When John Wayne decided he was going to do something, there wasn’t much anyone could do to stop him. His history is littered with instances of when he went against the orders of his bosses. Most of the time, it made the movie better.
One such instance was a simple stunt in the movie McClintock. The set-up is straightforward. John Wayne scares Maureen O’Hara, who falls from a balcony onto a pile of hay. Wayne then leaps off the balcony and onto the hay next to her. Seems simple enough, but when you’re the biggest movie star on the planet and any injury to you could shut down production for weeks, most film companies aren’t going to allow you to do anything risky.
The studio was adamant that a stuntman do the shot, but Wayne said he “thought it looked fun,” according to IMDB. Neither side was willing to budge on the issue, but a compromise was eventually reached. Wayne could do the stunt, but they’d also ask a stuntman to perform it as well as backup.
And John Wayne wasn’t the only one willing to put himself on the line for the sake of a shot. That’s Maureen O’Hara in the famous mud fight in the movie. She also did her own stunts in that scene, according to True West Magazine.
John Wayne didn’t just fight with studios over stupid stunts and fun gags. He was willing to put his entire financial future on the line to get The Alamo made after studios felt it would cost too much. Republic, the first production company balked at the $3 million price tag that Wayne wanted for the picture.
So, he left and produced it on his own. But that meant putting up his house, yacht, and several other major personal items as collateral to secure the loans.
And maybe Republic was right to stay away. The film didn’t cost $3 million. Wayne’s vision for the film was so large that the price tag exploded. It ended up costing $12 million to film but made a modest $20 million at the box office. The final scene features 7,000 extras, 1,500 horses, and 400 Texan longhorn cattle, according to IMDB.
The reason the cost ballooned so much was that John Wayne’s vision was so large. It took two years to build The Alamo set, as Wayne — who ended up producing, directing, and starring in the film — wanted authenticity. And while the movie received middling reviews from critics, historians say it was one of the most accurate sets ever created at the time. The book A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory documented Wayne’s struggles getting the movie made.
“I think making The Alamo became my father’s own form of combat,” said Wayne’s daughter, Aissa, in the book. “More than an obsession, it was the most intensely personal project in his career.”
Wayne eventually made his money back a decade later when he sold the television rights.