Please be advised:
The previous article, John Wayne: An Iconic A-hole was meant to serve as a set-up to a discussion on a still unresolved mystery. A tale that may come as a surprise– a wonderment stemming from John Wayne’s decision to take on a role that he should have passed. In the mid-1950s, while riding high as a successful movie star, John Wayne would actively seek to star in ‘The Conqueror.’
The film would feature The Duke playing a character based on a real guy, Temujin. The basic plot follows Temujin as he seeks to avenge his father’s death. While he’s at it, he will also try to save his lovely ginger dame love interest. Of course, Temujin kicks ass, seizes the broad, and will be crowned by his more commonly known name, Genghis Khan. That’s right, John Wayne took on the role of the Mongolian legend to create his own full Manchu myth.
Today, ‘The Conqueror’ is still viewed as one of the worst films ever made standing not so proudly with the likes of Glen or Glenda, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Santa Clause Conquers the Martians, and who will ever forget, many folks personal favorite titles– The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (enjoy the trailer… only if you dare).
An Enduring Mystery
If the Howard Hughes based project’s decision to allow a six-foot-four-inch white dude play the lead role as a Mongolian legend was not bad enough, Hughes approval of the location to shoot the film would say, “Hold my beer, buddy. I can topple that bullshit, not a problem, bro.”
Like many movie shoots, when picking a location based on real events– why actually go there? Why not save some time, some money, and make your film in… let’s say, ugh– Utah, specifically St. George, Utah?
Not only did Hughes and Co. decide on St. George as an ideal location to make their movie, Hughes appreciated the authenticity so much, he would also have 60-tons of the most excellent Utah dirt sent back to Hollywood for Wayne and others to play in during any necessary re-shoots. Some might wonder, “What’s the big deal? Are you trying to say– Utah sucks? Yeah, everybody knows that. Ok?”
Yes, although Utah does have some beautiful scenery, anyone that has been through the area can attest that Utah, more or less, ranges from kinda to full fledge suck. However, the problem with choosing St. George, Utah as a location to shoot a movie in 1954– is due to the government nuclear tests conducted– in 1953. That’s right.
The U.S. government conducted a series of bomb testings (eleven to be precise) under the label of Operation Upshot-Knothole. The purpose of these experiments had to include the naturally cool art of blowing shit up, “We got new weapons, ya’ll!” Also as part of this operation would be to analyze the impact of poisonous blasts on the troops. Specifically, these series of shellings aggressively sought to examine the effect of radiation as a means to develop counter-defensive measures against nuclear weapon employment.
Don’t worry, the troops were kept at a “safe” distance and only received slightly elevated radiation exposure. One must remember, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. What goes up, must come down and vice versa. Thus, when all those bombs were activated– the troops may have been kept at a safe distance… but the release also created a side-effect known as “fall-out.” Therefore, the towns, cities, and people downwind of said tests would be exposed to far more radiation for a considerably extensive period.
St. George, Utah is slightly less than 140 miles from where all these government-curious massive bombings. In other words, the film’s chosen location was a sandy, dry area that had just been exposed with radiation from a heavy fissionable arsenal.
During the 1950s, as a reminder, it was not a big deal for a drunk fellow to slap around his side piece, all because she chose to smoke his last Lucky. Afterward, the classiest drunkard would jump in his seatbeltless car, pick up a pack of smokes and maybe drink a little more before finally heading home, at a way too late how, and entertain torture his sleeping wife and the couples 1.8 children with the high-class styling shenanigans of a mean drunk.
Again, 1950s classy.
Cigarettes, drinking, and driving, without seat belts, were all standard practices– nobody cared about some year-old bombs– and why would they? After all, Hughes and crew did ask the government if the area was safe– the government said, “Yep,” and that was good enough for these 1950s characters– because they still had something known as “trust” in their government.
In 1956, ‘The Conqueror ‘ would see its release not be a box office conqueror. Hughes and others would work to stifle future crowds from obtaining, laughing at the miscast movie, and life went on. It is safe to say, outside of obscure bad movie buffs, little to no attention was paid to The flippity flop Wayne Khan movie.
Nearly 25-years later, The Conqueror was back!
In a November 1980 People magazine article, the following revelation was made:
Of The Conqueror’s 220 cast and crew members from Hollywood, an astonishing 91 have contracted cancer, PEOPLE has ascertained. Forty-six of them, including Wayne, Hayward and Powell, have died of the disease. Another star of the film, Pedro Armendariz, survived cancer of the kidney four years after finishing the movie—but killed himself in 1963 at the age of 51 when he learned that he had terminal cancer of the lymphatic system.
Did filming a movie in a downwind nuclear radiation area really lead to John Wayne and 90 other cast and crew members developing cancer? Was The Duke murdered by a curse of the truest G ever, Genghis Khan?
At this moment in time, nobody can say with high confidence one way or the other.
However, current wisdom holds that Wayne and crew’s various types of cancer were not likely due to their film shoot. Yet, there is still a relevant and credible debate as to the impact the fallout may have had on past and present inhabitants of St. George, Utah.
The moral of this tale is straightforward– in hindsight, humanity is not as smart or knowledgeable as they may wish to believe. The world has always been, currently is, and will likely always have questions and mysteries that are not answerable by then-day modern smart people also known as “experts.” As a solid word of advice, be wary of the impact unknown technology may have when mixed or introduced into your surroundings. Also, it should be noted, regardless of the circumstances– one should probably try to avoid overexposure to radiation and chemical fall-out.
PS, the purpose of this writing was also to set up another, but the next up will be a bit more of a creative surprise.
Until the next time, oh, there will be a next time, Buddy DR reminds all: