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The Longest Day: When a Resentful John Wayne Dictated His Superstar Terms

For John Wayne to appear in the legendary cast of the war cinema classic “The Longest Day”, Darryl F. Zanuck had to pull out the checkbook and come to terms with the star’s demands, as well as with the authenticity of his role…

The longest daya monument of war cinema

To tell the story of June 6, 1944, the day the Allied forces landed in Normandy, entered the collective consciousness as D-Day (D Day in VO), the eminent co-founder of the studios Twentieth Century Pictures and producer Darryl F. Zanuck undertook at the end of 1960 the production of a classic of Hollywood cinema, epic and over the top war moviebetween megalomaniac artistic prowess, immersive documentary and American propaganda: The longest day.

This Hollywood super-production is led by Darryl F. Zanuck, four directors (British Ken Annakin, Hungarian naturalized American Andrew Marton, Swiss Bernhard Wicki and Zanuck himself, uncredited). The screenplay is by Cornelius Ryan, based on his own story classified as non-fiction, with several collaborations including that of Romain Gary and Erich Maria Remarque, a German writer naturalized American in 1947. Very high level therefore for an exceptional reconstruction and its many spectacular battles animated by thousands of extras.

And, as long as you spend lavishly, with an estimated budget of around $10 million (roughly 90 million today, making this film shot in black and white the most expensive in history until Schindler’s List), an amazing cast.

Parade of stars on the Normandy beaches

As he mentioned in an interview given in French to the 8 p.m. newscast in 1962, Darryl F. Zanuck insisted on the most faithful reconstruction possible. Thus, the points of view of the different nationalities involved are staged with actors from each country.

Brigadier General Norman Cota (Robert Mitchum) – The longest day ©20th Century Fox

For each nationality represented, the stars of the time are there. The list is very long, and goes in particular from the British Richard Burton and Sean Connery to the French Bourvil and Arletty, from the Germans Hans Christian Blech and Gert Fröbe to the Americans Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum, without forgetting legend and icon John Wayne,.

John Wayne, exorbitant demands…

Behind the scenes, to bring in John Wayne, complicated negotiations take place. And they’re largely driven by the actor’s ego – and his wallet. Indeed, as recounted in the biography devoted to John Wayne in 1997 by Gary Wills, John Wayne’s America: the politics of celebritythe actor was cold with Darryl F. Zanuck since this one had stigmatized in an interview his notorious financial failure with the film Alamoreleased in 1960.

He initially refuses to participate in the film, but ends up accepting at the last moment – the role was to go to Charlton Heston – against size requirements. So while all the other big name Hollywood figures agreed $25,000 of payment, John Wayne, resentful, asks him $250,000. Ten times more then, and he obtains satisfaction.

The longest day
Lt. Col. Benjamin H. Vandervoort (John Wayne) – The longest day ©20th Century Fox

The other request is just as spectacular. He wants to be counted and paid separately from others. This then traditionally had a consequence in the credits of the credits: to make it appear first and thus formulated “Starring John Wayne and…”, followed by the rest of the cast. He also gets to be so separated, but with an amusing irony. Indeed, it is at the very end that he finally appears, since all the other actors of the film are first presented… and John Wayne.

…And a cast criticized

To finish, his interpretation in the film does not take, being in fact contrary to the documentary intention of the authors. Indeed, “The Duke” at 54 years old when he turns in The longest day. That is 27 years old more than the real parachutist officer he embodies, Lieutenant-Colonel Benjamin H. Vandervoort, when the latter deployed his parachute above Sainte-Mère-Eglise on the night of June 5 to 6, 1944. For a film claiming its authenticity, it’s a downside widely agreed upon by the public, with Benjamin H. Vandervoort himself declaring himself “disappointed”.

In the image, the shift is dazzling. And also echoes his controversial appearance in the credits, since John Wayne did not take part in combat during the Second World War, while many in the cast did. A situation that the actor regretted, not having been mobilized despite his requests – he was married and the father of four children born between 1934 and 1940. In the biography written by Frédéric Valmont, The Giant of the Westthe author reports the words of the actor as follows:

I have always been ashamed of not having fought. When I play an officer at the head of his commando, I have a low opinion of myself.

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