El Dorado actor John Wayne was an intimidating figure because of both his height and star power. However, he had a certain wit and charm that naturally pulled those around him in, even when they had differing political ideologies. Co-star Ed Asner once revealed that Wayne put him through the “roast test” on the first day of filming El Dorado, but it didn’t change his opinion of him.
El Dorado became a legendary piece of American Western filmmaking, but Wayne and filmmaker Howard Hawks collaborating didn’t hurt. The 1966 film was loosely based on Harry Brown’s book, The Stars in Their Courses.
The story follows a mean tycoon named Bart Jason (Ed Asner) who is so desperate to claim the MacDonald family’s land that he’s willing to hire a group of thugs to ensure they move. A heavily inebriated Sheriff J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum) is useless, leaving a noble gunfighter named Thorton (Wayne) to help out. He makes the trip to El Dorado along with his friend, Mississippi (James Caan), to set things right.
Even earlier in Wayne’s career, before El Dorado, he always had an unmistakable presence on the set. As a result, a wide assortment of legendary actors had the opportunity to brush shoulders with the Western movie star in their earlier days in the film business. Asner was 37 years old at the time of filming El Dorado, but he recalled what it was like to work alongside the iconic actor in an interview with Jake’s Takes.
“I found myself going into uncharted territory,” Asner said about what it was like working with Wayne and Hawks. ‘I regarded myself as a big liberal. I hadn’t been proven yet as a liberal, but a big liberal. Here I was going against one of the biggest reactionaries of the times. So, I didn’t know how I’d be treated.”
Asner continued: “I was roasted on the first day. I passed the roast test and, once again, found him to be a nice, breathable fellow. He seemed to have a resentment against the cameraman … He wanted to get rid of him, but [Howard] Hawks wouldn’t let him go.”
Wayne primarily operated in Western and war genres with films such as El Dorado and The Green Berets, respectively. However, not everything he made was a winner. The movie star even recognized that he knew when one of his movies was a stinker. From The Conqueror to Jet Pilot, Wayne made some missteps, but he always appreciated having steady work as an actor.
El Dorado came out on top as a real winner. It sits among 11 other Wayne movies to earn 100% on Rotten Tomatoes from critics, calling it one of the actor’s most entertaining movies of his career.
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