John Wayne ‘was set for Laurence of Arabia’

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HIS name may be synonymous with westerns, but new research has revealed that John Wayne was once lined up to play the heroic British Army officer Lawrence of Arabia in the epic film of the same name.

The lead role, which was taken by Irish actor Peter O’Toole in 1962, was offered to Wayne almost a decade earlier, according to Scottish film historian Brian Hannan.

Papers uncovered by Dunbartonshire-born Hannan as he researched a book about the making of the film revealed Wayne was announced to play the hero in January 1953, in a version to be made by Cinerama, the three-screen sensation of the 1950s.

It was to be produced by Lowell Thomas, the former journalist who shaped the legend of Lawrence Of Arabia in 1919, with a lecture tour that attracted more than five million people in the US and Britain.

“John Wayne was the biggest male action star of the day,” Hannan said. “He was huge, and in those days studios needed a big star to draw the crowds.

“At the time, people had woken up to the fact that he could actually act – he had just been Oscar-nominated for Sands Of Iwo Jima and had received rave reviews for John Ford’s Fort Apache and Howard Hawks’ Red River.”

Eventually the part was given to O’Toole, who was relatively unknown at the time. “Had the film gone ahead with Wayne playing Lawrence of Arabia, it would have been a completely different take on the character,” said Hannan.

“It is difficult to imagine – contrast Wayne, known for his rugged masculine image, with O’Toole, and his slightly effeminate portrayal. In the end, the film was a massive break for O’Toole, who went on to become a big star.”