I was invited to dinner at Duke Wayne's
when he lived in the Valley. And he was going to make a movie
with Dean Martin, who also became a good friend. And I went over
and it was a lovely kind of "in group" of guys who liked each
other, and I was allowed into the group and suddenly felt very
much at home.
A Rod Taylor visit to the Wayne home in Encino, California, in
about 1963 reveals a lot about the two actors' connection. Wayne's wife, Pilar,
tells the story in her book, "John Wayne: My life with the Duke":
Duke called one afternoon to announce that
Taylor would be our guest for dinner that night. The meal was a
convivial affair with lots of storytelling. Ö I retired at a
reasonable hour, leaving the two men to their drinks and
conversation. To my surprise they were still at it when I got up
the next morning. Our familyís activities swirled around them
all day as they continued drinking and talking.
Taylor stayed for supper that night, and
once again I retired early. The next morning Duke and Taylor
were still at it, drinking and talking, and, again, they kept it
up all day. I didnít even need to ask if Taylor would stay for
dinner that night Ė we just set and extra plate. The marathon
conversation ended that night while I slept. When I woke up in
the morning Duke was in bed beside me in an exhausted sleep.
Those three days were typical of Duke. When
he met someone he liked, he just had to know everything about
them Ė immediately.
As Rod is apt to say about friends, colleagues and leading
ladies, "We fell in love like a couple of drunken sailors." (And he
did say that about Wayne, in a 1998 interview for "60 Minutes" in
"I didnít feel that I would fit with him comfortably, but we
immediately liked each other," Rod told author Scott Eyman in an interview
for "John Wayne: The Life and Legend."
Rod may have felt hesitation at first because of Wayneís stature compared
with his own at the time. Or it may have been Wayne's notorious political
stances. But as he told Scott Eyman, Rod found that you didnít
have to be conservative to be well-regarded by Duke:
I would call him an Old Nazi, and he didnít care.
He didnít change his mind about anything, but he didnít care because
he didnít have rules or regulations about who was entitled to be his
One thing perplexed Rod, however. "He loved Nixon," Rod said.
"Jesus, how do you do that? Reagan I can understand, but Nixon?"
Politics may not have come between the two men, but poker surely
Christopher George, Rod
Taylor and John Wayne
playing cards on the set of "The Train Robbers."
A LOSING HAND
"Dukeís great joy in life was to beat the shit out of me in
poker," Rod told author Scott Eyman. "I never truly won."
Duke's joy was on display during a 1975 Australian edition of "This
is Your Life." The tributes to Rod included a taped message
from John Wayne. Duke gave a heartfelt message, praising Rod as a
good actor and a fine human being. But in closing, he called out,
"When it comes to playing poker Ė Rod, don't stay away too
Murray Neidorf, Rodís business manager, acknowledged that
Rod is good at a lot of things, but playing cards is
not one of them.
"Wayne hustled him in cards," Neidorf said in an interview for
the "Pulling No Punches" documentary. He recalled a time when Rod told him, "You gotta
write a check to John Wayne for $2,000." Neidorf was livid,
but sent the check. "The beautiful thing about Wayne," Neidorf said,
"he never cashed the check."
That was the good news about Rodís losing. Rod paid his debts,
but Wayne seemed only in it for the bragging rights.
"One of the last times I was at his house [in
Newport, California], I was looking at this monstrous wall of
trophies and honorary diplomas,Ē Rod told Scott Eyman. "It was an
enormous display, and on the bottom was a line of my uncashed
checks, nicely framed, from all of our poker games."
While telling the story in "Pulling no Punches," Rod said Wayne
would point, with emphasis, "That's from Taylor." Chuckling,
Rod said, "He loved it!"
Plenty of poker was played behind the scenes on the set of "The
Train Robbers," with cards and cash (liar's poker). A
September 1972 issue of Coronet magazine described the scene in
Duke Wayne had joined the party and
everybody was playing liarís poker. Taylor glanced at the
assembly [Bobby Vinton,
Jerry Gatlin, John Wayne]. "There are some of Hollywoodís greatest
liars sitting here right now," he laughed.
WHAT A CIRCUS
Rod Taylor was almost in a movie with John Wayne in 1964 Ė
"Circus World." Filming took place
in cities throughout Spain in the autumn of 1963. But Rod backed out the
day before shooting was to begin.
