John Wayne Told Steven Spielberg Not To Make One Of His Most Famous Movies

John Wayne was an iconic name in Western movies, acting and directing dozens throughout his long career (via Brittanica). The American actor was known for "Stagecoach," "True Grit," "The Alamo," "The Train Robbers," and more. But there was one movie he absolutely would not touch — and it was directed by Steven Spielberg.

One of Spielberg's first casting choices for the film he was creating was Charlton Heston ("The Ten Commandments," "Ben-Hur"), according to Empire Online. But he had another actor in mind to ask first — John Wayne, whom he had met at an Academy memorial service for Joan Crawford. Spielberg and John Wayne became friends quickly, and Spielberg said they spoke on the phone about once per month. Spielberg had just started working on a new movie, and thought Wayne could be a great fit for the role of a general. 

A renowned director, Steven Spielberg has directed more than 50 movies and produced more than 100, including "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," "Jaws," "Schindler's List," and "Saving Private Ryan," per IMDb.

'Anti-American piece of drivel'

Spielberg discussed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly how John Wayne was initially curious about the comedy flick, so he sent him a script to review (via The WayBack Machine). But they quickly ran into problems. As Spielberg revealed, "He called me the next day and said he felt it was a very un-American movie, and I shouldn't waste my time making it."

John Wayne had a specific criticism of the movie that caused the impasse. According to Spielberg, Wayne said, "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" (via The WayBack Machine).

Wayne was infuriated by the comedy-parody script, calling it an "anti-American piece of drivel," as Empire Online reported. In an Empire Online interview with the script's co-writer, Robert Zemeckis, the writer said that the movie "1941" was inspired by real-life events, like The Great Los Angeles Air Raid, where California-based soldiers fired for hours at non-existent enemy planes.

'A slap in the face of America'

But that didn't matter to John Wayne, who had some scathing words to share with Steven Spielberg (via Empire Online). Spielberg said that Wayne told him, "I was so surprised at you. I thought you were an American. I thought you were going to make a movie to honor World War II. This dishonors the memory of what happened. Don't even make this film. I'll be very disappointed in you if you wind up making this picture."

And Wayne wasn't the only person who had an issue with the "1941": actor Charlton Heston also declined the role for similar reasons, calling it "a slap in the face of America" (per Empire Online). 

The movie commenced filming without John Wayne, and ended up starring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, Lorraine Gary, Nancy Allen, Christopher Lee, Toshirô Mifune, and John Candy (via IMDb). It was released in December 1979, and made over $92 million internationally. The movie ended up starring Robert Stack (above) as Major General Joseph Stilwell, instead of Wayne or Heston. 

In an interview, Stack said, ​​"If you want the truth, I never fully understood the script. It was a strange script" (via Empire Online).