‘Pure drivel’ John Wayne’s furious rejection of Steven Spielberg hid his ‘secret shame’
JOHN WAYNE FURIOUSLY REJECTED an offer from Steven Spielberg, branding his film “drivel.” Yet many, including the Western star’s wife
For decades, Wayne straddled the screen, the ultimate symbol of US frontier and even military machismo. Firmly right-wing in his personal and public views, his third wife Pilar labelled him a “superpatriot.” And when a chance came towards the end of his life to work with the new hottest director in town, the ageing star furiously shot him down. After being offered a plum role, Wayne typically did not mince his words and told Spielberg the film 1941 was “the most anti-American piece of drivel I have ever read in my life.”
1941 is remembered as one of the director’s rare misfires, despite attaining cult status in subsequent years. Although it turned a very small profit, it paled in success next to his previous Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Released in 1979, it was soon eclipsed and forgotten after the first Raiders of the Lost Ark movie hit screens two years later.
The action-comedy humorously imagines a Japanese attack on Los Angeles days after the offensive on the US fleet at Pearl Harbour.
Wayne refused the role of General Joseph Stilwell (which went to Robert Stack) and told Spielberg: “You know, that was an important war, and you’re making fun of a war that cost thousands of lives at Pearl Harbor. Don’t joke about World War II.”
The Duke’s patriotic fervour is understandable but was also rooted in his own rather compromised past.
After the US entered the Second World War, many stars visited the troops to perform and boost morale.
When Wayne visited military camps in Australia and across the Pacific in 1942, he was horrified by their response.
One veteran recalled: “After my evacuation from Okinawa, I had the enormous pleasure of seeing Wayne humiliated in person at Aiea Heights Naval Hospital in Hawaii … Each evening, Navy corpsmen would carry litters down the hospital theatre so the men could watch a movie. One night they had a surprise for us.
Before the film, the curtains parted, and out stepped John Wayne, wearing a cowboy outfit – 10-gallon hat, bandana, checkered shirt, two pistols, chaps, boots and spurs.”
It’s hard to believe with hindsight, since the actor would become an advocate for military service off-screen and would receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination for 1949’s Sands of Iwo Jima. But it wasn’t just Wayne’s roles on screen that riled the soldiers.
proc. BY MOVIES