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Dirty Harry was a quintessential role for Clint Eastwood, and it’s hard to imagine another actor being able to fill those shoes. But did you know John Wayne could have played him?
The character of Dirty Harry was inspired by real life San Francisco detective, Dave Toschi, known for wearing bow ties and sports coats on the job.
Frank Sinatra was originally cast, but after injuring his wrist while filming The Manchurian Candidate, he was unable to properly hold the magnum pistol, Harry’s signature gun.
The studio reached out to the Duke to see if he would be interested, but he passed on the role.
Wayne said, “I don’t like being offered Sinatra’s rejections. Put that one down to pride. The second reason is that I thought Harry was a rogue cop. Put that down to narrow-mindedness because when I saw the picture, I realized Harry was the kind of part I’d played often enough.”
According to Dirty Harry director Don Siegel, the role wouldn't have suited the Duke.
He said, “He was just too old, and he would have objected to many of the things that Clint would do because Clint was never bothered by image. Wayne was.”
After Wayne rejected the part, other actors were considered, including Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster, Walter Matthau, and Steve McQueen. However, each decided to pass on the part too. Interestingly, McQueen had already played a police officer based on Dave Toschi when he starred in 1968’s Bullitt.
When Dirty Harry became a box office hit, John Wayne regretted his decision, especially since he struggled to find good films with quality scripts. However, he got a second chance of sorts with McQ.
“I thought I could be Dirty Duke,” Wayne said, discussing why he took the role of Lon McQ.
However, due to his age and health, Wayne was limited on the physicality he could bring to the role. While he couldn’t be Harry 2.0, he still infused his character with something unique.
Director John Sturges said, “What he did bring to the role was his amazing charisma. The fact is his fans didn't care how old he was or whether his toupee was obvious.”
A year later, Wayne played another similar role in Brannigan.