Movie star John Wayne took his career very seriously. He starred in a wide assortment of Western and war movies, but they weren’t all winners. Wayne wasn’t afraid to admit when a movie role wasn’t the right one for him. However, he always took it personally when a bad one came across his desk. It once went so far that he threatened to fire his agent when he read a script that he found offensive. Nevertheless, it went on to win big at the Academy Awards.
Wayne made his first box-office disaster with 1930’s The Big Trail, which was directed by Raoul Walsh. He didn’t get the opportunity to explode into stardom until 1939’s Stagecoach, which was his first leading collaboration with his mentor, John Ford. The movie star had to involve himself in plenty of bad B-movie roles that he considered “embarrassing” to be a part of.
The Western movie star wanted to play tough roles that didn’t go into “mean” or “petty” territory. He drew moral boundaries that he refused to cross on the silver screen. For example, Wayne demanded reshoots on The Shootist after seeing that his character, J.B. Books, shot a bad guy in the back, which he considered cowardly.
According to an interview with Playboy, Wayne especially hated the script for the 1949 movie All the King’s Men. He once explained that he turned down 1952’s High Noon because it was “un-American.” However, it wasn’t the only film that offended him on that level. Wayne referred to the films’ writers, Carl Foreman and Robert Rossen, as communists that brought their messaging to their features.
“In Rossen’s version of All the King’s Men, which he sent me to read for a part, every character who had any responsibility at all was guilty of some offense against society,” Wayne said. “To make Huey Long a wonderful, rough pirate was great; but, according to this picture, everybody was a s*** except for this weakling intern doctor who was trying to find a place in the world.”
Wayne continued: “I sent the script back to Charlie Feldman, my agent, and said, ‘If you ever send me a script like this again, I’ll fire you.’”
‘All the King’s Men’ won 3 Oscars
Wayne had to see the movie he turned down make it all the way to the Academy Awards. At the same ceremony, he earned a nomination for his performance in 1950’s Sands of Iwo Jima. However, he lost to Broderick Crawford in All the King’s Men, which he told Playboy, “Ironically, it won the Academy Award.”
All the King’s Men won an additional two Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Mercedes McCambridge. Additionally, it earned nominations for Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.
Wayne certainly wanted to win an Oscar under his belt, as it had the potential to further change his career and award him with credibility. However, he didn’t want to do it while sacrificing his morals.
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