Back in 1968, having shot his Oscar-winning performance as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, John Wayne made another Western with Rock Hudson.
The Undefeated followed the French Imperial intervention in Mexico during the 1860s and was loosely based on a Confederate General’s real escape south of the US border after the American Civil War.
Originally James Arness was set to star opposite Duke’s Colonel John Henry Thomas as Colonel James Langon.
But when the 6’7 Gunsmoke star was unavailable, Wayne decided to go with another tall actor by helping cast Hudson.
Marking what would have been the latter’s 98th birthday this week, the John Wayne estate quoted him: “John Wayne was then the Hollywood legend, and I was on screen with him. The guy is an angel. He saved my life back then when no other filmmaker wanted to know me.”
The closeted co-star’s lover Marc Christian, who wasn’t allowed on the three-month location shoot, said Duke would pick on Hudson during filming before the pair became friends.
According to Mark Griffin’s biography of Hudson, All that Heaven Allows, Wayne would “direct” his co-star, constantly telling him what he should do on camera.
In response, Hudson would do the same back, to which Duke responded with a pointed finger: “I like you”.
As a result, Wayne and Hudson became friends and would frequently play chess and bridge together.
Duke seriously struggled with injuries on the set of The Undefeated but tenaciously powered through the pain to complete the movie for fans.
In a post marking The Undefeated’s 54th anniversary last month, Wayne’s estate wrote: “During filming, John Wayne fell from his horse and fractured three ribs. He couldn’t work for almost two weeks.
“Then he tore a ligament in his shoulder and couldn’t use one arm at all. Director Andrew V McLaglen could only film him from an angle for the rest of the picture.
“Duke’s only concern, throughout, was not to disappoint his fans, despite being in terrible pain.”