JOHN WAYNE – THE MOVIEMAKER
It may not have been the case early in his movie career, but by the time he had become established as a true superstar, John Wayne must surely have had a major say in the casting of his pictures. Bearing that in mind it would appear that a deliberate decision was made to include a teen pop idol in the cast of several of his films, a ploy aimed at enticing the teenaged demographic to take an interest in ‘the Duke’s’ movies.
Ricky Nelson as ‘Colorado’ in Rio Bravo (1959)
It began in 1959 when pop sensation Ricky Nelson was signed to play ‘Colorado’ in the hugely successful Rio Bravo. For good measure Dean Martin was given a major role in the picture, possibly as an enticement for the older generation’s music lovers. Perhaps, the inspiration to use pop stars in his westerns came to Wayne during the shooting of The Searchers three years earlier in 1956. It was in that western that he made the most of the Buddy Holly hit single title ‘That’ll be the Day’, when his character Ethan Edwards uttered the line several times throughout the film.
Frankie Avalon in The Alamo (1960)
Ricky Nelson’s support role in Rio Bravo had achieved its desired effect, that of attracting teen audiences, so Wayne’s production company Batjac hired Frankie Avalon for The Alamo to perform a similar function in 1960. According to Avalon, ‘Wayne had seen some of the rushes from Timberland and thought I would be right’. After completing The Alamo ‘the Duke’ told the Press, ‘We’re not cutting one bit of any scene in which Frankie appears. I believe he is the finest young talent I’ve seen in a long time.’ Avalon later said, ‘Mr. Wayne said I was ‘a natural’ as far as acting goes.’ Frankie played the small role of ‘Smitty’ in the movie and was barely noticeable.
Fabian with Capucine in North to Alaska (1960)
The Alamo was shot from September 1959 and into 1960. There appears to be some confusion over the shooting schedule for Wayne’s other production released in 1960, the western comedy North to Alaska, so this writer has been unable to determine which of the two features was completed first. Hence, it is unclear which pop singer, Frankie Avalon in The Alamo or Fabian in North to Alaska, was cast before the other. What is clearly apparent, however, in spite of Wayne’s supposedly appreciation of Frankie’s acting ability, is that Fabian’s was easily the more memorable portrayal of the two. He played Billy, the younger brother of Stewart Granger’s character George Pratt. The fact that George was at least thirty years older than his kid brother evidently did not bother anyone involved in the production! That aside, Fabian showed genuine flair as a fresh-faced comedian. The best that could be said about Frankie is that he was a decidedly better singer.
Glen Campbell in True Grit (1969)
Bobby Vinton as Ben Young in The Train Robbers (1973)
It would be nine years before Wayne tried out his pop idol theory again. In 1969, popular recording artist Glen Campbell was cast in his latest western True Grit. He coped with his acting duties reasonably well, yet suffered the ignominy of being killed off in one of the final reels, the only singing star to wind up deceased in a John Wayne film. Four years down the track ‘the Duke’ cast yet another successful singer, Bobby Vinton (of ‘Blue Velvet’ fame) in the miniscule role of gunman Ben Young in one of Wayne’s final pictures, The Train Robbers. Five movies and six years later ‘Big John’ was called to that great roundup in the sky.
Jeff Chandler as Captain Jeb Hawks
This World War Two naval action film set in the South Pacific is pretty much a ‘Who’s Who?’ of character actors from Universal Pictures and TV series of the fifties, sixties and early seventies. It is one of those movies where we seem to be forever noticing future stars popping up all over its duration. The leading roles belong to Jeff Chandler as Captain Jeb Hawks and his 2nd Lieutenant Dave McDougall, played by George Nader, but there is a plethora of instantly recognizable faces accompanying them.
Chandler hit the jackpot six years earlier when he landed the role of Apache chieftain Cochise in the Jimmy Stewart western Broken Arrow (1950). Despite being Jewish and prematurely grey, his portrayal earned him an Oscar nomination and set him on the road to playing Amerindians in several films. His engagement to aquatic star Esther Williams ended (by her choice) when he unexpectedly revealed to her his penchant for cross-dressing. ‘You’re too old for polka dots’, she told him and walked out. In 1961, at forty-two years of age, he required surgery for a slipped disc, was operated on and died from blood poisoning, the victim of mal-practice.
George Nader as 2nd Lt. Dave McDougall
George Nader starred in a short-lived series titled The Man and the Challenge (1958-60). Sadly for George, he agreed to being outed as a homosexual by Confidential Magazine, rather than allow his good friend Rock Hudson being exposed by them as gay. Hudson was an A-list star and exposure would surely have ended his career. George took the hit for his friend (they were never lovers), and was relegated to B –list status. When he died at eighty, he left behind his long-time companion, Hudson’s former secretary Mark Miller.
Julie Adams as McDougall’s wife Nadine
Julie Adams was the only female cast in Away all Boats. She played Nadine McDougall, the wife of Nader’s character. Julie (sometimes referred to as Julia) enjoyed some fine roles as the lead throughout the fifties, but is fondly remembered for her portrayal of the young woman terrorized by the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), a low budget B –feature shot in 3D, proving yet again that style could win out over content. Julie married twice, the second of these to actor Ray Danton, a union that lasted twenty-three years and produced two children before it ended in divorce. Miss Adams lived until 2019, passing away at ninety-two.
Lex Barker as Commander Quigley
Lex Barker portrayed Commander Quigley here. Commencing in 1949, he played Tarzan five times at RKO and was a most popular choice as the vine-swinger. Quite a ladies man, Barker married five times, among his brides being actresses Arlene Dahl and Lana Turner. He died at fifty-four from a heart attack whilst walking down a New York City street. When advised of his demise, Lana said, ‘What took him so long?’ Their marriage had ended when she learned he had been molesting her daughter for years.
Keith Andes played Dr. Bell
Keith Andes played the medic Dr. Bell. In 1952 he portrayed the newcomer Marilyn Monroe’s squeeze in Blackbeard the Pirate. Later, he costarred in two short-lived TV series: This Man Dawson (1959) and Glynis (1963). Tragically, Andes suffered with bladder cancer late in his life and at the age of eighty-five he chose to end his suffering when he hanged himself.
Richard Boone played Lt. Frazer
Another iconic television star was Richard Boone who portrayed Lieutenant Frazer here. He pioneered medical series when he starred in Medic (1954). The series was critically acclaimed but rated poorly, but it was his second series that made Boone famous. In Have Gun – Will Travel (1957) he enjoyed six hugely successful years playing hired gun Paladin operating out of San Francisco. Sadly, throat cancer claimed him when he was just fifty-three years old in 1981.
Clint Eastwood as an uncredited corpsman
Other future stars appeared here, many of them uncredited. Those who made the cast list included Frank Faylen who would become known to TV audiences as Herbert Gillis, the father of Dobie in the 1959 series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. William Reynolds would eventually make his mark (also in television) as Special Agent Colby in the 1965 series The F.B.I. John McIntyre, too, would become known to TV fans when he replaced Ward Bond as wagon-master in Wagon Train after Bond died in 1961. Also glimpsed briefly were the uncredited Clint Eastwood and David Janssen, respectively the future Rowdy Yates in Rawhide and Richard Kimble in the enormously successful series The Fugitive. Also uncredited Grant Williams would star in the 1957 sleeper The Incredible Shrinking Man.