Ben Johnson

  1. Monte Hale, Giant, 1955.
  2. Robert Ryan, The Wild Bunch, 1968. 
  3. Dennis Hopper, The Last Movie, 1970.  Or: The Last Movie or Boo Hoo in Tinseltown! Based on Hopper’s experiences while shooting The Sons of Katie Elder in Mexico (when indigenous natives re-enacted the movie-making), the film won the Critics’ Prize at Venice but The Last Movie was damn nearly The Last Hopper. Well, he shot it in  Peru – coke capital of the world!  He’d got Stewart Stern, a pal since scriptingRebel Without A Cause, to write it.  They argued, split, but always wanted to work together again. ”He fascinated me,” said Stern, “because he had ideas before anybopdy else did.” But their stoned, 98 page treatment interested no one. Anfd Hopper refused to risk record producer Phil Spector’s offer of $1.2m to film  the new, 119-page version.  Hopper just bided his time… He always intended Kansas, his “stunt  man in a lousy Western,” for Montgomery Clift – but he died in 1966. The role needed an older player. Finally, at 34, Hopper explained: “It was easier doing it myself than explain to another actor what I wanted.” He had tested various hopefuls and considered two of John Ford’s family: John Wayne and Ben Johnson, talked to Jack Nicholson, Jason Robards and… Willie Nelson!! My God, Dennis and Willie shooting in Peruthey’d still be there!  Buried, probably.
  4. Gregory Peck, Shoot Out, 1970.   Between losing Gary Cooper and gaining Peck, veteran Western-maker Henry Hathaway suggested the good ole stuntman and support player as the bank robber on the vengeance trail. No way, thundered producer Hal Wallis. D’oh!  That same year, critic-turned-director Peter Bogdanovich promoted Johnson in The Last Picture Show and he won the support actor Oscar.
  5. Chris Cooper, Lonesome Dove, TV, 1989  .In 1972, director Peter Bogdanovich was collecting four of his Last Picture Show stars (including the two Oscar-winners) for another Larry McMurtry story, Streets of Laredo.  The top stars, together for this one time only were to be: John Wayne, James Stewart and  Henry Fonda. Unfortunately, John Ford – suddenly anti-Peter, the critic who had written much in praise of Ford – made sure it never happened by warning Duke off.   (In 1971, Ford had helped Peter by pushing Ben into playing Sam The Lion in Picture Show).  McMurtry rewrote Laredo into a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and superlative TV mini. Ben was set for Sheriff July Johnson, none too keen on having to hunt down Fonda for killing July’sbrother.


 Birth year: 1918Death year: 1996Other name: Casting Calls:  5