In John Wayne’s last film, The Shootist, he uses a pair of blued and fully engraved single-action revolvers fitted with ivory stocks. A beautiful brace of Colts right?
These six-guns were not Colts at all, rather they were a pair of presentation-grade replica revolvers given to the Duke by the Great Western Arms Company, many years earlier. Duke’s oldest son Michael told me that his father had always wanted to use these guns in a film, but he didn’t get the opportunity to portray the type of character that would have used such exquisite revolvers … until he starred in The Shootist.
Since Wayne’s character in this film is an aging gunfighter, dying of cancer, Duke figured—and rightly so—that his fancy brace of Great Western Arms, a pair of late 1890s-type Colt clones (the story is set in 1901), would be a perfect choice for such a professional man of arms. To give them a yellowed/aged look, Michael told me that Wayne dipped the ivory stocks in tea.
Incidentally, the revolvers now rest in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, having been bequeathed to the museum after Wayne’s death.
Civil War Peacemakers?
When watching great old Westerns from the 1940-50s that depicted the Civil War-era, have you ever wondered why the supposed cap-and-ball pistols of the time looked suspiciously like the 1873 Colt Peacemaker?
Chances are, you spotted a revolver with an under-lever assembly that resembled Remington percussions but had the familiar Peacemaker Colt fluted cylinder. (Most of the large belt-sized percussion pistols of the era had unfluted cylinders.) More often than not, those guns were indeed ’73 Colts. The unfunctional, cast metal under-barrel lever assemblies were added to give them that 1860s’ look, while still allowing for the use of metallic cartridge movie blanks.
Many Hollywood productions featured these Peacemakers. Watch as Elvis Presley takes careful aim with his six-gun in the final shoot-out scenes of his debut 1956 film, Love Me Tender and see if you can spot his ersatz cap-and-ball Colt Peacemaker. Ward Bond also carried one in his TV series Wagon Train, as did many actors of the era—including Ronald Reagan and Gary Cooper.
A few such arms are still around today, but they’re seldom seen in films anymore, largely due to the increased availability of authentic replicas of Civil War period six-guns (many of which have been converted to take metallic cartridge blanks) and a much more sophisticated audience, demanding a greater degree of authenticity.