Legendary filmmaker John Ford is the first director that moviegoers associate with movie star John Wayne. They made several feature films together, but their bond ran so much deeper than their professional ties. However, Ford certainly provided Wayne with the platform to ultimately reach stardom. The director once explained the journey of how their working relationship blossomed to the extent that it did.
Ford and Wayne first met on the Fox Studios lot when the actor was a young man. He spent his summers working in the props department, but they quickly came to appreciate one another. Wayne had a specific movie star quality to him that was natural to him from a young age, which quickly caught Ford’s attention. It only helped that they shared a similar sense of humor.
The pair only became closer over the years of working together. Wayne later gave the director’s chair a shot, ultimately stepping behind the camera for five movies, including The Alamo. Beyond their working relationship, Ford was a mentor to Wayne. He greatly respected and appreciated his opinion, even when the filmmaker made life difficult for the movie star.
Wayne had his first go in the leading role of a feature film from Raoul Walsh in 1930’s The Big Trail. In response, Ford refused to speak with Wayne for years, although it was never anything that they discussed further. The filmmaker saw a spark in the actor that he wanted to share with the world, which he certainly did by providing him with a platform. In a 1968 interview posted via author James Leighton on Twitter, Ford expressed how this journey unfolded.
“I’ve known Duke about 30 years,” Ford said at the time of the interview. “He was my third assistant prop man, then became a second prop man. He finally worked his way up to prop man. We started to do Stagecoach, and everybody turned it down. I had to peddle it around.”
Ford continued: “Finally, [producer] Walter Wanger says, ‘Oh, you’ve got a picture? A Western? Go ahead and do it. Who do you want to use for a lead?’ I said, ‘I’ve got a kid here, he’s just out of college. I’ve used him in several bits, and he’s very good. Big, tall, handsome guy and I’d like to make a test of him and show it to you.’ He said, ‘Well, if you say he’s OK, go ahead.’”
The filmmaker ultimately made the test, and they went ahead with filming Stagecoach with Wayne playing Ringo Kid.
Wayne and Ford continued to work together after Stagecoach became a hit. They will always serve as one of the most iconic duos to ever exist in the Hollywood scene. Their collaborations didn’t all succeed at the box office, but they proved that they were a formidable creative pair that could impress audiences, critics, and awards season voters.
Together, they concocted some of the best Western flicks to ever hit the silver screen. This included The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and Rio Grande. However, Ford and Wayne also demonstrated the ability to step away from the genre with The Long Voyage Home, They Were Expendable, and the terrific drama called The Quiet Man.
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