When Woody Took the Lead in Rutledge

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Woody Strode thought director John Ford was joking when he offered him the lead in Sergeant Rutledge.

“John Ford had a big fight with Warner Bros. because they wanted an establish actor like Sidney Poitier or Harry Belafonte to play the title role,” Strode recalled.

But according to Ford, neither of them were tough enough. Despite Strode’s lack of experience, the director pushed for him and eventually won.

“He wanted somebody who could portray the image of a fighting man. He didn’t want an actor who needed a double,” Strode said.

The part proved to be a challenge. Strode, who hadn’t ridden a horse in nearly ten years, had to train to ride proficiently and with poise. Ford was also a demanding director. He would often perform how he wanted Woody to play it, so the actor could do it exactly right. While this caused tension between the two, especially with Ford’s temper, Strode understood that the director was helping.

“John Ford was really smart. He knew how to get the fire going, how to get all the emotions out of me.”

After Sergeant Rutledge, the pair worked together on Two Rode Together, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and 7 Women.