There is only one actor who is associated with the Western like no other: John Wayne. Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in 1907 in Iowa. In his younger years, he was always accompanied by his dog, an Airedale Terrier named Duke: that’s why the neighbors called the young John Wayne “Little Duke”. In late years, the “Little” fell away and Duke became the actor’s nickname.
Working in the movies was initially just a way to help him finance his studies.
Temporary job on the set
On the initiative of Western star Tom Mix, who starred in over 300 films during his career and was an early star of the Western genre, John Wayne got his first job in the film industry. At first, he was nothing more than a temp: his main job was to carry props around. At this point, John Wayne was anything but enthusiastic about a career in the movies: he was striving for a career in the U.S. Navy – but this path was denied him.
From 1926 John Wayne stood in front of the camera as an extra: He also got to know the director John Ford, for whom he took on smaller roles from 1928. Later, John Ford and John Wayne were to have a close professional collaboration.
Beginnings as an actor
In 1930, John Wayne got his first major role: in the western The Big Trail, John Wayne took the lead. The film was directed by Raoul Walsh. During shooting, the film covered a distance of 4,300 miles in seven U.S. states. With a budget of around two million dollars, the film was generously budgeted by the standards of the time: In addition, the western was one of the first talkies of this genre.
Between 1930 and 1939, John Wayne starred in nearly 70 films: many of these fell into the category of B-movies and were therefore not very successful. During this time, John Wayne played under the direction of various directors. Although this phase of his career brought him little success and fame, it gave him invaluable experience for his later career.
John Wayne’s breakthrough as a Hollywood star followed in 1939: directed by John Ford, John Wayne played the lead role in the western Stagecoach. Director John Ford had lobbied for Wayne to play the lead role: Ford prevailed with his decision against resistance from the production team, which did not want to sign a B-movie actor.
Today, Stagecoach is considered a classic in American film history: John Wayne’s participation in Stagecoach opened new doors for him in the film world.
With Stagecoach, the star John Wayne saw the light of day, who has remained a legend to this day.
Western and more
The 1940s were a decade of success for John Wayne: in addition to his work as a Western star, he appeared in dramas and adventure films. This proved that western films were not the only type of movie he was good at.
Although he mostly played in Westerns, Wayne also appeared in films outside the Western genre as his popularity grew: John Wayne appeared alongside Marlene Dietrich in the 1940 romance film Seven Sinners.
In the film The Spoilers, Wayne starred alongside Marlene Dietrich for a second time in 1942. Wayne and Dietrich worked together for a third time in the drama Pittsburgh (1942).
At the beginning of the late 40s, John Wayne worked regularly for directors John Ford and Howard Hawks. Together with both he created numerous classics of the Western genre.
Personification of the Wild West
John Wayne understood it as his task to embody the past of the United States: the films in which he participated during his career repeatedly deal with the history of the United States and illuminate it from different perspectives. The plot of the movies he starred in is often set in the Wild West.
The director John Ford cast John Wayne in a cavalry trilogy consisting of the films Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950).
In the opinion of the critics, his acting performance in this trilogy was considered his best until then: After completing the trilogy, John Ford exclaimed to him, “Now you’re an actor!”
It was an extremely rare praise from the legendary director John Ford: at the same time, the collaboration between the two had not even reached its peak…
Main source: Eyman, Scott: John Wayne – The Life and Legend, 2014 Simon & Schuster and various movies starring John Wayne