James Edward Grant occupied an all but unique niche in Hollywood for just over 20 years, as a writer who was part of John Wayne's closest circle of friends and business associates. It was in that position that he exerted a unique degree of influence on the onscreen persona that Wayne presented, and on the content of a dozen of the actor's movies. Some actors had producers or directors that they preferred to work with, but Grant was unusual in his relationship to Wayne as a writer; the actor also trusted him sufficiently to let Grant direct one key film in the actor's output.
Grant was also an unlikely denizen of Hollywood, and seems only to have moved to the film mecca as a result of some unfortunate events in his hometown of Chicago. He was born in the Windy City in 1905, and by the end of the 1920s was an up-and-coming journalist, in addition to writing fiction for magazines such as Liberty and Argosy. He was known best in Chicago as a newspaper reporter, but beginning in 1931 his major source of income was not obvious to the public -- Grant continued working as a reporter, but he was also secretly the speechwriter for Anton J. Cermak, who was elected mayor that year. For the next year or so, Grant led a double life, with most of his income derived from his relationship with Cermak -- and when the mayor was killed in an assassination attempt against President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, there went a big chunk of Grant's income. He turned to writing fiction in earnest, and his first book, The Green Shadow, was published in 1935. He later went out to Hollywood when the film rights were sold to RKO, for a movie version directed by Charles Vidor and starring Preston Foster (under the title Muss 'Em Up). Grant provided the stories to several films over the next year or two, and also turned to screenwriting with an early Otto Preminger-directed effort at 20th Century Fox starring Ann Sothern and Jack Haley, entitled Danger: Love at Work (1937).
Grant kept selling stories and finally moved permanently to Hollywood, where he authored screenplays over the next few years, building up his reputation as a reliable and occasionally inspired writer with a gift for good dialogue. His big success came at MGM with Boom Town (1940), a Clark Gable/Spencer Tracy vehicle that showed both actors at (or near) their toughest and most virile. Grant scored a similar triumph with Mervyn LeRoy's Johnny Eager, which was a change-of-pace tough-guy vehicle for Robert Taylor. If not one of best writing talents available, Grant did deliver solid, reliable work, and most of the pictures that he wrote were successful, a few even getting good notices in the writing department. By the first half of the 1940s, he was successful enough to own a cattle ranch in the Central Valley.
By 1945, Grant had moved over to Warner Bros., where he produced as well as wrote The Great John L., about the renowned prizefighter John L. Sullivan, portrayed by Errol Flynn, then the studio's top action star. It was around this time that Grant became close friends with John Wayne, who, over the previous five years, had ascended to his own unique brand of action stardom, mostly at Republic Pictures. Wayne was taking a closer interest than was typical among actors in the quality of the movie scripts he was offered -- he'd endured a decade of very lean times, of leading roles in B-Westerns and lesser parts in small major studio productions, and wanted to safeguard the stardom that had finally become his with John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). Wayne also needed to shelter some of his rapidly growing income by shifting it from salaried studio work as an actor to capital gains as a producer, and it was because of that -- and his desire to get his feet wet in the field of film production -- that he decided to take advantage of a clause in his contract that allowed him to produce movies.
The result was Angel and the Badman (1947), in