John Wayne

John Wayne’s fraught relationship with Kirk Douglas as pair ‘never saw eye-to-eye’

The western legend's comments came in spite of Kirk Douglas' once claiming the two were close friends.

One of John Wayne’s forgotten roles airs this weekend, as the iconic Hollywood juggernaut appears in the 1928 silent movie Noah’s Ark, from 3pm on TCM on April 1. The film — which saw Wayne earn work as an extra — helped the ‘Duke’ make his way to Tinsel Town. By the time of his death some 51 years later, Wayne’s legacy as one of Hollywood’s most profitable and critically acclaimed stars was complete. But this did not come without controversy.

And with such fame came his run-ins with fellow 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.

Despite appearing to be close friends with each other, the reality was far more complicated.

Wayne and Douglas appeared in a number of productions together throughout their careers, including The War Wagon, Harm’s Way, and Cast a Giant Shadow.

They appeared at ease with one another on set, as well as when they portrayed the heroic characters on screen, though Douglas said this was simply for the camera.

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas’ friendship was one of the most enduring in Hollywood (Image: GETTY)

John Wayne

John Wayne was one of Hollywood’s biggest ever stars (Image: GETTY)

Speaking on The Dick Cavett Show during one appearance, Douglas, who passed away in February 2020, said that he wasn’t prepared to talk about his friendship or lack thereof with Wayne.

“We have 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 discussed politics, but he’s the first guy on the set, he’s the hardest worked I’ve ever worked with, and I think he’s quite a character.”

Though distancing himself from Wayne, who was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest male stars of classic American cinema, Douglas recalled speaking with the star in 1956 after his film Lust for Life was released.

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas starred in numerous films together (Image: GETTY)

The flick saw Douglas star as fabled Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and earned an impressive 85 percent positive rating on reviews aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes.

Wayne, however, was unhappy that his colleague decided to play the part.

Speaking with James Bawden and Ron Miller, on their Conversations with Classic Film Stars, Douglas explained: “When I played Van Gogh in Lust for Life, we had a private showing of it, and John Wayne was there. We had a little supper party, and Wayne had a few drinks.

“Afterwards, he motioned to me to go out on the veranda with him, and he berated me! He said, ‘How the hell could you play a goddamn character like that?’

“And I said, ‘What do you mean? I’m an actor. He’s a fascinating character.’

“And Wayne said, ‘No, no. We should never play those kinds of weak, snivelling characters. I don’t ever want to see you in a part like that again! They have no dignity!'”

Kirk Douglas and John Wayne

Kirk Douglas spoke about when John Wayne watched him as Vincent van Gogh (Image: GETTY)

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in 1967 (Image: GETTY)

Regardless, Douglas’ affection for Wayne would last a lifetime. He discussed Wayne’s legacy with the heralded film critic Roger Ebert in 1969, describing the Iowa-born actor as “the perfect movie star” and how he brought “so much authority to a role”.

He said: “There’s nothing wrong with a John Wayne movie. I hate arty-farty pictures. What you always hope to make is a good, honest picture with balls.

“We did that with ‘Spartacus.’ That was the best big spectacle ever made. Ben-Hur’ made almost three times as much money and didn’t even compare.

“In our spectacle, the characters dominated the setting. It was a picture about men, not production values. Well, it made money. But my best pictures have seldom been my most successful.”

Douglas, whose son Michael won two Oscars and five Golden Globes during an illustrious film and TV career, enjoyed huge commercial success during his career. He is best known for his roles in films like The Indian Fighter and Paths of Glory.

Cementing his legacy, in 1960, Douglas was named by the American Film Institute the 17th-greatest male star of Classic Hollywood cinema.

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