The former editor of the Aldergrove Star left his role late this summer to complete a long held passion project of his, writing about the scandalous history of the “worst movie ever made.”
Soon that history will be available to the masses.
Ryan Uytdewilligen is adding to is already impressive portfolio of work with the release of his latest literature, Killing John Wayne: The Making of The Conqueror.
“As urban legend goes, the producer, Howard Hughes knew it was a terrible movie. And he wanted to punish this actress, Susan Hayward, because they had a bad date once,” Uytdewilligen explained.
“And so he spent $50 million just to make this terrible movie to make her look bad, because she looks pretty bad,” he chuckled.
The book tells the true story about the making of The Conqueror. Uytdewilligen recalls having been told briefly about the film’s history – enough to pique his interest to research a detailed account.
“I just started collecting information,” Uytdewilligen said. “After probably about six years of ruminating on that, then I decided to write the book. And I’m obsessed with Hollywood history and urban legends like this, that’s intertwined with Hollywood and strange, American, baby boomer-era type history. And so the story is just kind of irresistible and when you look at all those facts.”
In the book, Uytdewilligen explores the making of the 1956 American film, its humiliating aftermath, and the radiation-induced cancer that may have killed actor John Wayne and many others.
“I’m not a nuclear physicist,” Uytdewilligen laughed, “but I learned a lot about nuclear history and not so much the actual makings of a bomb, but the culture around it, which is really interesting – sort of the early days in the late 1940s, and early ’50s, where it was new and exciting.”
More than 40 per cent of the cast developed cancer and one in five died from it. Filming was done in Utah, near nuclear testing sites, and government assured the public the sites were safe.
John Wayne, who was at the height of his movie career, starred at Genghis Khan, a Mongol chief. He falls for Hayward’s character, Bortai, the daughter of the chief of another clan and that results in warring. Khan is captured and out of love Hayward’s character helps him escape. The film was directed by actor Dick Powell.
Bortai was in reality the first wife of Genghis Khan, but their marriage was arranged when she was 10 and he was nine.
Beginning Oct. 1, the book will be available to purchase at Indigo Chapters, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold. His other titles include Tractor, Akela, The Cattle Driver, 101 Most Influential Coming of Age Movies, and The History of Lethbridge.
Born in Lethbridge, Alta., Uytdewilligen grew up on a farm near Coaldale. He’s worked in radio news, television, copywriting, as a reporter for the Langley Advance Times, and most recently as The Star editor.
Throughout, he’s worked on his books.
“This is my sixth book now,” Uytdewilligen noted, “But it’s by far the biggest publisher that I’ve worked with.”
Rowman and Littlefield are best known for publishing non-fiction work.
But it’s not just the release of the book Uytdewilligen is celebrating.
“A producer bought the rights to make it into a documentary… so when they saw the book was coming out, they got in contact and thought it was a perfect fit,” he said.
Little information about the documentary is available at this time as the work is currently under production, but Uytdewilligen hopes to share more details in the near future.
In the meantime, he will be working on a number of new projects. His children’s book, He’s No Angel, is set for a 2022 release.
“I got about four or five other books in the works, so in the next two years, I think, I will have at least three more books coming out,” he noted.
Find more about his latest work at https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/killing-john-wayne-the-making/9781493058471-item.html.
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