By Scott Holleran
In honor of the centenary of John Wayne’s birth on May 26, director Andrew V. McLaglen, who directed the Duke in several movies, spoke with me about the American movie star. This interview, in which the 87-year-old Mr. McLaglen also discusses his many motion pictures and television programs, is part of a centennial series commemorating John Wayne.
Scott Holleran: McLintock! was released a week before President Kennedy‘s assassination. Did that hurt the picture at the box office?
Andrew V. McLaglen: No. As a matter of fact, it was a big box office movie and it’s had its own life. It isn’t as well known as The Quiet Man but it’s pretty close.
Scott Holleran: What did producer Michael Wayne, John Wayne’s late son, bring to the movie?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Michael was the head of Wayne-Fellows, the predecessor to [John Wayne’s company] Batjac. He was strictly an executive producer and he was a good producer. But we were doing a John Wayne picture and we knew the studio wasn’t going to be jumping all over us [about costs and schedule].
Scott Holleran: You’d worked on the crew for The Quiet Man, which featured your father Victor in his Best Supporting Actor Oscar-nominated role. What changed between co-stars Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne from 1952 to 1963, when they re-teamed for McLintock!?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Nothing. Maureen’s very loyal to John Wayne. They never had any sexual relationship, but she really loved John Wayne. She’s a terrific lady.
Scott Holleran: James Arness, Ben Johnson, Chill Wills, Bruce Cabot, Harry Carey, Jr., Royal Dano, Edgar Buchanan, Paul Fix—several actors were often used on your Westerns with John Wayne. What did the company add to a picture?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Somebody might have something negative to say about [using the same actors] but there was a certain loyalty involved. For example, Bruce Cabot was a buddy of Duke’s and I think [John Wayne] loved the idea of helping Bruce. But he wouldn’t have used Bruce if he couldn’t play the part. It was almost automatic that Bruce was in those pictures and that’s friendship—but I don’t think it hurt the movie.
Scott Holleran: What was the relationship between Robert Stack and John Wayne on The High and the Mighty?
Andrew V. McLaglen: There was no competition. I think Bob really enjoyed doing the part [of the nervous commercial airline pilot], which was a different role for Bob. That had an interesting sidelight to it. William A. Wellman was a terrific director—an icon of the Golden Age of films. He would wake me up at 5:30 a.m. and I really was his assistant director. Every day for two weeks he received a telegram from Bob Stack’s agent saying [Robert Stack] would work for nothing if he was cast. We’d talked about casting everyone, including Ronald Reagan [as the pilot]. Finally, Wellman said, “oh, what the hell, if he wants the part that badly, let’s give it to him.” That’s how he got the part.
Scott Holleran: What were the challenges of directing John Wayne in Hellfighters?
Andrew V. McLaglen: I had a terrific time down in Houston. It was my second picture directing Duke so it’s not like it was something new. It was an epic story of a real, tough guy [an oil firefighter]. I think that was the first movie for which John Wayne earned $1 million.
Scott Holleran: Chisum was one of John Wayne’s few Westerns based on historical events. How did Duke research his role as John Chisum?
Andrew V. McLaglen: He let [writer] Andrew Fenady do all the research. The Duke just enjoyed doing the movie. So did I. Chisum is one of my favorites. I wanted Billy the Kid to just be Billy the Kid, a human being, not a bad little boy. Fenady was sort of a scholar about the Lincoln County Cattle War, which was a conflict over water and cattle—trading cattle—and John Chisum actually became a very powerful landowner. It was an American story.
Scott Holleran: How did Duke regard Rock Hudson as an actor during production of The Undefeated?
Andrew V. McLaglen: He really liked working with Rock. Rock was a real professional actor—I found him to be a good guy to work with. Everybody knew Rock was gay, including Duke, and it absolutely meant zero to Duke—or to me. I’ve worked with other gay actors. John Wayne was happy to work with him and Rock was included in all the social functions. He was a great guy.
Scott Holleran: How did you shoot around John Wayne’s injuries?
Andrew V. McLaglen: He never made a big deal of it. He was on his horse and I reached to grab the bridle and the strap that goes underneath—it’s called a cinch, which hooks to the right side of the saddle—and the cinch broke and he fell off, landing on his shoulder and he had that hurt shoulder the rest of his life. Listen, Duke’s tough. He kept on working.
Scott Holleran: You directed the Gunsmoke episode in which the Festus character was introduced. Did you know Festus was to become Marshall Matt Dillon’s sidekick for the series?
Andrew V. McLaglen: No. I first had the Festus character in Have Gun, Will Travel. If you look at The Searchers, Kenny Curtis had that same drylander accent. That’s how Kenny played Festus for the next 15 years.
Scott Holleran: Of your 95 Gunsmoke episodes, what was your best artistic achievement?
