Throughout his career, John Wayne was in high demand. Beyond the Hollywood executives who wanted to attach the name “John Wayne” to their next big project, those who got to know Duke both on set and off were often struck by his warm and welcoming presence. He befriended countless co-stars and crew members as well as plenty of folks outside the film industry who were among the biggest and brightest stars of the era. To John Wayne, though, they were simply people who, like him, knew that a good time is always better when shared in the company of others. In Volume 34 of The Official John Wayne Collector’s Edition, get to know Duke for the loyal friend and honest man that he was. Read an exclusive excerpt from Volume 34 below and get your own copy here.
From their days on the gridiron at USC to the sets of John Ford films, John Wayne and Ward Bond were destined to become the best of friends. The experience of rising through the ranks of Hollywood made Duke and Bond incredibly close, as the two went from working as extras to leading men over the course of 23 shared films. John Wayne’s career would of course ascend to unimaginable heights over the years, and Bond stuck by the star not for a ride on his coattails, but for the incredible friendship they had built. Even after being struck by a car and struggling to stand on crutches, Bond carried out his duties as best man at Duke’s wedding. And in 1960, following Bond’s untimely death, John Wayne delivered a moving eulogy at his longtime pal’s funeral, saying, “We were the closest of friends, from school right on through...He was a wonderful, generous, big-hearted man.”
Not only was she the cinematic ingredient that took Duke’s scenes from memorable to magic, Maureen O’Hara was also one of the legend’s closest friends. Whether sharing a climactic kiss in The Quiet Man (1952), running through the mud in McLintock! (1963), or reuniting as estranged spouses in Rio Grande (1950) and Big Jake (1971), O’Hara and John Wayne were electric each time they appeared together. As the actress recalled after Duke’s passing, “Our [on-screen] chemistry was so magical because Duke never had to defer to me as a woman. I was strong enough to stand up to him and be his equal.” And John Wayne indeed viewed O’Hara as both his equal and friend, as the icon once praised her as “the greatest guy I ever met.”
Sharing the screen in the reflective war films In Harm’s Way (1965) and Cast a Giant Shadow (1966) as well as in the rip-roaring Western The War Wagon (1967), John Wayne and Kirk Douglas only needed a trio of films to demonstrate their strengths as a duo. And while the two top-notch actors brought their A-game every moment the cameras were rolling, much of their chemistry was established between takes as the two were known to spend much of their spare time as chess opponents. The friendship would live on long after their last film together—the pair exchanged several letters and telegrams late in the legend’s life, including one in which Douglas praised Duke for his performance in The Shootist (1976) as “terrific,” adding, “I think it was one of the best performances you’ve given in a long time.”
Beyond his films with John Wayne, Douglas turned in many terrific performances of his own throughout his career. He starred as the titular gladiator in the 1960 epic historical drama Spartacus, which was directed by legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. In 1964, Douglas shared the screen with frequent co-star Burt Lancaster in the political thriller Seven Days in May, which he would cite as one of the films he was most proud of in a 2014 Huffington Post article. His work on the silver screen yielded numerous accolades; but on many occasions, the rugged actor also proved his talents were not limited to performing in front of a camera. Douglas’s purchase and Broadway production of the Ken Kesey novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest eventually led to his son Michael Douglas becoming an Academy Award-winning producer for the film adaptation in 1976. And as he continued to produce, direct and act in films throughout the later decades of his life, Douglas also ventured into the literary world by writing several fiction, nonfiction, children’s books and memoirs between the years of 1988 and 2017.
Kirk Douglas’s work ethic never seemed to wane, and his seemingly limitless contributions to the entertainment industry were duly recognized. The star received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1991, and he was similarly honored in 1999 as the recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. Cementing his status as an American icon, Douglas was honored by two U.S. presidents: the legendary actor received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter in 1981 for his philanthropic efforts, while President George W. Bush awarded him with the National Medal of Arts in 2002. When Douglas passed away on February 5, 2020, Hollywood lost not only a legend, but one of the last remaining stars of its Golden Age. But through his iconic roles, his invaluable contributions to the industry and his sons following in his footsteps, Kirk Douglas’s legacy will live on forever.
Want more Duke? Check out the latest volume of The John Wayne Official Collector's Edition!