Continued from part one
John Wayne made one of his special dreams come true in 1952: he founded his own independent production company, Batjac Productions. The name Batjac was a reference to the fictional shipping company Batjak from the film Wake of the Red Witch (1948). With his own production company, John Wayne wanted to have more artistic control over the films he acted in. Wayne had never liked to subordinate himself to the traditional Hollywood studio system, which still had enormous influence in the fifties.
John Wayne made nearly thirty motion picture and television productions with Batjac Productions. John Wayne did not star in all of these productions.
The most famous Batjac film is Alamo (1960): the plot revolves around the events of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo during the Texas War of Independence.
Alamo was John Wayne’s only directorial effort: production costs were about $12 million – today, adjusted for inflation, that would equate to a budget of over $100 million. In order to preserve his artistic freedom, John Wayne provided a large part of his fortune to cover the production costs.
In 1956, John Ford directed the western The Searchers: John Wayne took the lead role. Wayne and Ford felt that the film was the apex of their collaboration. Many critics agreed with this verdict: To this day, The Searchers is one of the most popular and well-known westerns ever made. The film’s main location was Monument Valley in Arizona: John Ford shot many of his films there.
Many film critics to this day believe that John Wayne gave one of his best acting performances in The Searchers.
During the fifties, John Wayne appeared in over twenty films: he also starred alongside Sophia Loren in Henry Hathaway’s 1958 adventure film Legend of the Lost.
Legend of the Lost was also a Batjac production: although the Italian-American production was not a box office hit at the time, it’s a classic of the genre today and it remains the only film in which John Wayne and Sophia Loren starred together.
The western Rio Bravo, in which John Wayne starred in 1958 under the direction of Howard Hawks, is today one of Hollywood’s most successful westerns: in the film, John Wayne slipped into the role of sheriff John T. Chance.
Director Howard Hawks had previously made a series of less successful films, which is why Rio Bravo was his first directorial effort after a long hiatus. The studio head of Warner Brothers only got involved with Rio Bravo when he learned that Hawks had managed to get John Wayne on the project.
The plot of Rio Bravo bears similarities to the plot of Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly.
Two of the main actors in Rio Bravo were singers: Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson performed numerous songs throughout the film – such scenes would have been unthinkable with Zinnemann. Howard Hawks and John Wayne scored a hit with Rio Bravo: Because of the enormous success of Rio Bravo, John Wayne starred in three more Hawks films until 1970.
Two of these films were variations on the plot of Rio Bravo: For El Dorado (1966) and Rio Lobo (1970), the plot of Rio Bravo was taken up and slightly modified. Rio Lobo was Howard Hawks’ last directorial effort, putting an end to the Wayne-Hawks collaboration after more than twenty years.
For the film Hatari!, an adventure film with comedic features directed by Howard Hawks, John Wayne traveled to Africa: no stuntmen were used during the shoot, despite the elaborate hunting scenes. Particularly due to the film music by Henry Mancini – he wrote the Baby Elephant Walk, among others – the adventure film is still a popular flick today.
Legends and facts
On May 23, 1962, the late western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance premiered: Along with James Stewart, John Wayne played one of the leading roles. The director was John Ford.
The western is about the transitional period in the USA, when the Wild West gave way to the civilized and politically organized America.
The plot of the film is complex: in addition to the classic Western storyline, the viewer is shown that a legend quickly becomes the truth, but the truth rarely becomes a legend.
In the lavishly staged western epic How the West Was Won (1962), which also starred James Stewart, John Wayne played the brief role of Civil War general William T. Sherman. One of the directors of the film was Wayne’s close friend John Ford.
Wayne’s participation in the film True Grit (1969) earned him an Oscar for Best Actor. It remained his only Oscar. In 1975, John Wayne starred alongside Katharine Hepburn in the western Rooster Cogburn.
End of his film career
Between 1939 and 1976, John Wayne appeared in over 75 films: He shaped the genre of Western films like no other actor, and his acting remains unmatched to this day. Like no other, John Wayne understood how to embody the spirit of the US pioneer era.
John Wayne played the last role of his life in 1976 in the late western The Shootist. This marked the end of John Wayne’s Hollywood career after exactly 50 years in the film business.
During the last three years of his life, John Wayne never appeared in front of a movie camera again. Although he made regular public appearances, he considered his movie career to be over.
John Wayne died on June 11, 1979 in Los Angeles at the age of 72.
His acting legacy is one of the most extensive in the world of cinema: for many decades John Wayne was the Western actor par excellence. His acting fascinates many Western lovers until today.
Main source: Eyman, Scott: John Wayne – The Life and Legend, 2014 Simon & Schuster and various movies starring John Wayne