John Wayne nearly bankrupt himself while shooting movie that caused actor’s death
JOHN WAYNE was so passionate about his 1960 movie that he agreed to produce, direct and star in it (after much persuasion). He even put up millions of dollars of his own money and used his property as collateral. Even though the movie was plagued with the death of one actor and the injury of another, it was extremely successful at the box office.
In 1960 the legendary actor John Wayne decided he would retell the story of a historical event for the silver screen. He chose to tell the story of the Battle of the Alamo, the real-life battle that took place in Mexico and was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. And he went to great lengths to get The Alamo made. He and producer Robert Fellows formed Batjac, their own production company to bring the movie to life.
Wayne acted as both the producer and director of The Alamo, but refused to star in the movie as well. However, his first hurdle appeared when he began struggling to gain financial support for the movie.
Adamant that his vision for The Alamo would not suffer, Wayne approached United Artists for financial support for the picture. The company agreed to contribute $2.5 million for its production as well as serving as its distributor – but there was a catch.
United Artists would only give the cash to Batjac if Wayne agreed to star in the film as well, noting that it would be a much more financially sound investment with his face attached to the picture. Wayne agreed and took on the role of Colonel Davy Crockett.
But Wayne still did not have enough money to make the film he wanted. So he had to start dipping into his own pockets.
Years after The Alamo was released, Wayne revealed that he invested more than $1.5 million of his own money into the film.
$1.5 million is a lot of money today, but back in 1960, it was an extraordinary amount of cash (equivalent to approximately $9 million). But Wayne believed so passionately that The Alamo was a good investment that he would not spare any expense.
Eventually, he began to get desperate.
Before long, he had no choice but to take out second mortgages on his houses to further fund the movie. The American star also agreed to use his vehicles as collateral to acquire loans for the movie.
In the end, The Alamo had a budget of $12 million – a lot of which was funded by Wayne himself.
But the star’s troubles didn’t stop there.
A 29-year-old actress was murdered during the production of The Alamo.
LeJean Ethridge, a young up-and-coming star, was given a shot in the film by Wayne personally.
But during filming, her boyfriend, Chester Harvey, was charged with her murder. He was found guilty of stabbing her after he reportedly got jealous of her life.
Harvey was reportedly not very happy when Ethridge received the part in the movie and decided to move out of the house she was living in with him. Later on, Wayne had to testify during the investigation.
What’s more, the actors on the set of The Alamo were not happy with the working conditions.
Frankie Avalon was “intimidated” by the numerous rattlesnakes on the film’s set, which was shot in the deserts of Texas.
And one of the actors even broke a bone on camera during shooting.
Laurence Harvey, who played Colonel Travis, fired a cannon for a shot but forgot about the weapon’s recoil. The cannon rolled onto Harvey’s foot, breaking it completely. But the actor did not scream or make any sudden movements.
Not until Wayne called “cut” did Harvey drop to the floor and begin writhing around in pain. After this bone-shattering event, Wayne praised the star’s professionalism.
Thankfully, after all of this financial and logistical hardship, Wayne’s movie was a massive success.
The Alamo made a staggering $20 million at the box office, and even garnered an impressive Best Picture nomination at the 1961 Academy Awards.