When Republic Pictures honcho Herbert J. Yates learned Cecile B. DeMille wanted to screen John Wayne’s latest Western, “Dark Command,” he was over the moon. Though the director was looking at the Duke for the second male lead (behind Ray Milland), a DeMille movie conferred prestige on everyone involved. Discerning moviegoers disinclined to see a random oater might reconsider if they associated the star with a DeMille production.
Wayne didn’t care. Maurice Zolotow recounts the Duke’s response in “Shooting Star: A Biography of John Wayne”:
“‘No, Herb.’ Wayne said, to Yates’ surprise, ‘I don’t want you to send him a print. You just tell him if he wants to see ‘Dark Command,’ you’ll set up a screening for him on the Republic lot. Yeah — that’s what I said. Otherwise, let him just wait until it’s released and see it with the common people.'”
DeMille played along, saw the film at Republic, and loved what he saw. He offered Wayne the role of salvager Captain Jack Stewart in “Reap the Wild Wind.” The Duke, savoring the opportunity to screw with one of the most revered directors in Hollywood, didn’t refuse the part outright. Instead, he sent DeMille 17 pages of script notes designed to pump up his part. “I figured that would just about wash it up,” said Wayne.
Shockingly, DeMille persisted.