John Wayne shot co-star in the back and was reminded of it in his will

The Searchers: Trailer for 1956 John Wayne western

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In 1929, John Wayne had a small uncreditted role in the American Football film Salute. It would be the start of his lifelong relationships with legendary director John Ford – but it also forged a friendship with fellow actor Ward Bond who, for one of the only times, received higher billing than The Duke. They starred together in another sporting epic, 1936’s boxing film Conflict, before both becoming grizzled staples in numerous Westerns like Fort Apache, Rio Bravo and The Quiet Man, as well as The Searchers. Bond was at the height of his fame in 1960, starring in smash hit TV show Wagon Train, when he suddenly died in November 1960.

Bond never achieved the fame and fortune of his close friend, but he is still remembered for roles in some of Hollywood’s greatest films of all time like Gone With the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, The Maltese Falcon and It’s a Wonderful Life.

He was part of Wayne’s inner circle of conservative stars who sought to expose and blacklist any suspected communists or “progressive liberals” in Hollywood. He found himself increasingly isolated after antagonising many powerful figures in the industry but was always able to rely on the tight-knit group of like-minded stars and directors for work.

Wayne and Bond, sometimes with Ford, would famously go off together on fishing trips to Catalina Island or lengthy hunting trips into remote areas in Baja California, often on horseback.

During one of those trips, Wayne had borrowed one of Bond’s guns and accidentally shot his friend in the back, apparently in the buttocks.

The story goes that the strapping 6’4 Duke actually carried his injured co-star much of the way to a hospital, where he was treated and eventually discharged with no lifelong injuries.

When Bond died of a sudden heart attack, Wayne was devastated. He was a pallbearer and gave a powerful and emotional eulogy at the funeral when Ford infamously (but apparently affectionately) told another actor that since Bond had gone, “Now you’re the biggest a**hole in Hollywood.” 

It was only after Bond’s death that Ford was told the actor had ruined a flawless take on the Searchers. There had been a mysterious power cut while Wayne was delivering a perfect scene. 

Years after The Searchers premiered, the film’s cinematographer Winton C Hoch told Ford at a Hollywood event how the late actor had carelessly pulled out a plug to use his electric razor but the crew didn’t tell the notoriously explosive director, fearing his reaction.

Speaking of Bond’s death years later, Wayne said: “When you lose a friend that close after so many years together, you realize you’ve reached the time of life when the ghosts surrounding you are some of the most significant people in your life.

“Part of me knows he’s gone; another part automatically spots good parts for him. Instincts stay long after friends are gone.”

Alongside his memories, Wayne also found himself with another powerful reminder of Bond. In his will, the hard man actor left Wayne the one item that perfectly summed up their friendship and the type of men they both were. Bond actually bequeathed to his fellow star the same shotgun he had been shot with all those years ago!


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