Back in 1952, James Stewart – who would have been 115 today – starred in Bend of the River, an adaptation of Bill Gulick’s novel Bend of the Snake.
The Western followed his tough cowboy Glyn McLyntock, who risks his life to deliver confiscated food and supplies to homesteaders after gold is discovered in the area.
The part was a big turning point in the star’s career, seeing him begin to play more violent and ruthless characters – which he hadn’t been known for during the 1940s.
The movie was also the last time Stewart, who was 44 at the time, sported his own head of hair in a movie. The middle-aged star shared billing with Arthur Kennedy and Julie Adams who played McLyntock’s pal Emerson Cole and pioneer Laura Baile respectively.
Meanwhile, fourth on the poster behind their names was a rising star in his late 20s called Rock Hudson (real name was Roy Harold Scherer Jr), in the role of a professional gambler called Trey Wilson.
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The movie was one of the closeted actor’s final films in a supporting part before hitting stardom as a Hollywood leading man. This is hardly surprising given the response from the audience to Hudson compared to Stewart, even though the movie originally received poor reviews before its critical acclaim in later years.
When Bend of the River premiered in 1952, the It’s A Wonderful Life star was so upset that the supporting actor received more cheers and applause than he did. As a result, he vowed never to talk to him or work with him again, which ended up being the case.
Hudson went on to enjoy a career as a leading man in movies like Scarlet Angel, The Lawless Breed, Seminole, Magnificent Obsession and Giant. Over the course of his Hollywood career, the truth of his sexuality was known among his colleagues in the film industry and sadly he would go on to die from an AIDS-related illness in 1985 at the age of just 59.
As for Stewart, despite his confidence wobble for the Bend of the River premiere, he continued to have an impressive career. Following his Western with Hudson, he collaborated with director Anthony Mann on four more movies over the next couple of years. The 1950s also saw work with Alfred Hitchcock in the likes of Rope, Rear Window and Vertigo. The star died in 1997 at the age of 89 from a heart attack caused by an embolism.