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That’s right. Ann-Margret was scared of horses when she was cast as a lead in the Western The Train Riders.
She said, “When I was ten, a horse had tried to bite me at a carnival, and I was scared of horses ever since. In fact, I’d never ridden again.”
That was until this film which just happened to also star the biggest Western icon ever – John Wayne.
To prepare for the part, Ann-Margret took riding lessons with Chuck Heyward, a professional Hollywood stuntman who doubled for top talent including Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Yul Brynner, and Burt Reynolds. He also did stunts for John Wayne, who was his friend ever since working together in 1949 on The Fighting Kentuckian.
Despite the training though, Ann-Margret couldn’t shake the nerves.
“I’d worked myself into a state, though I thought no one could tell. I was wrong,” she said.
John Wayne knew.
“How do you tell John Wayne you’re scared to ride?”
While he did chuckle a bit at her predicament, the Duke calmed her nerves and assured her that he’d make sure she was fine.
“He was a big teddy bear, and we got along famously. Duke gave me the confidence I lacked.”
Wayne was also a comfort after the 1972 Academy Awards. Ann-Margret was nominated for Best Actress for Carnal Knowledge but didn’t received the statuette.
So the Duke told her, “Little lady, you’ve got something more special than an award. You’ve got the ability to make people happy. That tells me you’re going to be around a long time.”
Their friendship continued after the film, and Wayne even filled in for her on The Tonight Show when she was unable to attend.
Ann-Margret said, “The man was just colossal. I’m 5-4 and a half, and when he hugged you, you were totally enveloped into him.”