Wayne was cast as Matt Masters, a former Wild West performer and
owner of the circus. After finding success touring across America in
the late 1800s, Masters wants to take his circus/Wild West show to
Europe. Rod was cast as Steve McCabe, one of the circus' rodeo
riding stars. McCabe has his eye on a partnership in the circus. He
also develops an eye for Masters' adopted daughter, Toni, a trapeze
performer played by Claudia Cardinale.
The circus faces many disasters along the way -- much like the
production of the movie.
The producer, Sam Bronston, was in financial trouble and his
organization was plagued with infighting. The director had been Frank
Capra, who had already rewritten much of the script, but he was replaced by
Henry Hathaway. Rewriting continued.
When Rod arrived in Madrid, he discovered
the project in a state of utter chaos. Ö Rod read the most
recent draft of the script and found that his part had been
whittled down from what he originally signed on for. His
character now did little in the story except romance Claudia
Cardinale. Ö Hathaway promised Rod he would oversee a rewrite,
but the director clearly had his hands full dealing with
hundreds of extras, animals, large sets, etc. The day before
shooting began, Rod quit the film and flew home.
Actor John Smith of TVís "Laramie" took over the role.
In "John Wayne, the Life and Legend," Scott Eyman wrote:
For Wayne, "Circus World" was little more
than a paycheck, but it introduced Taylor into Wayne's orbit.
Soon, John Ford cast Taylor as the star of "Young Cassidy" ...
and Taylor found himself drawn toward the inner circle. [Rod
told Eyman], "Working with Ford gave me a certain cachet in
Duke's eyes. He had such an emotional thing about Ford. I
honestly think that he was still intimidated by Ford, and Duke
was always amazed that Ford didnít scare me. Ö In any case, he
took it for granted that I was in the family."
The next near-miss for Rod to co-star with John Wayne was "War Wagon" (1967).
He was under consideration for the part of Lomax. Scott Eyman wrote
went to studio chief Lew Wasserman to lobby for Rod, but the role
went to Kirk Douglas, who was already under contract with Universal.
The earliest opportunity to work together came
before their friendship developed. Director Howard Hawks had considered Rod
for a role in "Rio Bravo" (1959), but it went to Ricky
Scott Eyman related a funny exchange that happed around the time
of "War Wagon." Wayne asked Rod what he was working on. "The second
of two pictures with Doris Day," Rod replied, referring to "The
Glass Bottom Boat," which had followed "Do
This information prompted Wayne to
erupt in a fit of jealousy. "I would crawl over the mountains of
Beverly Hills on my hands and knees if I could do a movie with Doris
Rod just had to laugh. "All that macho bullshit, all those menís
men that he played, and what he really wanted was for someone to
offer him a romantic comedy.Ē
As newlyweds Mary and Rod Taylor exit the
church, John Wayne, left, throws rice with other guests (wife Pilar
Wayne and Vincente Minelli pictured here).
John and Pilar Wayne were guests at Rod's second marriage, when
he wed fashion model Mary Hilem on June 1, 1963, at Westwood Community Methodist
Rod told Scott Eyman that as Mary was walking down the aisle, he
noticed that Wayne was shaking his head slowly from side to side, as
if to say, "No way, no way in hell."
Rod said, "What made it worse was that he turned out to be
Perhaps one of the reasons it didn't work was that Mary didn't
seem to relate to the Hollywood scene. At their wedding reception,
Mary asked Rod, "Who's that tall man?" Rod answered, "That's John
Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan looks on as Rod
Taylor addresses John Wayne during the Headliner of the Year Award,
1970. (Photo courtesy of Stephan Wellink.)
Rod Taylor was one of the celebrities who "roasted" John Wayne
at the Greater Los Angeles Press Club's Ninth Annual Headliner Award
Banquet. More than 1,000 people attended the event in the
International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on June 3, 1970.
The Headliner Award is presented each year to a California man
or woman chosen by the Board of Directors of the Greater Los Angeles
Press Club as the outstanding newsmaker of the year. A couple of
months prior to the event, Wayne had won the Oscar as Best Actor for
his performance in "True Grit."
In addition to Rod, the entertainers included Glen Campbell,
Ricardo Montalban, Rod Taylor, Claire Trevor, Ray Bolger, Lorne
Green, Jonathan Winters and Pat Buttram. Former Headliners in
attendance included Gov. Ronald Reagan (and wife Nancy), former Gov.
Edmund G. Brown, U.S. Senator George Murphy, Mayor Sam Yorty.