One of John Wayne’s forgotten roles is on display this weekend, as the iconic Hollywood hero appears in the 1928 silent film Noah’s Ark, starting at TCM at 3 p.m. on April 1st. On his way to Tinsel Town. By the time of his death nearly 51 years later, Wayne’s legacy as one of Hollywood’s highest-paid and critically acclaimed stars was complete. But this did not come without controversy.
And with this fame came his encounters with his co-stars, including those Wayne considered friends. Among them was Kirk Douglas, the man often remembered as the greatest actor to never win an Academy Award.
Although they appeared to be close friends to each other, the reality was much more complicated.
Wayne and Douglas have appeared in a number of productions together throughout their careers, including The War Wagon, Harm’s Way, and Cast a Giant Shadow.
They appeared comfortable with each other on set, as well as when they portrayed the heroic characters on screen, although Douglas said this was only for the camera.
Speaking on Dick Cavett’s show during one appearance, Douglas, who passed away in February 2020, said he wasn’t ready to talk about his friendship, or lack thereof, with Wayne.
“We’ve never seen eye to eye on a lot of things,” he said. “But professionally, I think he’s one of the most professional actors I’ve ever worked with.
“We get along very well, we never discuss politics, but he’s the number one guy in the group, he’s the hardest job I’ve ever worked with, and I think he’s a great character.”
Although he distanced himself from Wayne, who was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest male stars in classic American cinema, Douglas recalled his star conversation in 1956 after the release of his film Lust for Life.
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The film saw Douglas star as legendary Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and earned an astonishing 85 percent positive rating on review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes.
However, Wayne was not happy that his colleague decided to play the role.
Speaking with James Bowden and Ron Miller, in their conversations with Classic Film Stars, Douglas explained: “When I played Van Gogh in Lust for Life, we had a private showing of him, and John Wayne was there. We had a little dinner party, and Wayne ate some drinks.
Afterwards, he motioned for me to go out with him to the veranda, and scolded me! He said, “How the hell can you play a goddamn character like that?” “
And I said, “What do you mean?” I am an actor. He’s an amazing character. “
And Wayne said, “No, no. We should never have to play these kinds of weak and flabby characters. I never want to see you in a part like that again! They have no dignity! “
Regardless, Douglas’ affection for Wayne would last a lifetime. He discussed Wayne’s legacy with film critic Roger Ebert in 1969, calling the Iowa-born actor “the perfect movie star” and how he brought “a great deal of authority to a role”.
He said, “There’s nothing wrong with a John Wayne movie. I hate arty pictures. What you always hope to make is a good, honest picture with the balls.”
“We did it with ‘Spartacus.’ That was the best big scene ever, Ben-Hur made almost three times the money and it didn’t even compare.
“In our scene, characters took over. It was a picture about men, not production values. Well, I made money. But rarely have my best pictures been the most successful.”
Douglas, whose son Michael won two Academy Awards and five Golden Globe Awards during his film and television career, has achieved tremendous commercial success during his career. He is best known for his roles in films like The Indian Fighter and Paths of Glory.
Furthering his legacy, in 1960 Douglas was named by the American Film Institute as the 17th greatest male star of classic Hollywood cinema.
Noah’s Ark airs from 3 p.m. on TCM on April 1.
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