movie marked a huge comeback for Ford and another huge hit for the Western actor.
However, Wayne was tired of playing older characters in “complex” movies. He wanted to return to a simpler project playing a character closer to his real age, which is why he signed up for The Fighting Kentuckian. It’s a romantic adventure that was one of his few financial failures of the time, making it a lesser-known work of his.