One of the fascinating pieces of trivia below is true*, the other is false. Do YOU know which is which?
The Conqueror (1956)
1) The film is sometimes called “An RKO Radioactive Picture.” It was filmed near a nuclear test site, and the set was contaminated by nuclear fallout. Photographs exist of John Wayne holding a Geiger counter. After location shooting, contaminated soil was transported back to Hollywood in order to match interior shooting done there. Over the next 20 years, many actors and crew members developed cancer. “People” Magazine researched the cast’s and crew’s health for an article. By the time it was published, in November 1980, 91 of the 220 cast and crew members had developed cancer. Forty-six had died, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Pedro Armendáriz (who shot himself soon after learning he had terminal cancer), Agnes Moorehead, John Hoyt, and director Dick Powell. The count did not include several hundred local Native Americans who played extras, or relatives of the cast and crew who visited the set, including John Wayne’s son Michael Wayne. The article quoted the reaction of a scientist from the Pentagon’s Defense Nuclear Agency to the news, “Please, God, don’t let us have killed John Wayne”.
2) Despite the fact that he was literally the furthest possible thing from Mongolian, John Wayne felt he was the perfect actor to portray Genghis Khan. However, eccentric producer Howard Hughes wasn’t convinced that the most Caucasian man on the planet was a good fit to play the Asian warlord, so he decided to put The Duke through a screen test. He flew Wayne out to his secret underground labyrinth in Utah, and made him run the maze naked. Wayne had to kill bears and wolves with his bare hands for food and clothing, while also fighting wave after wave of Chinese immigrants (also for food and clothing) that Hughes had been collecting over the years. When Wayne ran out of Chinese to fight, Hughes ordered other members of his staff to hunt Wayne in the labyrinth, offering a $5 bounty on anyone who brought him Wayne’s head. No one collected, of course, and The Duke made his way to the center of the labyrinth after seven grueling weeks. There, he faced Hughes in his final boss form, which consisted of Hughes’s brain implanted into the body of a gorilla with a rhinoceros horn and nuclear-powered mechanical limbs. Although Wayne fought valiantly, Hughes’s form was quite the unstoppable force indeed, and he soundly defeated Wayne after a 39-hour long camel clutch, which turned Wayne’s spine to a gel that Hughes drank after he finally let go. Wayne was deeply saddened that he would be seen as unfit to take on the role, but Hughes surprised him by saying, “The real Genghis Khan never gave up, and neither did you. The part is yours… IF you can find my labyrinth’s true exit!” Laughing maniacally, Hughes disappeared in a cloud of nuclear steam, and it took Wayne 10 months to crawl his way out, fighting griffins, trolls, and riddle-masters all the way. When he finally emerged, the film crew was assembled outside of the entrance, ready for shooting to begin, and delighted to see that in the past year Wayne had grown the proper Mongolian mustache.
I’m only guessing here, but my gut says #1 even though my heart says #2. So, #1 it must be.
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Always listen to your heart. It’s #2.
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