In the 1970s, John Wayne was nearing the end of his career as a Hollywood star. In 1973, at the age of 65, he had been living with one lung for the better part of 10 years and suffered from emphysema for the remainder. That year he released two westerns, which are not remembered as his best, but they saw the aging icon continue with great determination. One of these films was The Train Robbers, which co-starred Ann-Margret as a feisty widow who works alongside three cowboys to reclaim a gilded cage. Despite his health problems on the film, Wayne refused to delay filming and went ahead. Ann-Margret had fond memories of her co-star’s tenacity during this period.
Ann-Margret had fond memories of her co-star’s tenacity during this period.
Ann-Margret recalled: “Duke was still a strong, resilient and formidable man, larger than life and incredibly personal. He was a great teddy bear and we got along great. Duke gave me the confidence I was missing.”
The Viva Las Vegas star was appreciative of this as 1972 had been a very difficult time in her life, as she was badly injured while performing at her show in Lake Tahoe. As for the confidence boost she needed, the actress had to get over her fear of horses, as her character had a lot to do with horsemanship. It was here that Wayne supported her and helped her overcome this obstacle.
However, even before the shooting began, Duke had fractured two ribs, which was so painful that he was struggling to sleep at night.
As a result, Wayne’s action scenes in The Train Robbers, which is on ITV4 today, had to be cut, with co-star Rod Taylor recalling that Duke was “slightly” ill during filming. The Time Machine star said the Western legend had trouble with his balance and understandably needed afternoon naps.
Wayne also released Cahill: U.S. Marshall in 1973, which saw a significantly weakened Duke having to use a stepladder to get on a horse. That year also marked the death of his most famous collaborator, director John Ford.
Following news of the filmmakers’ deaths in August, Wayne told reporters, “I’m pretty much living on borrowed time.”
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Duke would go on to make a pair of better-reviewed westerns in the True Grit sequel, Rooster Cogburn, opposite Katherine Hepburn and The Shootist. The last movie was his last and he saw him playing a terminally ill gunslinger. The Hollywood icon died of cancer just a couple of years later, in 1979.
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