Old School Americana & Nostalgia


John Wayne Once ‘Bullied’ a Child Actor on the Set of This Iconic Western

John Wayne Once ‘Bullied’ a Child Actor on the Set of This Iconic Western

John Wayne’s costar in his 1953 film, Hondo, once revealed the Duke took out some frustrations with a child actor while making the film. The classic film tells the story of Army scout Hondo Lane (played by Wayne) who stumbles upon an isolated homestead in Apache territory. The inhabitants, a woman, and her son, believe they are safe under the protection of a treaty with the Apaches.

However, Lane is aware that the treaty has been broken by the Army, triggering the Apaches’ thirst for revenge against settlers. Despite being a scout for the US Army, Lane empathizes with the Apaches as he was previously married to a Native American woman and spent five years living among her people. Now, with conflicting loyalties, Lane finds himself walking a fine line.

According to reports, the shoot was incredibly challenging, with scorching heat and torrential rain causing halts in shooting. This resulted in a significant amount of downtime, which understandably frustrated Wayne. Allegedly, the troubled production made the Duke a Diva. In Ronald L. Davis’ book, Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne, Davis delved into the production of Hondo and shared insights from co-star Geraldine Page.

“Every morning, when he would be hungover, he would have a screaming fit,” Page told Davis. “He’d yell at somebody until he got hoarse. He would pick on some technical point, and he was always right.”

How John Wayne Pushed a Young Co-star to Get His Best Performance

However, the story did not conclude there. Wayne’s patience with the child actor, Lee Aaker, started to wear thin, resulting in escalating tensions on the set. Page mentioned that Wayne became weary of attempting to guide the child through the scene correctly, causing Aaker to repeat the scene multiple times. “He kept trying to bully the child into doing what he wanted, and the boy wouldn’t do it,” Page recalled.

Of course, in the film, Wayne’s Hondo Lane isn’t exactly kind to Aaker’s character. One famous scene involves Hondo teaching the young boy how to swim using a decidedly rough method.

Still, Page believed that John Wayne’s diva turn ultimately helped the film. “He’s a terribly honest man, and that comes across on the screen, underlined by the kinds of parts he plays,” Page noted. “Wayne has a leadership quality so that people revere him.”

The director of Hondo, John Farrow, had to leave the shoot early due to a contractual obligation. It’s rumored that an uncredited John Ford stepped in to direct some final scenes, including the epic final battle. Hondo made its way to the silver screen and, while not considered one of Wayne’s best westerns, it holds a respectable place in the star’s filmography as a solid production.