The Classic John Wayne Western That Clint Eastwood Passed On (& How It Led To Wayne Cussing Out Eastwood)



  •  Clint Eastwood’s Western movies were darker and more cynical than those made during the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, which might explain why John Wayne wasn’t a fan.
  •  John Wayne’s final movie, The Shootist, almost starred Clint Eastwood, but other actors were considered due to Wayne’s declining health.
  •  Wayne had a confrontation with the director on the set of The Shootist, refusing to film a scene where his character shot someone in the back, stating he had never done that in his career.

Clint Eastwood passed on a Western movie role that went on to feature one of John Wayne’s best performances. While Westerns were once one of the most dominant genres in Hollywood, they waned greatly in popularity during the 1960s. Eastwood was one of the last movie stars to make his name off the genre, thanks to the success of Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy or Hang ‘Em High. Clint Eastwood’s Western movies were a good deal darker and more cynical than those produced during the “Golden Age” of studio movies – which might be one reason John Wayne wasn’t a fan.

Studio at the time would have leapt at the chance to pair Eastwood and Wayne together in a Western, but the latter held a real distaste for Eastwood’s work. He especially disliked the Eastwood-directed High Plains Drifter and even wrote Clint a letter critiquing it. Despite the popularity of “oaters” declining sharply, Wayne was one of the few actors to star in them consistently until the end of his career. His final role in 1976’s The Shootist cast Wayne as a dying gunfighter and features one of his most vulnerable performances. Wayne wasn’t the only actor considered for the role, however.

John Wayne’s Final Movie The Shootist Almost Starred Clint

Clint eastwood unforgiven john wayne the shootist

The star suffered from ill health for many of his final projects, including Wayne’s only sequel Rooster Cogburn, and his name alone was no longer enough to guarantee a hit. According to the biography Duke: The Life and Times of John Wayne, it was the star’s ongoing health struggles that led the studio to consider many other name actors for The Shootist, including Paul Newman, Charles Bronson and – of course – Clint Eastwood. They all passed, so the project finally came around to Wayne.

The Shootist ended up being a perfect final screen role for Wayne, though contrary to rumor, the star hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer when he was filming it. Wayne considered other film roles in the years following The Shootist – including bluntly rejecting an appearance in Spielberg’s 1941 because he felt it made light of World War 2 – but illness prevented this. While The Shootist wasn’t much of a success upon release, it received good reviews and Wayne’s performance is now regarded as one of his best.

Wayne Cussed Out Eastwood On The Shootist’s Set

John Wayne in the 1976 movie The Shootist.

Perhaps Wayne wouldn’t have accepted The Shootist had he been aware that Newman or Eastwood have turned it down first. The film itself was helmed by regular Eastwood collaborator Don Siegel (Dirty Harry), and there’s even a still image of Eastwood, Siegel and Wayne meeting on The Shootist’s set. However, Wayne’s unhappiness over a scripted scene where his character Books shot a bad guy in the back during the finale saw Siegel invoke Eastwood’s name.

Eastwood himself recounted on Inside the Actor’s Studio an anecdote from The Shootist’s set, where he stated Siegel made a “terrible error” trying to direct Wayne in this sequence. When Wayne proclaimed he had “never” shot anyone in the back during his screen career and wasn’t about to start. Siegel countered that Clint would have filmed the scene that way, to which John Wayne turned “blue” and shouted, “I don’t care what the kid woulda done, I don’t shoot ’em in the back!” Wayne clearly got his way, as in The Shootist’s ending, he doesn’t shoot anyone in the back.

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