John Wayne Turned Down Steven Spielberg’s ‘1941’: ‘Don’t Joke About World War II’

John Wayne is a western movie legend. However, he turned down several parts as a result of his patriotism. Wayne refused to star in movies that he thought were “un-American,” even when the project gave him an opportunity to work with highly-talented filmmakers and actors. Wayne turned down a role in Steven Spielberg‘s 1941 because of its comedic approach to World War II.

John Wayne would have played Maj. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell in ‘1941’

John Wayne in article about turning down Steven Spielberg role leaning on a tree with a gun
John Wayne | AS400 DB/Bettmann Archive

Spielberg directs a screenplay written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. 1941 picks up right after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. California residents react in absolute panic, fearing for their lives as a potential next target. Some of the folks in the crew include Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi), who worked as a National Guard pilot, as well as Sgt. Frank Tree (Dan Aykroyd), a patriotic tank crew commander.

A civilian named Ward Douglas (Ned Beatty) and Maj. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell (Robert Stack) round out the group of main characters. They try their best to make sense of the chaos and maintain order among the public. Spielberg’s 1941 takes an action-comedy approach to this war story based on true events.

John Wayne turned down Steven Spielberg’s offer and told him to not ‘joke about World War II’

Entertainment Weekly talked with Spielberg about some behind-the-scenes facts of a few of his movies. He has a diverse filmography and an abundance of intriguing stories with productions and actors. Spielberg offered the 1941 role of Stilwell to Wayne, but he turned it down. The role ultimately went to Stack because the western movie star thought that it was inappropriate.

“He said, ‘You know, that was an important war, and you’re making fun of a war that cost thousands of lives at Pearl Harbor,'” Spielberg said Wayne told him. “‘Don’t joke about World War II.'”

Wayne was a “superpatriot” according to John Wayne, which was written by his third wife, Pilar Wayne. He deeply regretted not serving in the military, which she called one of the most painful parts of his life. That guilt sprung him into a heightened sense of patriotism in all other aspects of his life.

Steven Spielberg’s ‘1941’ went all the way to the Oscars

1941 isn’t Spielberg’s most recognizable film. He also directed huge projects, such as Jaws, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan. Nevertheless, 1941 still made some noise. It turned a profit, although it brought in significantly less box office revenue than other Spielberg movies.

1941 landed 3 Oscar nominations in its year. It earned nods for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects. However, it didn’t get any nominations in the acting categories and critics hold their belief that the movie has significant flaws, even though certain crowds greatly enjoy it.

RELATED: John Wayne Turned Down Oscar-Winning Lead Role Because It’s ‘the Most Un-American Thing I’ve Ever Seen in My Whole Life,’ But Accepted the Oscar on Behalf of His Replacement