Elvis Presley nearly starred alongside another titan of entertainment, John Wayne, as La Boeuf in the 1969 film, True Grit. The star of 31 movies throughout his illustrious career, Elvis Presley was the epitome of an entertainer. His proposed co-star, John Wayne, known as “The Duke” to his fans, starred in an estimated 150 movies throughout his career that spanned over 50 years. Of course, one of those films included True Grit sans Presley.
In his 1994 book, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, author Peter Guralnick writes how Presley’s initial interest in acting sparked from watching critically acclaimed actors, such as James Dean and Marlon Brando. Desperate to get the musician on the silver screen, Presley’s long-time manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was able to sign a contract with Paramount Pictures, which also allowed him to make films with other studios. Presley made his feature debut in 1956 with Love Me Tender, which also featured an accompanying soundtrack of songs recorded by the film’s star. Though he was primarily known for romantic musicals, Presley was eager to star in more dramatic roles like his actor idols.
At this point in his career, John Wayne was an iconic Western star, akin to Clint Eastwood. 30 years after Stagecoach, the film that made him a star, Wayne was set to make what would be one of his last commercial successes with True Grit in 1969. Presley, whose career was also approaching its twilight years, strived to recapture the public spotlight by attempting to reemerge in more dramatic films such as Midnight Cowboy, A Star is Born, and True Grit. However, Presley’s attendant demands that came with him starring in True Grit cost him the role.
As was the case with many of the films Elvis Presley nearly starred in at the time, producers eventually declined due to the high demands associated with the musician. As his manager did with all of Presley’s films, Parker requested his client get top billing in the picture. With a star already as big as Wayne, producers declined the offer. Following this, the producers turned to another musician with country music star Glen Campbell, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in the film. True Grit eventually earned Wayne his Academy Award, despite his reported displeasure with the final result of the picture.
In defiance of their declining careers, these two goliaths of entertainment could have starred alongside one another in what is now regarded as one of the better John Wayne movies and one of the best westerns overall to grace the silver screen. Although True Grit earned Wayne his only Academy Award, one has to wonder “what if?” Unfortunately, the two actors’ star power was only matched by the embittered egos as these two waning icons of a bygone era struggled to sustain successful careers in an ever-changing world.