John Wayne was one of the biggest Hollywood stars around in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. He starred in dozens of movies over the few decades and was just years away from winning his first Oscar for Best Actor in 1969’s True Grit.
So it was extremely exciting for the industry when Wayne decided to direct, produce, and star in the 1960 movie The Alamo – a biopic of The Battle of the Alamo, a historical event that turned the tide during America’s Texas Revolution.
And when he started looking for actors to fill the roles of his historical heroes, he only wanted the best.
At the same time, Charlton Heston was also making waves in the movie industry. He, too, was a prolific actor throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Most notably, he played Ben-Hur in the 1959 epic of the same name, earning him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Suffice it to say, Heston and Wayne would have been a match made in heaven for filmgoers, who would have seen two icons of the silver screen work together for the first time.
But, because of the political divide between the pair, it was not meant to be.
Wayne was a staunch conservative, and extremely open in discussing his right-wing views. In 1971 he even openly advocated for “white supremacy”.
Wayne told Playboy Magazine at the time: “I believe in white supremacy,” before condemning the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy for being “a story about two f**s”.
Heston, on the other hand, was a passionate democrat. He would even go on to march for civil rights alongside Martin Luther King in 1963.
So when the American star was sent the script for The Alamo by Wayne, Heston was reluctant.
Before long, Heston turned down the role of Jim Bowie. And after the film had been released, Heston said there were “good reasons” to not do the movie.
When Heston was pressed further about the topic, he said one of the reasons was “having John Wayne” as a director.
There is no doubt that the pair’s political views drastically clashed. And some sources claim Heston “feared the critical response to the movie”.
The actor also cited his recently released Ben-Hur as a reason. Heston explained he had just spent months filming Ben-Hur in the desert, and did not want to commit to another enormous movie project.
Wayne went ahead with The Alamo without Heston, casting Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie instead. And the film was a great success, earning Wayne a nomination for Best Picture at the 1961 Oscars.
But years later, Heston expressed a lot of regret about his choices.
Heston later had a political change of heart and became a full right-wing republican in the years that followed. After reflecting on turning down The Alamo, he said refusing Wayne and his movie was “a huge mistake”.
Heston’s political views shifted so much that he became a Republican activist. He even worked with Wayne a few years later in 1965 on the biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told.
Heston’s respect for Wayne never faltered after that, either. When Wayne died in 1979 from stomach cancer, Heston was one of the first stars to speak out about the actor. Heston said: “He was – and is – an American institution. It’s not surprising that, to the end, Duke gave an example of courage that made him more than an actor and friend.”