John Wayne is a Western film icon and starred in many notable films during the Hollywood Golden Age. For over 30 years, fans saw his name attached to Westerns and war movies and couldn’t wait to see what he was filming next. But that doesn’t mean filming came easy for the superstar, especially in regard to injuries. Wayne suffered numerous physical difficulties through the years, and while filming Rio Lobo, he couldn’t use one side of his body. Here’s why.
Rio Lobo, a remake of Rio Bravo and El Dorado, came out in 1970 and featured John Wayne as the lead. Wayne played Cord McNally, a Civil War veteran searching for two traitors who caused McNally’s unit to go down. McNally travels to the town of Rio Lobo to unearth a shocking discovery.
Rio Lobo was director Howard Hawks’ last film, and it was far from the first time he worked with Wayne. “The last picture we made, I called him up and said, ‘Duke, I’ve got a story,’” Hawks said in 1971, according to Express.co.uk. “He said, ‘I can’t make it for a year, I’m all tied up.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s all right, it’ll take me a year to get it finished.’ He said, ‘Good, I’ll be all ready.’ And he came down on location and he said, ‘What’s this about?’ And I told him the story. He never even read it, he didn’t know anything about it.”
Ultimately, Rio Lobo bombed, and Hawks blamed it on Waynes being too old and out of shape for the movie to succeed. But Waynes had other difficulties on set. Before filming, he fractured three ribs while filming The Undefeated and gained weight for True Grit. He also tore a ligament in his shoulder. Filmmakers had to film only one side of Wayne’s body because he couldn’t move one arm.
Wayne’s torn shoulder was particularly difficult when it came to navigating the fight scenes in the film. Hawks had to utilize stand-in actors, and Wayne could only be seen from certain angles. Mounting and getting off of the horse smoothly also proved near impossible.
John Wayne had just previously gained weight for ‘True Grit’
As stated before, John Wayne was asked to gain weight for True Grit before filming Rio Lobo. Producer Hal Wallis hired Henry Hathaway to direct True Grit, and Hathaway requested that Wayne gain weight for the role of Marshal Reuben J. Cogburn. Wayne was reportedly overjoyed with the request.
The role came with another request that Wayne didn’t want to give into, though — and that was the eye patch. Wayne worried that an eye patch would have his fans turn against him, as it wasn’t the image they were used to seeing. But Wallis requested the eye patch remain.
However, Wallis and Wayne did compromise on one other aspect of Wayne’s appearance as Cogburn, though. They both agreed that Wayne didn’t have to have a mustache to play the character.
He didn’t understand why filmgoers wanted to watch ‘tough and bleak’ Westerns
While John Wayne is known for filming classic, gritty Westerns, he reportedly didn’t understand their appeal.
“I was getting anxious because there was this young guy called Clint Eastwood making Westerns in Italy and having tremendous success with them,” Wayne said at the end of the 1960s. “All of a sudden, the studios all wanted Eastwood to come and make Westerns for them, but they were not the kind of Westerns I’d been making. They were tough and bleak. I don’t get it. What do people see in these films?”
With that said, True Grit won Wayne Best Actor at the Academy Awards in 1970. Unfortunately, Rio Lobo didn’t win him the same accolades.
Elements of this story were first reported by Mank’s Movie Musings.
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