Actor John Wayne starred in over 165 movies over the course of his successful career. He starred in several legendary Western films, including Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but there was one that he turned down. As a result, he lost the “top Western star of the year” award, which sent him into a frustrated spiral.
Filmmaker Raoul Walsh gave Wayne his first opportunity to star in a leading role in 1930’s The Big Trail, which ultimately bombed at the box office. The actor moved to low-budget Western flicks, which offered him consistent work, but they didn’t give him the chance to grow in the way he wanted.
Wayne almost lost it all when he had a contract with Columbia studio head Harry Cohn. The actor acted politely toward a female actor on the studio lot, but Cohn had his eyes on her. As a result, he incurred the executive’s wrath, who did all he could to ensure that Wayne had no career. The roles got so bad, Wayne even played a corpse.
Wayne remained focused on making the best movies that he could, aiming to create pictures that he felt proud to star in. However, he didn’t shy away from holding grudges against those who wronged him, resulting in him losing out on leading roles because he refused to work with Columbia again.
According to Outsider, Cohn bought 1950’s The Gunfighter with Wayne in mind to play the lead role of Jimmy Ringo. The story follows the experienced gunslinger, as he seeks to find his wife (Helen Westcott) in town, but she has no interest in seeing him. However, Jimmy’s set of skills gets him into trouble thanks to his violent past.
The Henry King-directed Western ultimately cast Gregory Peck in the lead role that was intended for Wayne. The Western movie legend refused to work with Cohn after the previous events, so the project was sold to Twentieth Century-Fox.
Wayne also turned down the role in 1949’s Twelve O’Clock High, which follows a general working with a bomber unit failing to gain the motivation to pull off their mission. He must find a way to build them up to fight as they were intended. The war movie role also went to Peck.
Lynn Haney’s book, Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life, explained how Peck received the honor of the top Western star of the year in 1950 from the Reno Chamber of Commerce for The Gunfighter. Wayne snapped at Peck, “Well, who the hell decided that you were the best cowboy of the year?”
Wayne and Peck were undeniable movie stars with plenty of legendary roles under their belts. Wayne primarily starred in Western and warn flicks, ultimately going on to define the Western film genre, as a whole. He earned his first Oscar nomination for his performance in Sands of Iwo Jima, but he took home the Academy Award win for True Grit.
Despite losing the top Western star of the year in 1950, he solidified himself as one of the most legendary of all time.
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