Saving John Ford’s Feelings On The Set Of The Alamo Would Come Back To Bite John Wayne

The trouble for Wayne began during principal photography, when his mentor, John Ford, flew into Brackettville, Texas to observe a portion of the shooting. “The Alamo” was a passion project for The Duke. He’d cut ties with Republic Pictures, the studio that made him the king of the Western, over its reluctance to furnish a sizable-enough budget to realize the film. He’d formed his own company, Batjac, in part to get “The Alamo” made. Now he was on set, shooting his labor of love, and Ford, the cranky maestro who’d turned him into an A-list movie star via 1939’s “Stagecoach,” was, according to Maurice Zolotow’s “John Wayne, Shooting Star: A Biography,” attempting to wrest control of the production from his protégé.

Wayne didn’t want a fight. Of course he didn’t. He’d spent most of his life avoiding conflict. So he asked Ford to shoot second-unit footage of river crossings. Wayne furnished his friend with a capable crew and loads of film. “I don’t care what it costs,” said Wayne, “But I am not going to let him feel rejected. I’d rather spend a million dollars than hurt his feelings.”

When the film was released, critics focused on the climactic set pieces. They possessed a vitality that the rest of the movie lacked. If this wasn’t Ford’s doing, these sequences must’ve been the work of veteran stuntman and expert second-unit director Cliff Lyons. When questioned, Ford claimed he was nothing more than a “coach on third base.” Lyons kept mum. There was little in the way of clarity until William H. Clothier, the great cinematographer who’d shot Ford’s “Fort Apache” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” along with “The Alamo,” stepped up and threw down in support of Wayne.

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