Actors often butt heads on set. In such an ego-driven business, personalities can clash and lead to some tension. Even icons who worked together numerous times can (nearly) come to blows. Case in point: John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, two acting titans of the mid-century, nearly came to blows on the set of the western heist saga The War Wagon.
The War Wagon: John Wayne was ‘furious’ with Kirk Douglas – ‘We never saw eye-to-eye’ https://t.co/63evgjFzwK
— Frackoff Felgercarb (@FrackoffF) April 10, 2022
Kirk Douglas vs. John Wayne
War Wagon was not the first time Douglas and Wayne worked together. The two had previously starred together in the biopic Cast A Big Shadow and In Harm’s Way, which was Wayne’s final black and white film and one of the final epic black and white war films.
Filming began with a struggle. Wayne’s health was in a fragile state by that time after losing a lung and multiple ribs during cancer surgery. In fact, the actor required oxygen while traveling to the set location. Douglas would later remark about how fragile Wayne seemed.
The tensions between Wayne and Douglas really began when Douglas was late to set because he was filming a commercial for Edmund G. Brown, a Democratic nominee for governor running against Republican John Wayne’s friend Ronald Reagan.
Thankfully, tensions between the two cooled, and they were able to work well together.
You can watch the trailer for this 1967 classic western, The War Wagon, below.
Kirk Douglas Wouldn’t Bad Mouth John Wayne
Despite some political tension, Douglas was effusive in his praise of The Duke in later interviews:
“We get along well, we never discuss politics. But he’s the first guy on the set, the hardest worker I’ve ever worked with, and I think he’s quite a character.”
In an interview with Dick Cavett, the talk show host attempted to get Kirk Douglas to besmirch John Wayne.
Douglas refused to bad mouth Wayne, though he did note that he never called him Duke and would only call him by his first name, John.
How refreshing that people with different political beliefs were able to work together and not let politics ruins their working relationships.
Modern Hollywood could take a lesson or two from The Duke and Spartacus. Not just Hollywood, but all of America. We would be a much more peaceful, loving country if we stopped judging people by their politics and instead judged them by their hearts.
Why John Wayne Needed An Oxygen Mask
The Duke battled cancer twice in his life. A lifetime smoker, Wayne was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1964, the disease required the removal of his left lung and two ribs.
"Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway" ?? After John Wayne passed away, his family created the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. You can join us in the fight against cancer by running in the John Wayne Grit Series runs this Fall! More info: https://t.co/g1egGgVBVV pic.twitter.com/dIFxdd4fBL
— John Wayne Official (@JohnDukeWayne) August 6, 2021
Despite taboos against talking about diseases at the time, Wayne was upfront and honest about his cancer diagnosis and would use his fame to bring awareness to the disease and to encourage people not to smoke.
May 26, 1907 – June 11, 1979 ? This day 42 years ago the world lost John Wayne to cancer and today we remember his life & legacy. In honor of the Duke, what is your favorite thing about John Wayne? #JohnWayne
(photo by John Hamilton Collection) pic.twitter.com/5a14wM5H0I
— John Wayne Official (@JohnDukeWayne) June 11, 2021
One thing is for certain, there will never be another like John Wayne, and the American western will never be the same.