John Wayne Was Treated Horribly On This Movie Set

John Wayne, the movie star famed for his portrayal of tough guy Western heroes and combat soldiers, wasn't as hard-nosed as the characters he played. His onset behavior during his long Hollywood career, according to fellow actor Kirk Douglas, was always completely professional. But during the filming of the movie "Stagecoach" that would make him a star, he found himself having to put up with a host of verbal abuse from a man he considered a friend. The director John Ford — who by the time they began working on the film in 1938 already had an Oscar to his name — was hugely successful. Wayne, on the other hand, had been struggling after the failure of his first leading role in the 1930 Western "The Big Trail," which had bombed at the box office, among other issues he was dealing with.

Besides this power imbalance between the two men, Ford had already earned a reputation as a tyrant who had no qualms about hurling abuse at his actors if he thought it would help make for a better picture. Wayne knew this could be his big break, and so during the nearly two months of filming, between October 31 and December 23, 1938, he was forced to swallow his pride and take whatever Ford threw at him.

John Ford belittled John Wayne

John Wayne first met renowned film director John Ford in the late 1920s when he was still known by his real name, Marion Morrison, and was an assistant propman. Ford gave him some small walk-on parts in his films, but nothing more for nearly a decade. "I wanted some pain written on his face to offset the innocence," Ford later remarked (via "Searching for John Ford"). By this point, John Wayne had almost quit Hollywood because of the string of subpar roles the studios gave him and conflict with a movie executive over a woman.

Ford's cruel humor emerged even before filming began. He often invited Wayne to go cruising on his yacht, and it was on one such trip that he dropped the script for "Stagecoach" in the budding actor's lap and asked him if he knew any young performers who might be good for the leading role of the Ringo Kid. Ford waited another day before telling Wayne, who suggested an actor other than himself: "You idiot. Couldn't you play it?" Wayne got the part, but learned that it came with its own set of problems. On set, the director would grab him by the chin and yell at him, telling him to not act with his chin but his eyes. Ford told him to stop slurring his dialogue, called him a "big oaf," and complained about how he washed his face in a scene, forcing him to do it over and over.

They remained friends

On another occasion during the filming of "Stagecoach," John Ford twisted John Wayne's words around to make it seem like he was deriding a fellow actor, which the director announced to the crew, humiliating Wayne. Wayne later admitted he had a very hard time with it. "He would turn me inside out," he said (via "Searching for John Ford"). "I would want to murder him." Ford's antagonistic behavior toward Wayne continued throughout their working relationship, and the actor continued to put up with it, perhaps in part because he knew his friend had made his career.

"By all accounts, Ford would ride Wayne miserably, calling him 'meathead.' And Wayne always took it," the film critic Leonard Maltin told Today in 2006. "He never fought back; it was like from a parent that you knew loved you, in spite of superficial evidence to the contrary." The pair remained lifelong friends, just one of the untold truths of John Wayne. But that didn't stop Ford from pushing Wayne as hard as possible — especially during the filming of "Stagecoach" — in order to get his best performances, which worked. Wayne admitted that the director "knew what he was doing" and that he became a better actor because of Ford. "Ford treated me with great care," Wayne recalled.