John Wayne had a very specific vision that he chased across his productions. However, he took on into this creative mode even on movies that weren’t his to control. Wayne wanted to bring his daughter, Aissa, onboard the True Grit cast, but he didn’t have the final say. As a result, he didn’t get along with co-star Kim Darby, calling her “spoiled.”
John Wayne wanted his daughter, Aissa, to play Mattie Ross in ‘True Grit’
Michael Mann’s John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth gives marvelous insight into True Grit and other major films starring the legendary actor. Production decided to cast Kim Darby as Mattie Ross, but Wayne thought he had more impact on casting decisions. He initially promised the role to his daughter.
“I was sure Aissa was perfect for the role, and I think she would have been good,” Wayne said. “I was forgetting this was not a Batjac film and I was working for two tough veterans, Hal Wallis and Henry Hathaway. I made the mistake of telling her the part was hers. Then when I told Hathaway what I’d done.”
Wayne continued: “He said, ‘You stupid bastard, Duke. This isn’t your movie. We got the part cast. So you can go and break your daughter’s heart and tell her she can’t do it.’ And that’s what I did. I hated myself for it.”
However, this ultimately turned his daughter away from following in Wayne’s footsteps as an actor after True Grit.
Wayne concluded, “Anyway, in the end, I told Aissa that acting was no great profession because Patrick [Wayne] had been trying for years to get out from under my shadow, and she saw the sense in that and gave up all ideas of becoming a movie star.”
John Wayne didn’t get along with Kim Darby and called her ‘spoiled
John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth further explained how the casting decisions impacted Wayne’s working relationship with Darby on the True Grit set. He compared the actor to her character, Mattie.
“Kim Darby wasn’t too unlike Mattie,” Wayne said. “She was strong-willed, independent, and determined. Problem was, that’s great for the character, but not so great for an actor—or actress—to be too much like that. I tried to get some rapport going between the two of us but that didn’t work. Henry did his best to get her to work at making our on-screen relationship work, and I think if it wasn’t for him, I’d have given up on her.”
Wayne continued: “She was a superb actress, no doubt; but was she spoiled. Henry said to me, ‘I think she’s trying to show everyone she’s not impressed just because she’s working with John Wayne.’ Her attitude on me worked the way Mattie’s attitude worked on Rooster. It made him go all out, and so I went all out.”
However, Darby’s behavior on the set of True Grit ultimately impacted Wayne’s opinion of the actor. He already didn’t see eye-to-eye with actors such as Kirk Douglas, but this impacted him on a deeper level.
“Gave it my best shot,” Wayne said. “Better than my best. But it’s not the way I like to work. I like me and my screen partners to get along. Jesus, I got along better with Kirk Douglas!”
‘True Grit’ earned the actor his only Oscar
Despite all of Wayne’s frustration, his work on True Grit paid off. He finally earned an Oscar win for his lead performance in the Western. He received nominations for Sands of Iwo Jima and The Alamo. However, his inability to secure a win weighed on him. Fortunately, this time was different.
Wayne fans remember the actor based on many performances over his career, but the iconic True Grit eye patch is one of the most memorable images of the actor. It’s possible the world wouldn’t have the same legendary performance from Wayne if his daughter got the part.