John Wayne feud: Hollywood icon labelled Gene Hackman ‘worst actor in town’

Brannigan: Official 1975 trailer starring John Wayne

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The Hollywood icon John Wayne returns to screens today as he stars in the 1948 classic Fort Apache, which airs on Great Movies Action from 2.35pm. Wayne leads a sterling cast, which includes the likes of Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple, in a tale that follows the frustrations of Lieutenant Colonel Thursday after his demotion from Civil War rank of general. Wayne’s character is sent to a remote outpost, Fort Apache, in the Arizona desert, and begins tightening up discipline for his fellow soldiers, infuriating them and the locals in the process.

The film was another John Ford classic, and saw the director team up with Wayne yet again.

In contemporary reviews, Fort Apache is often hailed for being among the first to present an “authentic and sympathetic” view of Native Americans on screens.

In commentary on the 2012 edition of the film’s DVD release, Dave Kehr, a critic with the New York Times, called it “one of the great achievements of classical American cinema, a film of immense complexity that never fails to reveal new shadings with each viewing… among the first pro-Indian [sic] Westerns” which shows “sympathy and respect” towards Native Americans.

Such was the film’s influence, it was nominated by the American Film Institute as one of the top 10 greatest western flicks to have ever been made.

While Wayne enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the likes of Ford, his daughter Aissa once recalled one star that he thought was overrated, Gene Hackman.

Aissa detailed her father’s fury with Hackman in her 1991 book John Wayne: My Father.

She wrote: “When it came to his contemporaries in film, I only heard him speak once with any real venom.

“Gene Hackman could never appear on-screen without my father skewering his performance.

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“I wish I could tell you why he so harshly criticized Hackman, but he never went into detail.

“Although it’s pure speculation, had my father lived to see more of his work, I think his view of Mr Hackman would have changed.

“Back then, however, my father called Hackman ‘the worst actor in town. He’s awful’.”

Hackman earned critical acclaim throughout his long career in Hollywood, including claiming two Academy Award wins, for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, in The French Connection and Unforgiven respectively.

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He earned a further three Oscar nods for Bonnie and Clyde, I Never Sang for My Father and Mississippi Burning.

Aissa also noted in her publication that alongside Hackman, Wayne was also no fan of Gone with the Wind star Clark Gable, who he claimed was “extremely handsome in person” but was an “idiot”.

She continued: “My dad called Gable handsome but dumb at least four or five times, and now I wonder if it had something to do with my father’s friend, John Ford.

“During the filming of Mogambo, Ford and Gable had clashed again and again and the subsequent feud had simmered for years. In my father’s way of thinking, disloyalty to allies, support in any fashion for their enemies, was expressly forbidden.

“If Clark Gable took on John Ford, my father’s code demanded that John Wayne stand by his old pal.”

Amongst his film legacy, Wayne is also heralded for coining the term The Big C in 1964, to describe cancer.

Wayne suffered with cancer and as a result of his condition had to have his left lung removed, as well as four ribs.

Though his recovery started well, he continued smoking and chewing tobacco, which worsened his condition.

In total, he starred in 179 films and television productions, and by 1970 had collected the Oscar gong he had so craved for his performance in True Grit.

He was so influential that the American Film Institute selected Wayne as one of the greatest male stars of classic American cinema.

Fort Apache airs today from 2.35pm on Great Movies Action.

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