John Wayne’s Leading Ladies….


Joanne Dru

Wayne’s leading lady in Red River, with Wayne as ruthless trail leader Thomas Dunson offering to sire children with her like a bull mating with a heffer.

Not surprisingly Dru, as pioneer Tess Millay, spurns Dunson’s offer and takes up with Dunson’s orphaned friend Matt Garth instead, played by Montgomery Clift.

My favourite scene in the film with Joanne Dru is when she gets pinioned to a wagon by an arrow through the shoulder but doesn’t let on to anyone. A typically stoic Hawksian woman if there was one. They really don’t make them like that anymore.

In the same year as Red River was released – it was actually filmed in 1946 but not exhibited until 1948 – Joanne Dru turned up in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, sharing a few scenes with Wayne who plays the ageing Captain Nathan Brittles, whilst Dru is the prevaricating love interest of both John Agar and Harry Carey Jr.

She settles for Agar in the end. In my opinion, Carey should have put up more of a fight, something I forgot to mention to him back in 2007.

Marlene Dietrich
It appears to be a matter of public record that Mr Wayne and Miss Dietrich enjoyed a meaningfully lustful relationship for nigh on three years whilst Wayne was married to his first wife, Josephine Saenz.

Dietrich appeared opposite Wayne in three films, Seven Sinners (1941), The Spoilers and Pittsburgh (both 1942). Out of the three films, I’d say The Spoilers is probably the best, mainly because it’s a Western with a good old punch-up between Wayne and Randolph Scott.

These two, along with Dietrich, were reunited in Pittsburgh the same year so I guess the combination of the three of them gave good box office.

Dietrich’s best Western was opposite James Stewart in Destry Rides Again, made back in 1939, but The Spoilers (along with the later Rancho Notorious) comes a close second. And the good thing about The Spoilers is that, unlike the other two films, she’s still breathing by the end of the movie.

Claire Trevor
Claire Trevor’s turn as lady of the night Dallas in Stagecoach – she was the nominal star of the film – is now somewhat overshadowed by the rising fame of her co-star, a certain John Wayne.

That should not in any way diminish her performance in the film, as well as that of the other actors in Stagecoach such as Thomas Mitchell, John Carradine and Andy Devine. It’s a great ensemble piece with both Wayne and Trevor complementing each other very well.

So well in fact that they starred together in another three films, Dark Command, Allegheny Uprising and The High and the Mighty, for which she received her third Academy Award nomination, winning the Oscar for Key Largo in 1948.

Gail Russell
Gail Russell is another supposedly rumoured off-screen partner of the Dukester, appearing with him in both Angel and the Badman and Wake of the Red Witch.

She comes across very well as the beguilingly innocent Quaker’s daughter in Angel, possessing the acting ability to indicate there was something not so innocent stirring beneath the plethora of petticoats she sported that if the Quaker elders had been aware, would have probably had her thrown out of the movement.

Her performance in Wake of the Red Witch along with her slightly less demur off-the-shoulder costume would appear to confirm this. Out of all of Wayne’s leading ladies considered here, Gail Russell’s personal life is probably the saddest of all, dying of alcoholism at the much too young age of 36.

Patricia Neal
Next to Katherine Hepburn, Patricia Neal is probably the most award-laden of all Wayne’s female co-stars with Academy, Tony and Global nominations to her name along with a BAFTA for her role opposite Duke in the Preminger war epic In Harm’s Way.

Prior to this film, she appeared as Wayne’s estranged wife in Operation Pacific, giving a convincing performance as a Navy Nurse caught between the attentions of Duke as a submarine commander and Phil Cary as an annoying Navy pilot.

She’s even better as a Navy Nurse – again – as Wayne’s love interest in In Harm’s Way, her Bafta strangely awarded for Best Actress in a Foreign Film. So there you have it. Back in the 1960s Americans were categorised as foreigners. Who knew?

Vera Miles
Who is the real leading lady in The Searchers? Natalie Wood or Vera Miles? Neither of them plays Wayne’s romantic counterpart in the film, Wood obviously way too young for that, whilst Miles is the object of affection for Jeffrey Bunter’s character, Martin Pawley.

Vera Miles definitely comes into her own, however, in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, as Hallie, forsaking Wayne as Tom Doniphon for the more reserved, and by dint of having arrived from the East, civilised lawyer Ransom Stoddard, played by James Stewart.

Angie Dickinson
On the face of it Angie Dickinson is also rather too young to be Wayne’s love interest in Rio Bravo, being just a couple of years older than Linda Cristal at the time, but again the disparity in age between Chance and Feathers doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem.

I put that down mainly to the directing talent of Howard Hawks, who more often than not showcased strong female characters in his films. Lauren Bacall was only 20 when she appeared opposite Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not, yet appeared to come across like a woman in her mid-thirties.


and inviolable


Maureen O Hara

As I said at the beginning, no prizes for guessing who occupies the number one slot in John Wayne’s list of leading ladies. Maureen O Hara, once described, appropriately, as ‘illegally beautiful’, was also a very good actress and more than capable of holding her own onscreen opposite Wayne.

The majority of roles she played with Duke were mainly as the estranged wife – Rio Grande, The Wings of Eagles, Big Jake, McLintock – but her role as Mary Kate Dannaher in The Quiet Man is the one we’ll always remember, the sparks that fly from their on-off romance in the film a real joy to behold.

When she sadly passed away in 2015 at the grand old age of 95 it really was the end of an era, as she was one of the last surviving members of John Ford’s eminent stock acting company.

The films she made with Wayne are always worth watching but her performance in Ford’s How Green Was My Valley is up there with her most famous role in The Quiet Man.

by Steve Mayhew

proc. by Movies

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