John Wayne

John Wayne once named the “best scene” of his career

Throughout the 20th century, John Wayne burned himself into the minds of America with remarkable portrayals of the cowboy archetype. A true hero of the films of the old west, Wayne established himself as an actor who could consistently deliver the acting goods, whether firing a rifle from atop his horse or taking care of outlaws for the good of a town.

Of all the remarkable works of cinema that Wayne is associated with, though, it’s hard to look beyond his effort in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 film True Grit, in which he plays the grizzly one-eyed US Marshal Rooster Cogburn, a man truly brimming with the masculinity that Wayne became so synonymous with, plus a tough exterior and a penchant for whiskey to boot.

In an interview with Roger Ebert, the legend of the western genre pointed out the scene he believes is the best of his career, and it came from True Grit. The difference with Wayne’s character compared to some of his previous efforts is that he seems to possess a moral ambiguity and vulnerability, starkly contrasting to his former straight cowboy performances.

True Grit’s stakeout scene sees Rooster open up, talking of his failed marriage, his deteriorated relationship with his son and his former days as a bank-robbing outlaw that doesn’t show a veneration as much as a twinge of regret. This tenderness was something new for Wayne, and it seemed to stick around in his heart more than some of his other movies.

Wayne told Ebert, “Well, maybe so. I guess that scene in True Grit is about the best scene I ever did”.

The result was that Wayne was awarded the ‘Best Actor’ Academy Award for his performance, and when collecting the prize, he joked that if he knew such recognition was just around the corner, then he would have worn Rooster’s eyepatch some 35 years earlier into his career.

Ebert himself had brilliantly described Wayne’s favourite scene, noting, “Wayne and Kim Darby are waiting all night up on a hill for the bad guys to come back to the cabin. And Wayne – or Rooster – gets to talking about ‘how he was married once, to a grass widow back in Cairo, IL, and how she took off one day.”

The legendary film critic continued: “And how he didn’t care much, how he missed her some, but he’d rather lose a wife than his independence. And how he took off alone, and glad to be alone, and stuck up a bank or two, just to stake himself, back in the days before he took up marshalling. And Miss Darby – or Mattie Ross – asks him about those old days, about how he got to where he was now.”

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