John Wayne isn’t a name usually associated with movie curses, but the 1956 movie “ The Conqueror”, in which he starred, ties him into one that has one of the largest numbers of deaths associated with it for a film curse, outdoing the Omen and Poltergeist movie curse death tolls
The movie is a love story between Genghis Khan,( played by John Wayne), and Bortai (played by Susan Hayward) involving kidnapping and wars. The movie was a massive flop in 1956 and is regarded as one of the worst movies of the era, if not all time, which, John Wayne being miscast as Genghis Khan is often the reason cited for its poor performance.
Wayne was at the height of his career and possibly a little arrogantly, played the part, not unlike some of his Cowboy parts in Westerns, but, he was hand-picked by Eccentric Millionaire producer Howard Hughes, and no-one is going to say the man paying the bills is wrong to choose a huge star of the era to play a part in his movie.
The movie was shot in St George Utah, downwind from where the American government was testing nuclear bombs some 137 miles away. The Government of the time assured all local residents that the tests would not cause them any harm.
The cast and crew spent, many weeks filming on lotion, and later, when shots were needed to be filmed on the soundstage, Howard Hughes shipped 60 ton of dirt back to Hollywood so the stage shots would match the outside shots in look and feel, of course, the dirt was contaminated too.
So for 13 weeks on set in Utah the cast was exposed to nuclear fallout, and then for many more weeks in Hollywood contaminated dirt and dust was breathed in.
Over the next few years, 91 of the 220 stars and crew developed cancer, of which 46 would later die, including the movie stars John Wayne and Susan Hayward. One of the films other stars, Pedro Armendariz committed suicide upon hearing he had cancer of the Kidneys (just four years after filming) and it was terminal.
The cast and crew were not totally oblivious to the danger of the nuclear fallout, there is a photo of John Wayne on set with a Geiger counter, clearly demonstrating they knew there was a risk, the people of the town of St. George, close to the movie set, also developed cancers due to the American military tests.
The effects of the “curse” also included a flash flood that ripped through the set almost washing away the entire cast and crew.
A black panther that decided it was hungry and tried to take a rather large bite out of actress Susan Hayward
Howard Hughes, who had financed the film production, eventually started feeling guilty about the cast being exposed to nuclear fallout and bought every print of the film for an estimated $12 million dollars. He kept the film from being showing anywhere until it was seen on TV, for the first time in 1974.
It is rumoured during his final years, Hughes, who become known as the eccentric germaphobe billionaire, played the movie every night in his own home, racked with guilt for the deaths of so many associated with the movie he produced
In his last days, Howard Hughes, with his beard and fingernails grew disturbingly long, living a now reclusive lifestyle, reportedly watched The Conqueror over and over again, racked with guilt, as he waited for the sweet embrace of death.
For more information please visit the following links:
Howard Hughes - http://en.wikipedia.org/
Written and Researched by
Allen Tiller – 2013
First published May 13 2013