John Wayne’s brutal tradition on every film reduced co-star to tears says George Takei
George Takei starred with John Wayne in The Green Berets and revealed that The Duke “wasn’t an actor” and had a terrible and “embarrassing” tradition he repeated on every film set. However, he admits the Western icon also shocked him in a very good way.
George Takei is in London right now, starring in the powerful and moving musical Allegiance, which is based on his own childhood World War II experiences. His extraordinary life and career includes Sulu in Star Trek, of course, but he also starred opposite John Wayne in the pro-Vietnam movie The Green Berets. In fact, that was why he was absent for a significant part of Season 2 of the TV sci-fi show. Wayne was a leading member of the right-wing pro-war faction in Hollywood, while Takei was vehemently opposed. Yet, he was shocked by his first encounter with the Silver Screen legend.
The Green Berets was completely Wayne’s pet project, conceived to combat what he saw as falling s upport for the military in the US. The actor had bought the rights to author Robin Moore’s 1965 book. Furthermore, he sought and obtained extraordinary cooperation along with supplies, equipment, and weapons from President Lyndon B. Johnson and the United States Department of Defense.
The army provided uniforms as well as attack helicopters and the United States Air Force supplied two C-130 Hercules transports and two A-1 Skyraider attack aircraft. Some film extras were actually air force trainees.
So it was understandable that Takei was concerned his very different and vocal political and anti-war views might be problematic when he went in to screen test with Wayne.
Takei said: “There was a core of decency in him. He was a very pro-war guy and when I went in for the interview I said, ‘I have to be honest with you, I don’t agree with you about the Vietnam War. I have been campaigning against the war. I wanted you to know.’
“He surprised me. He said, ‘I am hiring the best actor I can for the role that’s all that I am concerned about. (Fellow actors) Jim Hutton and David Janssen are also pro-peace and I’m casting them, so I am making my decision based on acting ability.”
Indeed, Wayne signed up Hutton again the following years to star with him in the action drama Hellfighters about oil rig fire-fighters.
The intense film shoot was thrilling for Takei, but massively overran, causing a clash with his small screen obligations.
Takei said: “I missed out on half a dozen episodes of Star Trek. We were filming on location at Point bending in Georgia we had 40 days and 40 nights of a rainstorm that stopped filming. I was supposed to be back in Los Angeles but was delayed and so I missed out on those episodes.”
The actor was able to observe The Duke over the extended shoot on and off camera and said: “He was not an actor. He was a compelling gigantic personality. He was the same guy off-screen. He walked in front of the screen and he was able to maintain that. Most people change when they go in front of the camera but he was always John Wayne off camera and on.”
However, that “core of decency” was at odds with one particular thing that Wayne apparently did on every single film set.
Takei said: “There was a quirk in him. I was shocked. I was told he did it with every production. He singled out one man, always a big bruiser of a guy, tall, husky and muscular, usually a stuntman or a stand in. And he pilloried these people there on the set with everyone looking on.
“I was embarrassed being there. He did it all consistently with this guy and then people who worked with him on other productions told me he always did that. He picked one person to excoriate relentlessly. Sometimes these guys broke down in tears.”
Takei added: “He wasn’t that with me or anyone else. And it was always with someone that was able to stand up to him. But I suppose it was his way of establishing his alpha, top dog status.
“I was with him for three months and he wasn’t like that with anyone else. It was some kind of mental thing I think.”