This is the fourteenth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous movie urban legends.
MOVIE LEGEND: John Wayne once took a George Stevens cue in a memorably pun-derful direction.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
The Greatest Story Ever Told was an epic tale of the story of Jesus Christ, released in 1965, with a young Max von Sydow as Jesus Christ…
The movie was directed by veteran Hollywood film director and producer George Stevens…
Part of Stevens’ approach to the film was to get as many famous actors into the film as possible, even if they were only appearing in cameos (this is a similar approach that Michael Anderson took with the Best Picture Winner of 1956, Around the World in 80 Days).
One such cameo appearance was by Hollywood icon John Wayne…
Wayne appears at the end of the film as a Roman Centurion tasked with guarding Jesus Christ on the cross. As Jesus expires from the mortal plane, Wayne’s character exclaims, “Truly this was the son of God.”
Well, as the story goes (here is one of a gazillion different versions of this story, all of which are essentially the same)…
[T]hat at the rehearsal for “The Greatest Story Ever Told’, The Duke, playing the Roman soldier who speared Jesus on the cross, said rather flatly: “Truly he was the son of God”. the director said: “Not like that, say it with awe!”
Obligingly Wayne repeated his line: “Aw, truly he was the son of God.”
It’s a great story, and definitely one that I could completely see happening, as according to the story, it is just a one-off joke, presumably made to cut the tension during the filming of the elaborate epic film.
However, both John Wayne and George Stevens have independently denied the story, and in both of their cases, they noted that the story IS funny, but that it did not happen (so it’s not like a case of people being so embarrassed that of COURSE they’d deny it). The film also featured a young Roddy McDowell as the apostle Matthew. Years later, McDowell claimed that he was there when Wayne shot his one line, and that the “aw, truly” scene never actually took place. And I’ve never heard or read of an eyewitness claim OTHERwise.
So when the two parties in question both say it never happened, as did a third party witness, I’m willing to believe them, and classify this story as a funny story, but not a true funny story.
MOVIE LEGEND: The dog Pal was acquired TWICE for sums that, in retrospect, seem to be quite astronomically low.
The dog known as Pal came from a classic lineage of collies, but when Pal was born, his large eyes and that white spot on his forehead “ruined” him for anything more than being a straightforward pet dog.
Well, the man who ended up buying him was an animal trainer named Howard Peck. Peck brought Pal to a Hollywood animal trainer named Rudd Weatherwax because of Pal’s constant barking and annoying habit of chasing motorcycles. Weatherwax worked with the 8 month old dog for awhile, but while he made strides in other areas (like the constant barking), he couldn’t get Pal to stop chasing motorcycles. Peck, however, did not want the “not completely taught” dog back, so he agreed to give him to Weatherwax in exchange for the training fees that Peck owed him.
Weatherwax then gave the dog as a gift to a friend.
It was at this point that Weatherwax heard rumors that they were planning on making a movie adaptation of Eric Knight’s Lassie book, and Pal would fit perfectly for the role, so Weatherwax then bought Pal back from his friend…for $10!!!
Pal then went on to star in the aforementioned film adaption (1943′s Lassie Come Home, ALSO with Roddy McDowell, oddly enough!)…
Pal played Lassie in films and on TV for the next decade or so, and Pal’s lineage have played Lassie on TV for a number of decades, as well.
Pal’s son, Lassie II, was the main Lassie on the Lassie TV series…
Years later, Pal’s great-great-granddog, Boy, was Lassie in the popular 1979 Lassie film, The Magic of Lassie…
Pal’s descendants have played Lassie for more than four decades!
So you might imagine how well off this made Weatherwax (although Weatherwax WAS extremely attached to Pal – his family remarked that he was depressed for months after Pal died in 1954), and all for ten bucks and a few dog training lessons (Peck, of course, later tried to sue for ownership of Pal, but lost).
MOVIE LEGEND: Gary Cooper batting right-handed led to some ingenious ways of filming Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees.
The Pride of the Yankees is a 1942 hit film (also a critically acclaimed film) about the life of New York Yankee great, Lou Gehrig.
Lou Gehrig had a Hall of Fame career as the “2″ half of the 1/2 punch that was Ruth and Gehrig in the 1920s’ Yankee lineup, with Babe Ruth batting 3rd in the lineup and Gehrig batting 4th (they helped make up the so-called “Murderer’s Row” of the 1927 Yankees, also containing Hall of Famers Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri batting at the 1st and sixth positions – #5 hitter Bob Meusel actually led the league in home runs in 1923!).
In the film, Gehrig, who retired at the age of 36 because of a debilitating disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is now most commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) that killed him two years later, was played by screen idol, Gary Cooper.
The only problem was, Lou Gehrig batted with his left hand.
Cooper, though, was right-handed.
It seemed like a pretty mighty fine impasse (as recreations for the film would be obvious that the person hitting the ball was not Cooper), until director Sam Wood came up with an ingenious solution.
Wardrobe created specially made New York Yankee uniforms with everything exactly the mirror-image of a standard Yankee uniform, so instead of the jerseys saying “New York,” they said “kroY weN”
So the batting scenes were done in this weird uniform, and then afterward, the image is reversed, and viola, you have a left-handed batter!
Pretty darn clever, huh?
And it looked great on film!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org