Andrew V. McLaglen: I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Probably [the episode in which Festus is introduced] “Us Haggens.” When you’ve done that many…I cannot even remember [many of] them. One time, Duke called me up and said he wanted to see [Gunsmoke star James Arness]. Duke was about to direct The Alamo and he wanted Jim to play Sam Houston. I’d already told Jim, who ducked out on the meeting, which made Duke madder than hell. He said “who else is around?” and that left Richard Boone. That’s how Boone played Sam Houston.
Scott Holleran: What was the defining characteristic of Paladin, the West Point graduate played by Boone in Have Gun, Will Travel, in which you directed 98 episodes?
Andrew V. McLaglen: He’s an intellectual hero, a lot more than Marshall Dillon [of Gunsmoke]. Boone loved the character. He loved the dressed up gentleman who lived in a hotel and was hired out as a gun. Dick was a thinking actor who wanted to believe the lines.
Scott Holleran: You directed Clint Eastwood in the TV Western Rawhide. Did you find his acting similar to John Wayne’s?
Andrew V. McLaglen: I never thought of it being the same. As it is, I respect Clint. He makes movies and he doesn’t screw around. But I did not know he was going to be a movie star.
Scott Holleran: You directed Jimmy Stewart in Fools’ Parade, Shenandoah, Bandolero! and The Rare Breed—
Andrew V. McLaglen: —I just loved working with him. It got to the point where every time he did a movie, he wanted me to direct it. Shenandoah is my favorite picture with him. I just caught it on HBO the other night. The more I look at it, the more proud I am to have been a part of it.
Scott Holleran: Any thoughts on the late Chris Penn, whom you directed in Return from the River Kwai?
Andrew V. McLaglen: I liked him a lot. He was a nice, good, hard-working guy. I was very sorry to see him pass. He was a good kid.
Scott Holleran: Please offer your thoughts on other actors you’ve worked with…Sally Field?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Terrific. I put her in her first movie [The Way West] and I never regretted it. You’ve got to give her a lot of credit.
Scott Holleran: Richard Widmark?
Andrew V. McLaglen: A feisty, good actor with a lot of range and longevity.
Scott Holleran: Kirk Douglas?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Professional. One of the easiest guys to work with.
Scott Holleran: William Holden?
Andrew V. McLaglen: A great human being.
Scott Holleran: Robert Mitchum?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Unusual. He can be tight-lipped or a great storyteller. Now there’s an underrated actor. He could look at a page and know his lines. A great star.
Scott Holleran: Dean Martin?
Andrew V. McLaglen: When I think of my time with Dean, there’s nothing but joy in my heart.
Scott Holleran: Kurt Russell (Elvis) as Johnny Jesus in Fools’ Parade?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Talented. He was like 21 and he couldn’t have been better in the part. A consummate movie actor—totally underrated as a leading man. He has a lot of yardage left in him.
Scott Holleran: Charlton Heston?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Excellent. Serious about his work. He was very interested in how things were going and progressing.
Scott Holleran: Richard Burton?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Talented. He became a good friend of mine.
Scott Holleran: Gregory Peck?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Tremendous record, a big star but a very real human.
Scott Holleran: Sam Elliott?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Professional. I enjoyed working with Sam—and with his wife, Katharine Ross, whom I cast in her first movie, Shenandoah.
Scott Holleran: Did director John Ford influence your motion pictures?
Andrew V. McLaglen: I never thought of John Ford at all. I knew Ford from the time I was 13 years old because my father worked with him. But once you direct, you become your own person. Ford was very basic in a way. He let the actors and the story speak for itself. He didn’t screw around with a lot of fancy camera angles. He just set it down. He shot movies in a very basic way. He didn’t overuse close-ups. He understood people and he let them be natural. When I first started, there was actually a book written called John Ford and Andrew V. McLaglen [by Michael Burrows] and people were starting to say I was a young John Ford. I just turned my back on that because it wasn’t true. John Ford was one of a kind—he made some terrific films, like [Ford’s] My Darling Clementine, one of the best OK Corral shootout films ever made, though it wasn’t sold as that. That is one super movie.
Scott Holleran: John Wayne is said to have all but directed many of his pictures. To what extent is this true?
Andrew V. McLaglen: I was lucky enough not to have that happen. I think that impression has to do with the respect John Wayne had for the director. He didn’t force himself on the director.
Scott Holleran: Were there John Wayne pictures you sought but did not direct?
Andrew V. McLaglen: Yes. There were a couple. Rooster Cogburn and The Shootist.
Scott Holleran: What’s your favorite John Wayne Western?
Andrew V. McLaglen: The Searchers. I thought he was really good in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. He’s excellent in Red River.
Scott Holleran: What’s your favorite non-Western John Wayne picture?
Andrew V. McLaglen: The Long Voyage Home.
Originally posted on Box Office Mojo May 23, 2007