John Wayne, who would have been 116 today, went out of his way to make James Arness, who would have been 100 today, a star. This made the snub even more painful for Duke.
Over his incredible Hollywood career, John Wayne had many regular collaborators in his movies like Ward Bond, Howard Hawks and John Ford.
Duke and these men were part of Tinseltown’s strong conservative circle who were in favour of blacklisting suspected communists and progressive Democrats.
One of these Republican close friends and regular co-stars was James Arness. Unfortunately, that relationship was to be damaged very badly.
Arness played supporting roles opposite Wayne in 1950s movies like Big Jim McLain, Hondo, Island in the Sky and The Sea Chase.
Generous Duke even had him star in fast-paced Western Gun the Man Down for his Batjac production company. Yet helping his pal with his career didn’t stop there.
Wayne recommended Arness to lead the TV show Gunsmoke as Matt Dillon, even introducing him in the first episode’s prologue in 1955.
The Wild West US Marshall role would be his best known, starring in the series for an incredible 20 years. Yet when it came time to return the favour, Wayne would be severely disappointed.
By the end of the 1950s, Duke had been working on his passion project for almost 15 years: a big-budget movie about the Battle of the Alamo. He had been originally offered just $3 million by Republic Pictures and ended up feuding with the studio and leaving to found Batjac himself.
Wayne had planned to play the small role of Sam Houston in 1960’s The Alamo. However, he couldn’t get the $12 million ($120 million today) budget he wanted from backers without starring as Davy Crockett himself. The incredibly invested Duke also had to contribute $1.5 million of his own money by taking out second mortgages on his houses and using his cars and yacht as collateral to obtain loans.
Now the role of Houston was open and the Western legend – who was also making his directorial debut with The Alamo – reached out to his old friend Arness about the part.
Wayne-produced Gun the Man Down in 1956. The only exception was a cameo as Dillon in Bob Hope’s 1959 comedy Western Alias Jesse James.
Duke had set up an interview with Arness, hoping he would have time to play the small role of Houston in The Alamo. However, to his dismay, his old pal never turned up. The story goes that Wayne never really forgave him for the snub and Richard Boone was cast instead. Arness never made another cinematic movie after that.