John Wayne Was ‘All But Broke’ Despite All of His Movie Roles

Actor John Wayne had many movie credits to his name, but he never lived a lavish lifestyle. Nevertheless, he once explained why he was “all but broke” throughout his career. Wayne remains one of the biggest stars to ever emerge in the movie industry, but his bank account certainly wouldn’t indicate that. However, the actor would find new ways to involve himself in the Hollywood machine.

John Wayne decided to produce his own movie projects

John Wayne movie star with his hand on the saddle of a horse while wearing a cowboy uniform
John Wayne | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Carolyn McGivern’s John Wayne: A Giant Shadow explored the life and career of the movie star. She pointed to the fact that the actor hated the behavior of many Hollywood producers. They would ensure that productions didn’t waste any money, but Wayne wouldn’t accept taking any shortcuts that would negatively impact the final movie.

Wayne ultimately found the solution to his movie problem – cut out the middle man and become a producer himself.

“Producing my own films was worth all the added stress and effort,” Wayne said. “Gave me increased artistic freedom and better economic reward, my earning potential rocketed without my having to do anything. I could decide what I made, who I worked with, I had control over script selection and development.”

Wayne and other movie stars could pay up to 90% in taxes, but actors who created their own company and didn’t pay themselves a salary could drop that down to 25% tax on all of the same earnings. As a result, Wayne-Fellows Productions came to be, which he created with producer Robert Fellows. The actor would later rename it Batjac Productions after Fellows left.

John Wayne was ‘all but broke’ even after all of his movie roles

McGivern wrote about how Wayne was never a wealthy man despite his years in the movie industry, including his role in How the West Won.

“Last year, I made over $500,000,” Wayne said. “Though I live conservatively in a three-bedroom house, and I don’t throw parties, I’m all but broke. Still, I don’t owe a dime in taxes!”

The biography noted that Wayne wasn’t broke but that he never had the movie star lifestyle that many of his fans expected from him. However, he hoped that the new company he created would allow him to come closer to living that lifestyle.

There were some initial concerns regarding the shape of the Hollywood machine. However, Wayne remained confident that he could make more movie projects that audiences would pay to see. He would ultimately go into a partnership with Warner Bros., but losing autonomy as an independent production company worried him.

The actor continued to increase his involvement in Hollywood

John Wayne: A Giant Shadow taps into the movie deal that the actor signed with the Hollywood giant. He pushed hard for a non-exclusive deal to still allow him some more autonomy. They struck a deal with Warners to finance and distribute his films, paying Wayne at least $150,000 per movie and 10% of the gross receipts.

The star went from only being an actor to also owning a lot more stages of production. Wayne would score an Oscar nomination for Best Picture for his movie, The Alamo, which he directed. However, he wasn’t particularly pleased to not earn a nomination for Best Director.

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