With all the talk going on around the upcoming Oppenheimer flying around, we thought we would drop our own bomb on you with a story about another movie about nuclear war and the prospect of the ominously looming atomic bomb. Fair warning…be prepared to have your face melted off and your mind appropriately blown away. The great Stanley Kubrick actually pursued another movie legend, John Wayne, to play a role in his 1964 classic satire film, Dr. Strangelove. Yes, you read that correctly. One of the greatest filmmakers of all time nearly cast perhaps the most legendary American actor for a role that, quite frankly, we just can’t see anyone else pulling off other than the actor who made the role famous — not even the great John Wayne. But the idea of having the “King of the Western” in one of the best black comedies we’ve ever seen is so incredibly delicious, we had to share it.
Which Role Would John Wayne Have Played?
Even with the masterful Peter Sellers so deftly portraying half of the characters in the most versatile and well-rounded performance of his career, there are still a number of possible roles that “The Duke” might have been a nice fit for. We can certainly see him in the role of insane Brigadier General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden). Wayne can chew on a cigar and handle a rifle as well as anyone in the history of cinema. Although withholding his essence and “precious bodily fluids” from women may be a little out of his range. What about the dopey, warmongering General Buck Turgidson? George C. Scott hammers a home run in the role of a comically bombastic military lifer who would love nothing more than to initiate World War 3 with the Soviet Union. But, he is likely a little too cartoonish for the Western star who was the definition of confident cool and spoke as few words as possible to get his point across. So we’ve narrowed the field down now to just one role that would make sense for the icon.
It’s the B-52 Bomber Pilot!
Yes, Kubrick sought out Wayne to portray Major T.J. “King” Kong in Dr, Strangelove. It seems like an odd fit in hindsight. Just about everyone in the exceptional ensemble delivers a grand performance in the movie, but Slim Pickens almost steals the entire film. We just can’t see anyone other than the diminutive Southerner with a high-pitched Texas-sized twang leading the crew of the Stratofortress bomber into enemy territory to deliver the mother of all bombs on Russian soil. He certainly has the most memorable scene as he straddles the enormous atomic bomb and descends toward the target with a triumphant “Aaahh Hooo!!!, Yeahhh Yooo!!!” If you ask even the most casual moviegoer about Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Bomb, even they will point to Pickens and the mushroom cloud scene steal as the highlight of the film. The more discerning cinephile will likely point to the three sublime Sellers’ characters and rank them in the following order: Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, Dr, Strangelove, and POTUS Merkin Muffley. But to each their own, right?
How Close Did John Wayne Come to Accepting the Part?
According to Mental Floss, even though Kubrick would go on to become one of the most groundbreaking and avant grade directors ever, in 1964, he wasn’t a household name by any stretch. Wayne was involved in several projects in the year prior to the 1964 release of Dr. Strangelove including, Donovan’s Reef, McLintock!, and How the West was Won. The following year when Kubrick was desperately reaching out to The Duke, he was involved in another project called, Cast a Giant Shadow, and his schedule was far too jammed up to entertain an offer from the relatively unknown young screenwriter and filmmaker who was known at the time for making two films with Kirk Douglas, called Paths of Glory and the unforgettable Spartacus.
But apparently, this wasn’t enough for Wayne to respond personally to Kubrick’s offer, and maybe we’re better off for it. Don’t get us wrong, we love John Wayne, and having his name attached to the film would have made it an even bigger film than it was at the time, but it’s just too damn hard to see anyone else than Pickens in the role of Major “King” Kong. The two never spoke about it. But the mere fact that Kubrick wanted the biggest Hollywood star in his film is just another illustration of how his ambition would make him one of cinema’s finest and most accomplished auteurs.
More Fantastic Facts About ‘Dr. Strangelove’
One of the more mind-boggling facts about Kubrick’s film is that Peter Sellers was actually supposed to play yet another, fourth part. It was the role that Wayne turned down. Unbelievably, Sellers was originally scheduled to play the part of Major T.J. “King” Kong as well. It turns out that the one thing Sellers couldn’t master in the movie was the necessary Texas accent and the part was given to Pickens instead. Also worth noting is that Kubrick sought out another popular actor from the ’60s for the part, but got a “no” from Bonanza star, Dan Blocker. At least Blocker had the decency to send word via his agent that he wouldn’t be taking the part and had a curious reason why. Blocker’s agent told Kubrick via a telegram, “Thanks a lot, but the material is too pinko for Dan. Or anyone else we know for that matter.” The anti-communism and Cold War scare were very real in the mid-’60s and is yet another reflection of how iconoclastic Kubrick was even as a young man. One final crazy but true fact about Dr. Strangelove is that Kubrick would often settle creative differences with the notoriously stern Scott over games of chess on set. Apparently, both were master chess players and from the looks of the final cut, and the unusually chipper performance from Scott, Kubrick won more of those chess matches than he lost. The result was a masterpiece of a film that is still just as relevant today as it was upon its release 60 years ago.