Why John Wayne Turned Down the Chance to Work With Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood and John Wayne are the two biggest legends in the history of Western movies, however, they never worked together. The duo did have the opportunity to work together once in the 1970s. Here’s why the film never came to fruition.

Clint Eastwood wearing a cowboy hat
Clint Eastwood | CBS via Getty Images

How John Wayne responded when Clint Eastwood tried to work with him

Firstly, a little background. According to the book John Wayne: The Life and Legend, it all starts with Larry Cohen. Though Cohen is not a widely known director like Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino, he’s a huge name to fans of B movies. He directed famous B movies like The Stuff, Q: The Winged Serpent, It’s Alive, and God Told Me To. He also wrote a script called The Hostiles shortly after Eastwood released his classic High Plains Drifter.

The Hostiles was about a gambler who wins half of an estate of an older man. The gambler and the older man have to work together despite the fact that they don’t like each other. Eastwood optioned the screenplay with the intent of playing the gambler alongside Wayne as the older man.

Eastwood sent a copy of the script of The Hostiles to Wayne. Although Eastwood felt the script was imperfect, he saw its potential. However, Wayne was not interested. Eastwood pitched the film to Wayne a second time and Wayne responded with a letter. Wayne’s letter complained about High Plains Drifter. Wayne was offended by the film and its portrayal of the Old West as a cruel, violent place.

A trailer for High Plains Drifter

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How John Wayne destroyed a copy of the script of ‘The Hostiles’

Later, Wayne’s son Mike asked Cohen for a copy of the script to give to his dad. Cohen was excited about the prospect that the film might still get made with Wayne in a lead role. While on a boat, Mike gave the script to his father, who commented “This piece of sh*t again” and threw the script in the water.

Why John Wayne hated the story of ‘The Hostiles’

So why did Wayne dislike The Hostiles so much? He said “This kind of stuff is all they know how to write these days. The sheriff is the heavy; the townspeople a bunch of jerks. Someone like me and Eastwood ride into town, know everything, act the big guys, and everyone else is a bunch of idiots.”

John Wayne wearing a cowboy hat
John Wayne | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

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When ‘The Hostiles’ was finally made into a film

According to the book Larry Cohen: The Stuff of Gods and Monsters, the script for The Hostiles was eventually made into the television movie The Gambler, the Girl, and the Gunslinger in 2009. That film flew under the radar whereas a Wayne/Eastwood team up probably would have been a hit. Cohen said the film’s cast was terrible and the film’s director, Anne Wheeler, was inept. Wayne and Eastwood never worked together, however, they remain the two actors most associated with the Western genre.