Western actor John Wayne was in for quite the change of scenery when Clint Eastwood stepped onto the scene. They will forever be compared for the type of movies they made and the characters they played within the same genre. However, there was one role that Wayne admitted he made a “terrible mistake” rejecting that ultimately went to Eastwood. That role would make its mark on the world of filmmaking forever.
Understandably, Eastwood looked up to and admired Wayne as a performer, a filmmaker, and a man. However, they certainly represented different eras of Western moviemaking that undeniably set them apart. Wayne revolutionized “fighting dirty” on the silver screen, but he always played his characters with a sense of strict masculinity. The actor refused to compromise the signature character that audiences came to expect when paying to see one of his features.
Meanwhile, Eastwood represented a very different type of Western performance than Wayne. He starred in spaghetti Westerns, such as A Fistful of Dollars. The protagonist was an anti-hero with ambiguous morals that provided a totally different type of perspective role for the genre. As a result, the two actors brought very contrasting characters to the silver screen that earned them each a magnitude of fame and success.
Carolyn McGivern’s book, John Wayne: A Giant Shadow, revealed some of the roles that Wayne turned down over the years. He always stuck to his guns and refused to play characters that went against his moral compass. However, there were some roles that slipped out of his grasp that he regretted passing up.
Wayne wanted to steer clear of the Western genre and had the opportunity to play Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry. The plot follows a cop who isn’t afraid to break the rules to bring justice to those who cross him. He tracks down a rooftop killer who has a kidnapped girl in his possession. The movie star was working on several other projects that he was committed to and decided to turn this one down.
McGivern wrote that he “regretted” passing on the role and called it a “terrible mistake” in his career. The character was the perfect fit, as it took him away from an old Western setting and placed him in the middle of the city. The movie star asked himself, “How did I ever let that one slip through my fingers?”
Wayne ultimately lost out on Dirty Harry when Eastwood accepted it, achieving further fame and fortune as a result. Additionally, the film generated a positive $18 million profit.
Wayne had negative feelings toward Eastwood regarding the films he made. Nevertheless, their fans have a great amount of crossover. A film starring both Western actors certainly would have brought a lot of audiences to the cinema. Unfortunately, it never came to be. Eastwood tried to pitch The Hostiles to the movie star, but he rejected it more than once.
Wayne sent a letter to Eastwood, specifically complaining about High Plains Drifter. He hated the way that the actor and the film depicted the Old West, refusing to associate himself with the actor. Nevertheless, they both still remain the biggest names tied to the Western film genre.
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