John Wayne would become an iconic actor in Hollywood, but his career wasn’t an instant success story. In the early days of his movie career, he appeared in many low-budget films with minor roles. John Wayne later received his big break in Stagecoach, but he starred in over 60 low-budget films before he became a star.
John Wayne wasn’t planning on becoming an actor
Before he became an actor, Wayne attended USC (University of Southern California), where he played football. However, a bodysurfing injury ended his football career. He was removed from the team and lost his scholarship. No longer able to afford room and board at USC, he dropped out of school.
He then found a job at Fox studios as a propman in 1927. While there, Wayne had several uncredited roles in various low-budget films before being discovered for his first leading role. His first uncredited role came in 1926 in the movie Brown of Harvard, where he appeared as a Yale football player. Many of his early roles included playing football players, soldiers, and cowboys.
Wayne starred in over 60 low-budget films before ‘Stagecoach’
Stagecoach is the role that made John Wayne a more recognizable name, but he appeared in over 60 low-budget films before that. According to his IMDb page, many of his earlier roles were uncredited. The first film he received credit for was Words and Music, where he was credited as Duke Morrison, his nickname before he adopted the John Wayne stage name.
His first leading role was in The Big Trail, directed by Raoul Walsh. Unfortunately, the movie was a massive flop and wasn’t a star-making film for Wayne. He then appeared in primarily westerns and a few war and adventure movies, including The Range Feud, Texas Cyclone, The Sea Spoilers, The Big Stampede, The Three Musketeers, I Cover the War!, Born to the West, and Winds of the Wasteland.
‘Stagecoach’ turned John Wayne into one of Hollywood’s biggest stars
Stagecoach is a western directed by legendary western director John Ford. Released in 1939, the film centers around a group of strangers traveling together in a stagecoach through Apache territory. Wayne plays the Ringo kid, an outlaw who develops a relationship with one of the passengers. While labeled as an anti-hero, Wayne’s charisma and uncompromising attitude made him a likable character.
The movie had a budget of $531,374 and made around $1.1 million at the box office. Stagecoach was an instant critical and box office success, and in 1995, Stagecoach was preserved in the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress.
The success of Stagecoach led to John Wayne getting more high-profile roles in Hollywood. He eventually became the face of the western genre for a long time.
Ford and Wayne also became a dynamic duo within the western genre, collaborating on over a dozen movies. Their projects include The Long Voyage Home, 3 Godfathers, Rio Grande, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and How the West Was Won