John Wayne: DeMille Rejected Wayne for The Plainsman, Cast Him in Reap the Wild Wind

Until Howard Hawks directed him in Red River, in 1948, John Wayne did not command much respect from Hollywood’s A-list directors.

Hence, Wayne was interested in playing Wild Bill Hickok in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Plainsman (1937), but the part went to a bigger star, Gary Cooper, then at the height of his career.

DeMille response to Wayne’s request was, “You were in The Big Trail (Wayne’s big budget flop of 1930). Weren’t you A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.”

Wayne was deeply offended, and he remembered the incident, holding grudges about the notorious DeMille. When DeMille offered him the lead in Northwest Mounted Police (1940), Wayne told an emissary, with a note, “Just tell Mr. De Mille too much water has flowed under the bridge for me to want the role.”

The part was subsequently played by Robert Preston. Nonetheless, DeMille was provoked by Wayne’s “guts.” Two years later, DeMille called Wayne and offered him a good part in his action-adventure Reap the Wild Wind, co-starring Ray Milland.

This time Wayne accepted the part right away. But he continued to needle the director, saying, “The only reason you called me here is to make Ray Milland look like a man.”

On the set, Wayne did not like De Mille’s dictatorial manner, particularly his tendency to shout at actors. In theory, he maintained that, “There can only be one boss on the set and that’s the director,” and that the actor is “just paint, to be used by him.” In practice, however, Wayne demanded civility if not professional respect from his directors, which is one reason why he did not enjoy working with Josef Von Sternberg on Jet Pilot in the 1950s. Indeed, Sternberg reports in his autobiography that Wayne was “scared stiff” of him.