Two of the biggest Western movie stars in the history of cinema are undeniably Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. John Wayne brought close to 200 movies and TV shows to life in his time. Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood has over 70 acting credits to his name and is still making movie magic to this day, at almost 92 years old. Sadly, however, the two never hit the big screen together. And there’s a reason for that.
With almost 300 projects between them, you’ve probably already guessed that it wasn’t fate that kept them apart. No; in fact, in the early 1970s, a director named Larry Cohen once asked both actors to star in a movie called The Hostiles. John Wayne, however, said no to the film.
And because The Duke never hesitated to speak his mind, we know exactly why he turned it down. John Wayne not only hated the script of The Hostiles but he also hated the way the director wanted to depict the Old West. Oh, and he wasn’t necessarily a huge fan of Clint Eastwood. Specifically, Clint Eastwood as an actor/director, as far as we know, not as a person.
In true Duke fashion, John Wayne wrote Clint Eastwood a letter telling him so. In the book Ride, Boldly Ride: The Evolution of the American Western, Eastwood recounted the incident.
“John Wayne once wrote me a letter saying he didn’t like High Plains Drifter,” Eastwood said. “He said it wasn’t really about the people who pioneered the West. I realized that there’s two different generations, and he wouldn’t understand what I was doing. High Plains Drifter was meant to be a fable. It wasn’t meant to show the hours of pioneering drudgery. It wasn’t supposed to be anything about settling the West.”
How John Wayne and Clint Eastwood’s Western Styles Differ
The Western genre dates all the way back to 1903, when Edwin S. Porter made the first film of its kind, The Great Train Robbery. It was a silent film with cinematographic narration describing the events rather than dialogue between characters.
In the more than a century that followed, the Western genre grew and changed. Traditions were set and then broken, over and over again until today, and that will probably continue for the rest of time. Because, after all, what is film if not art? Directors and actors make small tweaks to every film they help create to suit their own vision of the final product.
Back in the 70s, John Wayne didn’t appreciate the changes that he saw in the Western genre. To Wayne, the new movies were too dark; he preferred the classic, heroic tales of the 40s and 50s. So when John Wayne received an invitation to work with Clint Eastwood on the new, grittier version of Western, it’s not surprising he turned it down.
It all comes down to personal preference. John Wayne might not have liked his style, but Clint Eastwood went on to become a world-renowned director. Clint Eastwood never responded to the letter in which John Wayne so frankly described his feelings.