Although Eastwood was primarily working in television on the western Rawhide from 1959 to 1966 while Wayne was riding across the big screen, there was a golden opportunity for the pair to work together in 1973. By then, the younger star was an acclaimed movie star, thaks to the likes of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly franchise.
Eastwood had struck gold by teaming up with Sergio Leone for his Dollars Trilogy. The third and final movie – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, came out in 1966 and was an instant commercial smash.
Five years later, Eastwood directed his first film, Play Misty For Me, and also launched the Dirty Harry saga. He was hot Hollywood property and in 1973 directed his first western, High Plains Drifter.
Wayne had actually been offered Dirty Harry first. He turned it down, something he later regretted, admitting, “I made a mistake with that one
Eastwood later recalled: “John Wayne once wrote me a letter saying he didn’t like High Plains Drifter. 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.”
Wayne was infamously conservative and opposed to anything without a clear moral (in his view) code. He refused to shoot enemies in the back on screen or do anything to dishonour what he saw as the heroic past of his beloved nation.
The veteran star even blasted the ending of High Noon as “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.”