‘Who Nuked the Duke? details 1950s atomic testing program and its impact on cast of ‘The Conqueror’. Book helps inspire new documentary premiering at Newport Beach Film Festival.
HOLLYWOOD, CA, October 08, 2023 /24-7PressRelease/ — John Wayne faced two memorable encounters with “Dirty Harry.” Many Wayne fans know that turning down the title role in the film of that name would go down as his biggest lost opportunity of the 1970s. The film made Clint Eastwood a superstar. Wayne’s lesser-known encounter with Harry came roughly 20 years earlier when he filmed the ill-fated epic ‘The Conqueror’ in Snow Canyon Utah. Many suggest this encounter would prove more troubling than the loss of a movie role. Author of a new book suggests it may have cost him his life.
Thus begins the saga of ‘Who Nuked The Duke?’, a 295-page book from Aplomb Publishing and author John William Law, suggesting that this single event marked a turning point in the dramatic tale in the making of Howard Hughes’s 1954 epic The Conqueror starring John Wayne and Susan Hayward.
The book and its author are part of the new film ‘The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout’, premiering at the Newport Beach Film Festival on October 17, 2023.
‘Who Nuked the Duke?’ surmises that the atomic blast of Harry in 1953 would be a lighting rod – or ground zero – of the events that followed for those surrounding the film. The problematic blast would be known as “Dirty Harry” after detonating too close to ground and sucking up “dirty” debris into its massive mushroom cloud.
“The morning of May 19, 1953 started off a bit overcast, but overall an ordinary spring day for the residents of St. George, Utah,” says Law. “But it was far from that. In fact, it would be a day that would mark a dramatic change for the community and anyone who might inhabit the local surroundings for the foreseeable future.”
Law writes that even though the cast and crew of ‘The Conqueror’ would not set foot in Utah for another year, the deadly fallout from the blast amassed in the area where the film would be shot and the intensity of the radioactive land spelled doom for not only the movie stars, but for the supporting cast, crew, and local community that came out to watch or participate as film extras. “The movie was filmed largely in an area called Snow Canyon, a place that acted, in many ways, like a reservoir for nuclear fallout,” says Law. “Because the government would only support nuclear detonations when winds were directing blasts away from Los Angeles or Las Vegas, Utah became immediate the focal point for collecting nuclear debris after the blasts.”
First published in 2014, the book was revised and updated in 2023 for the release of ‘The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout’, a new documentary by writer/director William Nunez. The film has its world premiere on October 17, 2023, at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Law consulted with the director during the making of the film and appears onscreen discussing the historic events. “While the film is a new and different take on the same subject, I was honored to take part and if the story of the book helped inspire the film and raise awareness of the topic, I’m humbled.” says Law.
While Law wrote in detail about the large number of blasts and problems the Atomic Energy Commission faced, the Harry blast in 1953 was unique. “Many blasts left radioactive fallout across the region,” says Law. “But Harry was unique for two reasons – first, it was a problematic blast because it was detonated too close to the ground, creating excessive radioactive fallout. Secondly, a striking shift in the winds, just before the blast went off, put the fallout on a direct collision course with the community of St. George, Utah and notably, the Snow Canyon area,” explains Law.
For cast and crew of ‘The Conqueror,’ this meant months filming in a region soaked in Harry’s radioactive fallout. In the years that followed dozens would be diagnosed and die of cancer related illnesses. “Susan Hayward suffered terrible effects from cancer and John Wayne fought the disease secretly for years,” adds the author.
Why so much mystery and fascination surrounding the tale? Law believes it stems from the facts of the case and timing of the events. “Many of the key figures in the story smoked and it was easy to suggest that smoking was the cause of their cancers. In addition, the U.S. government denied responsibility and kept facts hidden for decades. And because the story is told over a 30-year period, it’s a puzzle that took years to piece together.”
For Law the book took roughly 10 years to research and write and continued to unfold after the first edition was published in 2014. “The book spans decades, from the end of World War II through the Cold War of the 1950s and 60s and really doesn’t end until 2004 when the Nevada Test Site – what Law calls “the most radiated piece of land on the planet” – transitioned to a historical site offering public tours. “For the new edition I was able to revisit the story and create an epilogue of sorts to go into events that have unfolded in the last ten years, including continued efforts to address the compensation act that recognizes the damage done and compensates those impacted,” says Law.
Many of those surrounding the film suffered horrific deaths from cancer, says Law and the book aims to look back at a dark but fascinating period in movie history. “The book is also a look at the nuclear testing program and its impact on a community, under the guise of patriotism and government security and secrecy. Who Nuked the Duke? includes a 13-page photo spread of filming. Print and eBook editions are also available, and Law discusses the topic in a podcast series, “Hollywood’nt: Hollywood Declassified.” To find out more, visit www.aplombpublishing.com.
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