Old School Americana & Nostalgia


John Wayne Passed on This Infamous Steven Spielberg War Film

John Wayne Passed on This Infamous Steven Spielberg War Film

Steven Spielberg has directed his share of box-office smash hits, but his war movie didn’t impress John Wayne at all.

Spielberg had a script prepared and ready for 1941 and it made fun of World War II. At least, that’s the way Wayne viewed things after reading the Spielberg script. So, Spielberg wanted Wayne to have a role in 1941 but Wayne said no. He had a few more choice words to lay down on the director.

Reportedly, Wayne said in a phone call with Spielberg, “You know, that was an important war, and you’re making fun of a war that cost thousands of lives at Pearl Harbor. Don’t joke about World War II.”

That’s a pretty direct statement from Wayne. It’s also pretty damning when you realize that Wayne never served in the U.S. Army. Spielberg, though, was just following up after sending Wayne a script. In another interview, Spielberg said, “[Wayne] was really curious, and so I sent him the script. He called me the next day and said he felt it was a very un-American movie.”

Heston, Stewart Join John Wayne In Rejection

Charlton Heston and Jimmy Stewart also agreed with Wayne’s assessment. They, too, were approached to play the lead in 1941. Both actors said no because they also felt the movie was un-American.

1941 was filmed and released. It earned $90 million worldwide at the box office.

Sure, the movie box office take is not up there with Jaws or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Still, 1941 shows that Spielberg had some range when directing. This war-time comedy has a big effect in later years due to it becoming a cult classic.

Moviegoers fell in love with 1941 thanks to a pretty interesting cast. John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Lorraine Gary, Treat Williams, Robert Stack, John Candy, Nancy Allen, and Slim Pickens make up just part of the movie cast. Its plot surrounds Californians getting ready for a Japanese invasion after Pearl Harbor, according to Collider.

Spielberg did put some thought into who he wanted in his movie. At one point, he considered having Jackie Gleason and Art Carney of The Honeymooners in there as Claude Crumm and Herb Kaziminsky. That never panned out.

It’s not surprising to see Wayne turn down this role. He held a firm grip on his views about America and the military. His views were conservative leaning.

It’s Possible Wayne Was Too Ill For ‘1941’

While he rejected it for the content, it’s also possible that Wayne might have been too ill to be in the movie. By the time it came out in December 1979, Wayne had died that early June from cancer. Wayne held fast to his principles, though, all the way up until his death.

Making fun of the military wasn’t going to happen under Wayne’s watch. The movie did fill out with some wonderful cast members. Spielberg took a big risk in filming a war comedy, especially about World War II. Over the years, though, this movie has gained cult-like status.

A possible calling card to this film is it’s one of a handful Belushi made before his untimely death in 1982. His bigger-than-life characterization of Wild Bill Kelso is worth watching again and again.

Sure, 1941 is just a bump on Spielberg’s film resume. Yet it’s not one to ignore if its content is up your alley.