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Cowboy was based on the life experiences of Frank Harris, a hotel clerk who became a cowboy after being inspired by his run-ins with cattlemen.
The film adaption starred Glenn Ford as the experienced cowboy while Jack Lemmon played the newbie.
“Glenn was superb. I’ve never seen a guy sit in a saddle like he did. His body didn’t move,” remembered Jack Lemmon.
1. Other actors were supposed to be the lead.
Originally, John Huston bought the rights to the book with the hopes of directing his father, Walter Huston, in the picture. However, Walter died before this dream could be realized. Sometime later, the project resurfaced with Spencer Tracy and Montgomery Clift as the leads. When Monty dropped out, Glenn Ford was mentioned as a replacement, but it never came to fruition. Later, Gary Cooper and Alan Ladd were considered, before it finally came back to Glenn Ford. This time, though, he was paired with Jack Lemmon.
2. Ford convinced Lemmon.
Jack Lemmon didn’t like to ride horses, and that’s allegedly the reason he passed on the project. However, Glenn Ford (with the help of some liquid encouragement) convinced him that the project was worth doing. He even offered to get him the best horse to ride for the film. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and the first day of filming called for Lemmon to show off his riding skills. His horse, however, had other plans and took off running, even knocking over three crew members.
3. A stunt could have turned out very bad.
Director Delmer Daves wanted his two leads (not two stuntmen) to do a particularly hard scene in which Ford saves Lemmon from being gored by cows after getting stuck in one of the cattle cars. However, the scene didn’t quite go as planned, and Lemmon found himself surrounded by frantic cattle with sharp horns. Thankfully, the action died down enough for Ford to help his co-star to safety, and no one was injured. Read about another dangerous time that Glenn Ford had on the set of western Texas here.