Old School Americana & Nostalgia


John Wayne Once Revealed the Role He Was ‘Not Suited For’

John Wayne Once Revealed the Role He Was ‘Not Suited For’

John Wayne could pick some pretty good roles to play when he was on top in the movie industry, but he flunked out on this one. What in the world made Wayne believe that he could pull off playing Genghis Khan? Really? He’s not the only name in this cast, too. Yet this clunker does not rank up there alongside The Searchers or Stagecoach.

The Conquerer hit movie theaters in 1956. Directed by movie and television star Dick Powell, The Conquerer had Wayne portray the conquerer of the Mongol Empire. By any stretch, having Wayne, an American, in this role instead of someone who reflects at least more of Khan’s actual look just doesn’t work.

Besides Wayne, Agnes Moorehead and Susan Hayward found themselves among the cast in this mess. Talk about being miscast! This movie needed to have a total redo. But that did not happen, so Wayne and the rest of them forged ahead with this movie.

John Wayne Pushed For This Role

Even Wayne saw the folly of his efforts when playing Khan. One time, Wayne was asked if he could offer up the moral behind The Conquerer. Wayne said, according to Far Out Magazine, “Don’t make an ass of yourself trying to play parts you are not suited for.” That sounds pretty good. It’s too bad that he did not have the foresight to see that playing Khan wasn’t a good career move.

Reportedly, Wayne read the script and even lobbied for himself to play Khan. This movie was getting done when he was at a high point in his success and power in Hollywood. Maybe the Duke’s ego got the best of him in this film.

And what in the world led Moorehead, who had a future of playing Endora on Bewitched ahead of her, to this movie? The same question could have gone to Hayward, too. Both of them were fine actresses with solid resumes filled with good roles.

This Movie Proved Fatal To Many

It might surprise you to know that The Conquerer did OK at the box office. Critics, though, skewered the movie left and right. This flick has found itself listed among the worst movies made in the 1950s.

While the background of the movie is pretty horrific, that’s not the most horrific thing to happen here. The Conquerer was primarily filmed near St. George, Utah. You might say, “OK, so what?” Filming was done in areas that were used by the Army for nuclear bomb testing. There was enough radiation out there to give people dire health situations.

Information gleaned from those who worked on the movie indicates that 91 of them died later of cancer. They did not catch on at the moment that they were working in dangerous areas. To make matters worse so that scenes could be filmed on a Hollywood soundstage, workers piled up 60 tons of radioactive dirt. They then brought it back to Hollywood. More people were getting their bodies harmed by radiation.

Besides people, horses also suffered from working around the radioactive desert area. A number of them reportedly also died in time from cancer.

The Conquerer is not going to make a Wayne movie highlight reel. This role was a misstep for Wayne, who appeared to be quite cautious when selecting his movie roles. Sometimes, a person’s appetite for success looks bigger than the meal or role being offered. In hindsight, The Conquerer should have been made in a safer place to film. Howard Hughes produced this film and, again, it’s not making his list of successes either.

Hopefully, movie makers will take note of the errors made here and not do them again.