John Wayne and Clint Eastwood were both legendary actors in their own right. But one of Eastwood’s iconic roles almost went to the Duke.
That’s right, there was almost an entirely different Dirty Harry Callahan. Wayne almost picked up the iconic .44 Magnum revolver himself. It’s difficult to imagine an alternate world where Eastwood didn’t play the famed Inspector.
But both Wayne and Frank Sinatra were also in consideration for the part. Audiences today may best remember Sinatra for his singing voice. But back in the day, the singer also had a successful career as an actor as well. And he and Wayne didn’t always get along. They were friends at times but also feuded as well. Such as the time, Wayne knocked out Sinatra’s bodyguard.
So why didn’t the Duke take on the role? He was too prideful and didn’t want it after Sinatra turned it down. The singer had injured his hand. In the biography “John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth,” Wayne once detailed his reasoning.
“I turned it down for what seemed to me to be three very good reasons. The first is that they offered it to Frank Sinatra first, but he’d hurt his hand and couldn’t do it. I don’t like being offered Sinatra’s rejections. Put that one down to pride,” he said.
John Wayne and ‘McQ’
John Wayne also didn’t think the role fit the image that he had created. Wayne built a career on the character of the honest, noble cowboy. And Dirty Harry was a loose-canon cop that didn’t listen to authority. It fit Eastwood’s style of shooting first and talking later. Wayne was appalled by the script.
“The second reason is that I thought Harry was a rogue cop,” Wayne said. “Put that down to narrow-mindedness because when I saw the picture I realized that Harry was the kind of part I’d played often enough; a guy who lives within the law but breaks the rules when he really has to in order to save others.”
But when “Dirty Harry” blew up and became insanely popular, Wayne was kicking himself. Worst, the role went to Eastwood, who Wayne admittedly didn’t like. He felt the younger actor didn’t respect the generation of westerns before him. In response, Wayne sought out his own detective thriller. Thus, Wayne created “McQ” as a response to “Dirty Harry.”
Unfortunately, the film ended up feeling like a pretender to “Dirty Harry” than a competitor. The “Dirty Harry” film would spawn a franchise for Eastwood.