News, WW2

The Longest Day: John Wayne ‘punished’ Darryl F. Zanuck for Publicly Insulting him

  • The Longest Day (1961) is based on the D-Day Normandy landings of 5th/6th June, 1944.
  • John Wayne charged an extortionate $250,000 for his role in the movie.
  • Initially, the part belonged to Charlton Heston, but Wayne bagged it.
  • John Wayne punished Darryl F. Zanuck over a disrespectful remark he made in his movie ‘The Alamo.’

John Wayne: The Duke 

John Wayne, often nicknamed The Duke, was an American actor who gained prominence through cowboy westerns and American war films. He was one of the most memorable actors of Hollywood’s new wave. The man started his career during the silent era of the 1920s and gradually rose to fame.

According to the American Film Institute, Wayne is one of the greatest male stars of classical American cinema. Interestingly, most of Wayne’s films have similar themes in terms of storytelling.

The main reason for Wayne’s popularity was his charming character. He typically played similar characters in almost all of his films. These characters radiated strong, powerful, and positive energies, making them admirable to the general public.

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In the early 60s, the Duke reached his fifties and began struggling with health issues. Despite this, he continued to perform his stunts while shooting. Additionally, he insisted on playing historical figures much younger than his current age.

Richard Burton in The Longest Day
Richard Burton in The Longest Day

During the same decade, the film ‘The Longest Day’ was in the pre-production phase. It featured an incredible all-star cast, including Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, and Richard Burton. Yet Wayne’s inclusion proved divisive.

Initially, Charlton Heston sought the role of 27-year-old Lt Col. Benjamin Vandervoort. However, at the last minute, Wayne decided to take the part which blocked Heston. Unfortunately, the unexpected replacement came at a huge price for Producer Darryl F. Zanuck.

In contrast, President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to play himself, but makeup artists could not make him look young. Hence, the producer cast a set decorator with no acting experience who was the spitting image of the Supreme Allied Commander.

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Although Eisenhower was considered too old to play his younger self, that didn’t stop Wayne from being released as Lt Col. Vandervoort.

John Wayne and Darryl F. Zanuck Controversy

The Duke ‘punished’ Zanuck with an enormous wage bill because of his earlier sarcastic remarks. In 1960, the Duke had appeared in the film ‘The Alamo,’ where he poured a huge chunk of his wealth into the production. However, his work did not prove fruitful.

John Wayne in The Alamo
Poster for the film The Alamo (1960). It wasn’t the commercial success that Wayne had hoped for.

According to industry experts, John Wayne invested all of his wealth into “The Alamo.” Yet, the film was a complete failure at the U.S. box office. Shockingly, John Wayne failed to break even on the investment that he made during production.

Following this, Zanuck, in an interview, mentioned that he disliked when actors form their own production companies. The producer cited Wayne, calling him ‘poor John Wayne.’ Hence, Wayne wanted to punish the producer.

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When shooting The Longest Day, Zanuck negotiated $25,000 fees from his ensemble cast for the film. However, Wayne demanded a staggering $250,000 for the film. Although Wayne had never actually served in the military like many of his co-stars it came as a surprise when Zanuck agreed to the demand. As if that was not enough, Wayne demanded separate billing too.

Even though Wayne made some quick money, to his dismay, his name came last in the credits. Some film fans even criticized Wayne’s role in the movie as fellow actors Robert Montgomery and Richard Todd who actually fought on D-Day only earned a fraction of Wayne’s fee.

Darryl F. Zanuck

The Longest Day

The Longest Day was a 1962 American epic war movie filmed in black and white. The movie was based on the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944. British director Ken Annakin directed it as a full-length feature film.

In contrast, Oscar-winning producer Darryl F. Zanuck produced it. 

The film depicted the landings and airborne assaults of Allied ‘Operation Overlord’ of World War Two. According to some estimates, more than 11,000 Allied planes provided air support for soldiers fighting at Normandy.

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The lead character, Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort, served as the Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion 505th PIR during World War Two. The gallant Colonel Vandervoort broke his foot when he landed, but he refused to evacuate. 

Approximately 156,000 Allied troops had stormed Normandy’s beaches by the end of D-Day. Unfortunately, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the invasion, leaving thousands wounded or missing.