When John Wayne Played John Chisum

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Inspired by the Lincoln County Wars of 1878, Chisum saw John Wayne standing up to a greedy and power-hungry man played by Forrest Tucker. In his 60s, Wayne proved that the audience was still rooting for their western hero, and the film grossed approximately $6 million dollars.

1. Wayne got his co-star the job.

The Duke and John Agar previously worked together on John Ford’s Fort Apache. It was Agar’s first film, and he was especially nervous. He said, “I was petrified, and I was working with people who I had grown up watching and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing.” Wayne helped the young actor prepare for the role, and year later, got him the job on Chisum. Agar was especially grateful and even kept in touch with the Duke, calling every Christmas.  

2. The big brawl took two days to film.

Chisum wasn’t the first time John Wayne and Forrest Tucker got into a fist-fight. In 1949, the two faced off briefly in Sands of Iwo Jima. This time around, the fight was longer and more dangerous. In fact, Wayne’s stunt double broke his wrist while taking a stunt-fall down the stairs. It wasn’t all rough-and-tumble though. Director McLaglen had fun with Tucker’s stunt double and replaced a rubber horseshoe with a real one.

3. The Duke played chess with Mitchum’s son.

John Wayne was friends with Mitchum, and the friendship extended to his son, Christopher. However, the younger Mitchum noticed something when the two would play chess. He said, “He had huge hands and for the first couple of days we were playing, he’d reach out to move a piece with his fingers, and his thumb would slide a rook over…” Mitchum was nervous to call out the western legend, but when he finally did, Wayne said he wondered why it took him so long. From then on they played fair and square.

4. Wayne was a team player.

Screenwriter McFenady remembered the Duke removed his own lines when he felt they weren’t necessary – something quite atypical for an actor. In fact, the Duke even removed himself completely from a scene because he felt that he wasn’t needed. McFenady said, “He was the most generous actor.”