He stormed off claiming he would quit the movie, until Wayne stepped in
John Wayne’s incredible generosity when shooting The Searchers in Monument Valley
John Wayne seriously went out of his way to help people in need when filming The Searchers, becoming nicknamed “The Man With The Big Eagle” by the Navajo who lived in Monument Valley.
John Wayne and John Ford collaborated on numerous Hollywood Golden Age Westerns, often filming in Monument Valley which was part of the Navajo Native American territory on the Arizona/Utah state line. Perhaps the most famous of the films shot there was 1956’s The Searchers, in which Duke played a Civil War veteran spending years searching for his abducted niece portrayed by Natalie Wood. Since she was still a student in high school at the time, Wayne and co-star Jeffrey Hunter had to pick her up and take her to set on a number of occasions. Monument Valley’s temperatures would reach heights of 49°C (120°F), which no doubt will have tested the cast and crew’s patience, yet Duke managed to keep his cool – especially when people were in need.
According to the official John Wayne Instagram: “While filming The Searchers (1956), a Navajo child became seriously ill with pneumonia and needed urgent medical attention. John Wayne lent his plane and pilot to the little girl so she could get to the hospital. For his deed, the Navajos nicknamed him ‘The Man With The Big Eagle.’” But this wasn’t his only act of generosity on the movie
A fan commented and the official John Wayne Instagram confirmed: “He also helped get the actress who played Look to her son’s wedding as well. He saw her crying and asked what was wrong. Because they were stuck on location that weekend, he flew her back on his plane in time to be there. That was big-hearted, generous John Wayne!”
Duke was also incredibly kind to his Fort Apache co-star John Agar, when shooting the 1948 movie in Monument Valley together. Ford, who would constantly bait his actors to get better performances out of them, kept calling Agar “Mr Temple” since he was married to co-star Shirley Temple.
The director did this in front of cast and crew and would slam the young actor’s lack of horse riding experience and the way he delivered his lines. This seriously got to Agar one day on set. As a result, he stormed off claiming he would quit the movie, until Wayne stepped in.
Wayne, who was playing Captain Kirby York, came alongside Agar and mentored him with the more difficult aspects of the production. The young actor never forgot the star’s kindness to him and later said: “I would go to hell and back for Duke.”