John Wayne

‘The Barbarian and the Geisha’ Director Called John Wayne Vain and His Casting a ‘Terrible Mistake’

The Barbarian and the Geisha actor John Wayne despised the project for several reasons. However, they often referred back to director John Huston. Audiences recognized them both for their individual talents, but they didn’t work well together to the point of disowning the movie. Huston once went as far as to call Wayne “vain” and the decision to cast him a “terrible mistake.”

John Huston cast John Wayne in ‘The Barbarian and the Geisha’ because of ‘Red River’ and ‘The Searchers’

'The Barbarian and the Geisha' star John Wayne wearing a suit and tie, looking directly into the camera in a black-and-white photograph
John Wayne | John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The Barbarian and the Geisha followed Townsend Harris (Wayne) on the night before the Meiji Restoration in Japan. The U.S. government sent him to serve as U.S. consul to Shimoda. However, the village resists him, along with his interpreter, Henry Heusken (Sam Jaffe). Townsend meets a beautiful geisha named Okichi (Eiko Ando), who tries to help him with the cultural barrier.

According to Michael Munn’s John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth pondered why Huston cast Wayne in The Barbarian and the Geisha to begin with.

“I felt that Wayne was the right actor to play Townsend,” Huston responded. “He had proved he could act in Red River and The Searchers, and I wanted to tap into that talent.”

John Huston called John Wayne vain and the decision to cast him a ‘terrible mistake’

Huston told Munn that he liked the idea of Wayne in The Barbarian and the Geisha because of his stature. He towered over his co-stars in a way that appealed to the filmmaker. Nevertheless, Huston came to regret that situation entirely.

“I thought, ‘Who better to symbolize the big and awkward country that was the United States back then?’” Huston said. “I was sure Wayne was the right choice. I made a terrible mistake.”

The filmmaker and actor continued to have disagreements on the set. They bickered about the movie, but they also had an intense personality clash that didn’t make for a very positive working relationship.

“I had no idea that Wayne would have any kind of vanity,” Huston explained. “But he kept saying, ‘My best profile is on the right,’ so I shot his left profile whenever I could. A film should be a partnership between director and actor. But we were at odds almost from the beginning.”

From Wayne’s perspective, Huston never could give him a straight answer when it came to character development. As a result, he resorted to his movie star persona because he wasn’t getting the direction he was accustomed to getting from his frequent collaborators, such as John Ford.

The movie was a box office disappointment

Despite Wayne’s box office draw, The Barbarian and the Geisha was a box office disaster. Critics and audiences liked the photography, but they detested the way that the film enforced negative stereotypes. Additionally, they pointed out that the actor felt rather wooden in the role. The Barbarian and the Geisha only grossed around $2.5 million in rentals against a negative budget of over $4 million.

Wayne made plenty of bad movies, and he was the first to admit it. As a result, it makes sense that Huston and the Western movie star never worked together again.

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