John Wayne Kept to a ‘Strict Diet’ to Play His Worst Movie Role

Actor John Wayne wasn’t born to play every movie role. He generally had a firm understanding of the characters that he fits in, but he occasionally faltered. Wayne played Genghis Kahn in a movie called The Conqueror, which is a stain on his filmography that will never cease to exist. The actor even kept to a “strict diet” to fully commit to what would become his worst movie role.

John Wayne wasn’t director Dick Powell’s first pick to play Genghis Khan in ‘The Conqueror’

John Wayne, who starred in the movie 'The Conqueror,' smiling holding a hat, while wearing a suit
John Wayne | Getty Images

Marc Eliot’s American Titan: Searching for John Wayne digs into the making-of information of each of the actor’s movie titles. Producer Howard Hughes wanted the actor to play Genghis Kahn, but director Dick Powell wanted Marlon Brando for the part. However, Brando was under contract with Warner Bros. at the time, and they weren’t willing to loan him out for the role.

The Conqueror screenwriter Oscar Millard ignored Hughes and didn’t keep Brando in mind for the role while writing, even though the producer was convinced that he could still get the actor for the project.

“I decided to write it in stylized, slightly archaic English, mindful of the fact that my story was nothing more than a tarted-up Western,” Millard said. “I thought this would give it a certain cachet, and I left no lily unpainted. It was a mistake I never repeated.”

Brando came up with an excuse to work on another picture to get out of working on The Conqueror because he “hated” Millard’s sense of writing. Actor Yul Brynner also turned down the part of Khan. As a result, Hughes desperately called Wayne for the movie as a personal favor. The actor held faith that Hughes would produce The Alamo if he committed to this project in the meantime.

‘The Conqueror’ actor John Wayne kept a ‘strict diet’ to play Genghis Kahn

According to Eliot, Wayne earned $250,000 paid in a $1,000 a week salary for the movie. The actor certainly needed the money at the time, but he realized that he was involved in a bad picture from early on in the process. He “popped Dexedrine pills four times a day, to help keep him awake and to prevent his weight from ballooning beyond his already brawny 46-inch chest, 37-inch waist, and 17-inch biceps.”

The Conqueror took five long months to complete, from March to August 1954. He kept to a very “strict diet” to make sure that he was in the right shape for the picture. The Wayne movie diet included “hard-boiled eggs, spinach, green salad, cottage cheese, and one steak or lamb chop a day and washed it all down with as much high-test champagne as he could pump into himself.”

The movie is one of the actor’s worst movies

The Conqueror would prove to be one of the worst movie projects Wayne ever signed up for. It would ultimately be the last film Hughes produced, as RKO was hemorrhaging money. As a result, their commitment to work together on The Alamo also died right in its tracks.

The film would ultimately bring in a respectable box office performance, but it was critically slammed. The Conqueror continues to be called one of the worst movies of all time, with many folks claiming that Wayne was “grossly” miscast as Khan.

The Wayne movie earned a shockingly low 11% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. There are only a few reviews from critics to mention, but they’re all negative, calling the film a “trainwreck.”

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