John Wayne apparently had beef with fellow Western star Gene Hackman’s acting chops, despite Hackman’s overwhelming Hollywood success.
The Duke’s daughter, Aissa Wayne wrote a tell-all memoir in 1998 titled John Wayne: My Father that details the actor’s life from childhood until death. And in it, she shared that the two-time Oscar winner was the only modern actor that Wayne only openly despised.
The reason he hated Hackman was never completely clear to her, but Wayne claimed it was because he thought Hackman was terribly untalented.
“When it came to his contemporaries in film, I only heard him speak once with any real venom,” Aissa wrote. “Gene Hackman could never appear on-screen without my father skewering his performance.”
Hackman was coming into the prime of his career during the final years of Wayne’s life. By the time Wayne passed in 1979 at the age of 72, The Bonnie and Clyde star had already won one Oscar for his role in The French Connection, and he had two more nods on his record. So, his acting skills were widely regarded, but Wayne apparently thought otherwise.
“I wish I could tell you why he so harshly criticized Hackman, but he never went into detail,” she continued.
Aissa noted that, based on “pure speculation,” she thinks John Wayne would have learned to appreciate Gene Hackman’s work.
“Had my father lived to see more of his work, I think his view of Mr. Hackman would have changed,” she noted. “Back then, however, my father called Hackman ‘the worst actor in town. He’s awful.’”
Gene Hackman Once Said John Wayne was ‘One of the Best Actors Ever’
Hackman and Wayne never starred in a film together, so the “venom” didn’t come from any personal disagreements. Hackman did get first dibs on Wayne’s part in his final movie, The Shootist, however, which may not have helped.
Interestingly, Gene Hackman always spoke of Wayne with pure respect, despite the criticism. In a 1992 interview with DesertNews, he sang praises for Wayne’s legacy.
“John Wayne was one of the best actors ever,” he gushed. “I could never be the man he was, because his politics and mine would be incompatible, but you must admire how really good he was as an actor, in command of the scene and with such great charisma.”
Gene Hackman won his final Oscar in 1993 for his supporting role in Unforgiven. He retired from the industry in 2004. John Wayne left his career with one Oscar, which he won in 1970 for his leading role in True Grit.