‘Pure drivel’ John Wayne’s furious rejection of Steven Spielberg hid his ‘secret shame’
JOHN WAYNE FURIOUSLY REJECTED an offer from Steven Spielberg, branding his film “drivel.” Yet many, including the Western star’s wife Pilar, believe his actions were rooted in a need to “atone” for his own secret shame.
For decades, Wayne straddled the screen, the ultimate symbol of US frontier and even military machismo. Firmly right-wing in his personal and public views, his third wife Pilar labelled him a “superpatriot.” And when a chance came towards the end of his life to work with the new hottest director in town, the ageing star furiously shot him down. After being offered a plum role, Wayne typically did not mince his words and told Spielberg the film 1941 was “the most anti-American piece of drivel I have ever read in my life.”
1941 is remembered as one of the director’s rare misfires, despite attaining cult status in subsequent years. Although it turned a very small profit, it paled in success next to his previous Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Released in 1979, it was soon eclipsed and forgotten after the first Raiders of the Lost Ark movie hit screens two years later.
The action-comedy humorously imagines a Japanese attack on Los Angeles days after the offensive on the US fleet at Pearl Harbour.
Wayne refused the role of General Joseph Stilwell (which went to Robert Stack) and told Spielberg: “You know, that was an important war, and you’re making fun of a war that cost thousands of lives at Pearl Harbor. Don’t joke about World War II.”
The Duke’s patriotic fervour is understandable but was also rooted in his own rather compromised past.