Kim Darby has many memories of the time she spent working with John
She only wishes she had more.
Darby was barely 21 when she starred with him in the 1969 film “True
Grit.” She was going through a divorce at the time and brought her
newborn daughter to the set each day. Amid all of this, she acted opposite
one of the cinema’s greatest legends, in the role that would earn him his
“I would love to go back and do things differently,” Darby says. “I was
preoccupied with so many other things at that time, and maybe I was
just a stupid kid, but I’m sure I didn’t appreciate everything as much as
I should have.
“But it’s such an honor to look back now and know that he won his Oscar
for that movie. To know that I worked with him in that film, to think
that I might have had something to do with the performance that won him
his Oscar, that means so much to me.”
Darby will share her recollections of “True Grit” at the Williamsburg
Film Festival this week. She’s one of the many performers who will
attend the annual event celebrating the culture surrounding Western movies,
serials, TV shows and music.
She’s 55 years old now, and she teaches acting both at UCLA and in her
own studio. She has appeared in more than three dozen movies and done
guest spots in TV shows ranging from “Gunsmoke” to “The X-Files.”
But to movie fans, she will always be Mattie Ross, the plucky tomboy
who enlists crusty Rooster Cogburn (played by Wayne) to help her track
and kill the outlaws who murdered her father.
Mia Farrow had turned down the role, a decision she later cited as the
biggest mistake of her career. Wayne reportedly wanted singer Karen
Carpenter to audition. But producer Hal Wallis had seen Darby in a guest
spot on the TV show “Run For Your Life,” and he became determined to
cast her as Mattie.
“I turned the part down about 10 times, but he wouldn’t stop asking,”
Darby said. “I had just had my baby, and I didn’t think I was ready, so
I just kept turning it down. Hal Wallis finally came out to my home to
convince me. He said the only time he had ever gone to an actor’s home
like that was for Richard Burton.”
Darby finally accepted the part and came to the movie’s location
outside of Montrose, Colo. Whenever she wasn’t on the set – along with Wayne,
the movie also starred Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper –
she was tending to her 2-month-old daughter. Watch “True Grit” today
and you can see the change in her body at different stages of the film as
she gradually lost her pregnancy weight.
The relationship between Mattie and Rooster Cogburn was central to the
film, as the world-weary old marshal taught the precocious, headstrong
teenager not to give in to cynicism. They had several key scenes
together, with the petite Darby serving as a physical counterpoint to the
One of Darby’s strongest memories from the set was a scene in which
Mattie hand-rolls a cigarette and places it in Cogburn’s mouth. Wayne had
lost a lung to cancer a few years earlier, and Darby recalls him being
very uncomfortable during the filming of that scene.
“John Wayne was fascinating,” she said. “He traveled with his stock
broker and his masseuse. He liked to cook, and he used to come over to see
me and my nanny so that we could taste whatever he was cooking that
day. He was such a nice man, and I wish I had gotten to know him better
than I did.”
By Mike Holtzclaw
Copyright ? 2004, Daily Press