John Wayne battled crippling injuries and heartbreaking loss on Rio Lobo set
The sight of The Duke thundering across The West on horseback remains one of cinema’s most indelible images.
Meanwhile, “Get off your horse and drink your milk” has frequently been attributed as one of John Wayne’s most famous ‘quotes.’
Despite some claims that it came from an advert he shot, it is actually almost certainly an urban myth, most likely started by comedians doing drawling impressions of the Hollywood Westerns legend.
Sadly, though, by the time the star came to film 1970’s Rio Lobo (a blatant remake of Rio Bravo) towards the end of his career, he was in so much pain struggled to get on and off his horse.
In fact, the entire film shoot was surrounded by personal tragedies for the actor.
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John Wayne on horseback in Rio Lobo (Image: GETTY)
John Wayne was in agony in Rio Lobo (Image: GETTY )
It was director Howard Hawks’ final film and the third film he made with John Wayne about a beleaguered sheriff standing against outlaws.
In a 1971 interview Hawks said of Rio Lobo: “The last picture we made, I called him up and said, ‘Duke, I’ve got a story.’ He said, ‘I can’t make it for a year, I’m all tied up.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s all right, it’ll take me a year to get it finished.’
“He said, ‘Good, I’ll be all ready.’ And he came down on location and he said, ‘What’s this about?’ And I told him the story. He never even read it, he didn’t know anything about it.”
Famously, when Wayne realised it was a remake of Rio Bravo and El Dorado, he quipped: “Yes, he said, ‘Do I get to play the drunk this time?”
Hawks was less jocular after the film bombed and blamed it on 63-year-old Wayne being too old and out of shape for the role.
Critics and audiences agreed and the film took just over $4million against a production budget of $6million plus all the extra promotional costs which are often the same again.
Wayne’s physical difficulties were not due to his age, however. He had piled on weight for 1969’s True Grit and then while filming The Undefeated the same year, The Duke fell from his horse and fractured three ribs, leaving him unable to work for two weeks.
Later in the shoot, he tore a ligament in his shoulder. With no movement in one arm, he had to be filmed only from the other side.
John Wayne with a rifle in Rio Lobo (Image: GETTY)
Wayne came into Rio Lobo in considerable pain, out of shape from True Grit and still suffering from a torn shoulder.
Most of his fight scenes had to be filmed with stand-ins or carefully from restricted angles. Some fights even happened off-camera. And he struggled greatly getting on and off his horse.
He also suffered two devastatimg personal blow when his mother died during filming and then his younger brother Robert E. Morrison lost his battle with lung cancer the month after filming ended.
But there was one shining moment of happiness also.
John Wayne in True Grit (Image: GETTY)
Always a dedicated workhorse on set, no matter the physical injuries or personal pains, Wayne took a rare break from filming.
He had a very good reason, since it was to attend the 1970 Academy Awards. After exactly 40 years on screen, The Duke finally won the Best Actor Oscar for True Grit.
Touchingly, when he returned to the Rio Lobo set, he was greeted by the cast and crew all wearing eye patches like True Grit’s Rooster Cogburn.