John Wayne had a strong understanding of his target audience. He will always remain a western movie icon, but he certainly turned down some significant roles in legendary films. However, that didn’t mean he necessarily disliked all of the scripts he rejected. Wayne turned down playing Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles, but he wanted to be first in line to see it.
John Wayne almost played Waco Kid in ‘Blazing Saddles’
Mel Brooks directed Blazing Saddles based on a screenplay that he wrote with Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, and Alan Uger. The story is a satirical take on the western film genre. Bart (Cleavon Little) is a crafty railroad worker, who ultimately becomes the first-ever Black sheriff of Rock Ridge. However, the town is set to be torn down for a brand new railroad.
Rock Ridge initially holds racial bias toward Bart. However, they begin to welcome him after seeing his passion for protecting the town against a wave of thugs sent to get rid of the town’s population. He only has his perpetually drunk gunfighter friend to stand alongside him, named Waco Kid (Gene Wilder).
John Wayne turned down the Waco Kid for being ‘too dirty’
Brooks spoke about offering the role of Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles to Wayne on the film’s official DVD release. However, Wayne turned down the part after reading the script. He feared that the dialogue was “too dirty” for the family-friendly image he built in the western genre. Wayne wanted his films to remain popular for audiences of all ages to enjoy.
Metro Philadelphia interviewed Brooks and asked about Wayne rejecting Blazing Saddles. However, the western movie icon still overall liked the project, even though he didn’t want to star in it.
“He did [turn it down],” Brooks said. “I wanted him to play the Waco Kid, because the Duke was such a good actor. His reality is that he is the cowboy Western. We were in the commissary at Warners, I gave him the script and he promised he’d read it overnight.”
Wayne continued: “The next morning I saw him and he says that he loves it — every beat, every line — but that it’s too blue, that it would disappoint his fans. He said though that he would be the first one in line to see it.”
‘Blazing Saddles’ earned 3 Oscar nominations
Blazing Saddles would ultimately get the title of a “classic comedy,” even though critics and audiences initially responded with mixed reactions upon its release. However, the Library of Congress decided to select it for preservation in the National Film Registry. It’s an iconic film that crowds continue to cherish in modern times.
Blazing Saddles also earned three Oscar nominations. The Academy nominated Madeline Kahn for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, along with nods for Best Film Editing and Best Music, Original Song. However, it lost out in all three of its respective categories.
Many audiences gasp at the thought that Wayne would turn down the role of Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles. However, he had a strong understanding of his brand and didn’t want to confuse audiences with what type of films audiences associate with Wayne’s name.