No doubt one of the greatest actors in movie history, the all-American Hollywood star John Wayne became an icon of the western genre throughout the 20th century. From the 1920s all the way through to the 1970s, the actor dominated the western landscape, appearing in such movies as John Ford’s The Searchers, Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo and Albert S. Rogell’s War of the Wildcats.
Rubbing shoulders with the likes of James Stewart, Clint Eastwood and Randolph Scott in the genre, Wayne’s legacy is inextricably linked to western cinema. Oozing class and potent patriotic vigour, Wayne was highly successful throughout his career, though he often played the same character in each of the movies he appeared in, essentially playing a rough and tough caricature of himself.
The actor was aware of his tendency to be typecast, too, telling Roger Ebert in an interview from 1969 that his role in the Henry Hathaway film True Grit was one of his first opportunities to branch out. Speaking to the influential movie critic, he stated: “It’s sure as hell my first decent role in 20 years…and my first chance to play a character role instead of John Wayne. Ordinarily, they just stand me there and run everybody up against me”.
Though the actor admits to often taking the same kind of role, he goes on to explain: “Of course, they give me that John Wayne stuff so much, claim I always play the same role. Seems like nobody remembers how different the fellows were in The Quiet Man or Iwo Jima, or Yellow Ribbon, where I was 35 playing a man of 65. To stay a star, you have to bring along some of your own personality. Thousands of good actors can carry a scene, but a star has to carry the scene and still, without intruding, allow some of his character into it”.
Talking about the movie, which tells the story of a drunken U.S. Marshal and a Texas Ranger who help a teenager track down her father’s killer, Wayne picks out one scene as his all-time favourite.
The scene comes when Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn and Kim Darby’s Mattie Ross are waiting throughout the night on a clifftop for the bad guys to return to their cabin. A moment of downtime in the intense western, the scene sees Rooster unravel his personality, telling his life story to the teenager, revealing his personal thoughts towards his own wife, his complicated life and where he’s heading in the future.
“I guess that scene in True Grit is about the best scene I ever did,” Wayne told Ebert, giving some insight into how the actor reflected on his later career.
Joel and Ethan Coen directed a remake of True Grit in 2010, with Jeff Bridges taking the role originally played by Wayne. Also featured in the cast were the likes of Josh Brolin, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper and Domhnall Gleeson.
Take a look at the trailer for the original 1969 movie below.