John Wayne Couldn’t Stand His ‘Violent’ Costar in ‘True Grit’
John Wayne was a towering figure in the world of film. Not just in terms of his stature as a film legend, but also physically. At 6’3″ he held an imposing figure. Few people would be foolish enough to cross him. The Duke once famously described how his own toughness helped change the traditional film hero.
“Before I came along it was standard practice that the hero must always fight clean. The heavy was allowed to hit the hero in the head with a chair or throw a kerosene lamp at him or kick him in the stomach, but the hero could only knock the villain down politely and then wait until he rose. I changed all that. I threw chairs and lamps, I fought hard, and I fought dirty, I fought to win.”
One of Wayne’s most famous roles was as U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn in the 1969 film True Grit. The film is best remembered as the only performance for which Wayne won an Oscar.
The legendary actor fought for the role from the moment he read the original novel. He had even pressed for the casting of Elvis Presley in the secondary role of La Boeuf. But the King of Rock and Roll refused when Wayne refused to give up top billing.
John Wayne Gives a Young Duvall a Reality Check
Wayne encountered another problem when the film finally made it in front of cameras. Robert Duvall was cast in the role of Ned Pepper. Duvall hadn’t yet established his name as a leading man, but he had established a reputation for having a short fuse.
Duvall was also an intense method actor. His approach to acting often collided with the vision of Wayne and True Grit director Henry Hathaway. This often led to aggressive confrontations on set.
Duvall recalled in 2015, “The director and I didn’t get along — I don’t get along with a lot of directors. Henry Hathaway… we won’t talk about him.”
Wayne fought hard to get the production off the ground. So he grew increasingly irritated with the disruptions between Duvall and the director. He finally threatened to punch Duvall out if he didn’t stop instigating the director.
There’s no telling how close to blows the actors came. But they eventually put the film in the can and created another major milestone in Wayne’s filmography. The Duke though was never satisfied with his work on True Grit. Even on the night he won his Oscar, Wayne told fellow nominee Richard Burton that he should have won for his performance in Anne of a Thousand Days.
Duvall once reflected on how he remembers working with John Wayne. He said, “Wayne wasn’t as bad as some supposedly serious actors I’ve seen who trained at the Actors Studio and all that… Wayne was interesting to be around. He was pleasant and outgoing…He was an institution unto himself, and that final film he did, The Shootist, it was wonderful what he did. So he was a good guy to work with, absolutely.”