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John Wayne and Susan Hayward Died for the Conqueror

The 1956 film The Conqueror starred legendary actors John Wayne and Susan Hayward. The film follows John Wayne, who plays the Mongol chief Genghis Khan. He falls in love with the daughter of the leader of Tartar, and he kidnaps her, which begins a brutal war. The exciting plot and talented cast meant that many people were excited for the film’s release.

Unfortunately, despite a relatively successful performance at the box office, The Conqueror would go down in history as one of the worst movies ever created. It is widely considered by critics to be one of the worst films released during the 1950s, and it was also listed in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, which was released in 1978. After his death, lead actor John Wayne was even given a Golden Turkey Award, an accolade that is granted to especially bad performances.

Before production of The Conqueror began, John Wayne was flying high in his career. After reading the script, he desperately wanted the role, and began lobbying for it. The production crew finally relented, but critics insist that the casting of John Wayne was a huge mistake. Despite his immense talent as an actor, John Wayne simply wasn’t suited to the role. Had somebody else been cast to play Genghis Khan, perhaps the movie wouldn’t have been such a flop.

Of course, actors can’t be successful all the time, and despite all the bad press he earned for his role in The Conqueror, John Wayne would still go on to win his Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the 1969 film True Grit. The Conqueror was certainly a humble experience for John Wayne, who at the time was used to constant praise from critics and fans. Sometimes our failures are just as important as our successes, and John Wayne no doubt learned a lot from the movie.

Today, The Conqueror is largely remembered as nothing more than a joke. It was a huge cinematic flop and undoubtedly a failure for many reasons. However, what many people don’t know is that the true history of The Conqueror is far more sinister. After the film was released, a series of tragic deaths were linked back to the movie’s creation, and producer Howard Hughes was so wracked with guilt that he spent $12 million to purchase every existing copy of the film.

In today’s video, we’re going to talk about the dark past of The Conqueror, as well as the lives and legacies of the two lead actors. Make sure you stick around, because we’re going to reveal how John Wayne and Susan Hayward ultimately gave their lives for the film.

At first, the film had a promising start.

The Conqueror was directed by Dick Powell, a man who had established himself as an accomplished actor and singer. Although The Conqueror was only the second film he worked on as a director, many fans were excited to see what he would do with the story. The script was written by Oscar Millard, who had just earned an Academy Award nomination in 1951 for his script The Frogmen. While Dick Powell and Oscar Millard weren’t as famous as other directors and screenwriters at the time, audiences expected decent work from the two.

What made the film even more promising was that it was produced by Howard Hughes. He had produced numerous successful films, although some were quite controversial. Audiences knew they could expect big things from Hughes, who had produced The Racket, Hell’s Angels, and Scarface.

When John Wayne heard about the film, he immediately wanted in on it. By the 1950s, he was very used to getting the lead roles he wanted, and after some lobbying, the production crew finally relented. Unfortunately, John Wayne’s involvement would largely contribute to its notoriety.

Other actors joined the cast, including Susan Hayward. By the 1950s, Hayward had established herself as an extremely talented actor, and was nominated for Academy Awards in the films My Foolish Heart, With a Song in My Heart, and I’ll Cry Tomorrow. Two years after The Conqueror, she would finally win the Academy Award for her portrayal of Barbara Graham in the film I Want to Live!

Audiences were ecstatic to learn that both John Wayne and Susan Hayward would be starring in the film. As posters and advertisements for the film were released, people all over the country were excited for the film’s debut.

John Wayne and Susan Hayward were also excited to be a part of the movie. What they didn’t know at the time was that the film would ultimately cost them their lives.

Most of the film was shot in various locations across Utah. Many scenes were filmed in St. George, Utah, which was located 137 miles downwind of Nevada National Security Site, where a lot of the United States’ governments’ nuclear testing took place. In 1953, just three years before The Conqueror was filmed, there were no less than 11 above-ground nuclear weapons tests which took place at the site.

The creators of the film were well aware of the nuclear testing that had taken place just a few years before. They were assured, however, by the United States government that the recent nuclear weapons tests posed no threat to the health of civilians. Still skeptical, but ultimately unconcerned, the film’s production crew gave the go-ahead, and began filming in the location.

The cast and crew of the film spent many long weeks filming in St. George, Utah. During re-shoots, Howard Hughes also shipped 60 tons of dirt from the location to Hollywood, to retain an element of realism.

After The Conqueror was released, the cast and crew thought that the abysmal critical response was the worst that would come from the movie. Unfortunately, they were very, very wrong.

In January of 1963, seven years after The Conqueror was released, director Dick Powell died of lung cancer. This wasn’t suspicious on its own; Dick Powell was a heavy chainsmoker, after all. However, just a few months later, cast member Pedro Armendáriz learned that he had terminal kidney cancer, and he took his own life before the cancer could. But the worst of the deaths was yet to come.

After working on The Conqueror, Susan Hayward found success in the 1958 film I Want to Live! where she earned her Academy Award for Best Actress. She appeared in many more films after this, and while her career appeared to be waning at the time, fans were devastated to learn that she suffered from cancer. She was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1973, and died on March 14th, 1975.

John Wayne also had an incredibly successful career, despite the huge setback of The Conqueror. He received his Academy Award for Best Actor for his appearance in the 1969 film True Grit. At the time, he seemed unstoppable. Years later, however, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He enrolled in a study in an attempt to treat the illness, but he ultimately succumbed to the cancer on June 11th, 1979.

At first, people thought that the tragic deaths of these actors was just a series of unfortunate coincidences. After a while, however, a terrifying theory emerged. Out of 220 cast and crew members, 92 people died of cancer. This was a shockingly high number, even considering how many of these people were heavy smokers. Before long, people figured out that this tragic string of deaths was almost certainly due to the high levels of radiation that the cast and crew members of The Conqueror were exposed to.

Despite knowing that the filming location was downwind of a nuclear testing site, Howard Hughes insisted on using the location anyways. John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and 90 others suffered the consequences.

By the 1980s, the filming circumstances of The Conqueror had become a huge controversy. Although he never formally admitted it, Howard Hughes obviously suffered a heavy amount of guilt. He spent $12 million of his personal money to purchase every existing copy of The Conqueror in an attempt to remove it from circulation.

Perhaps Howard Hughes shouldn’t be blamed for the tragic deaths that occured, however. After all, it was the United States government that had assured the production crew that the nuclear testing site was not a hazard to public health.

There’s no way to know for sure whether or not the film’s proximity to a nuclear testing site ultimately resulted in the rampant string of cancers in the cast and crew. However, it’s an eerie coincidence that has left a lot of people suspicious. Regardless of the reason why, the world lost 92 amazing and talented people to tragic circumstances.

While it still hasn’t been proven whether or not the filming location was to blame for the deaths of the cast and crew members of The Conqueror, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that this may be the case. Do you think the filming location caused most of the actors to die of cancer, or do you think the illnesses were unrelated? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to Facts Verse for more!

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