Movie star John Wayne became closely intertwined with Westerns over the course of his career. He also dug into the war genre, but he was deeply associated with the image of a tough cowboy. Wayne once admitted that he felt “ashamed” of starring in Westerns and wanted to make a big career change. He desired to remain in the moviemaking business, but he fancied pivoting into another area to avoid the genre as much as possible.
John Wayne defined the Westerns of the time and beyond
Wayne defined Westerns at the time, but it went much further than that. The world wasn’t ready when he first stepped into a leading role with Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail. It was a box office failure in 1930, although audiences grew to appreciate it over time. Wayne found a mentor and a close friend in legendary filmmaker John Ford, even though he took personal offense to the actor starring in the Walsh film.
The Wayne and Ford pairing concocted some of the best Westerns to ever grace the silver screen. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stagecoach, and The Searchers are just a few of those titles. However, Wayne found success with other Westerns, such as True Grit, which was where he finally earned the Academy Award that he was striving to achieve.
Maurice Zolotow’s book, Shooting Star: A Biography of John Wayne, revealed that the actor was “sick” of making Westerns. He wanted to make a career change and go back into his line of work as a master property man, which aligned more with his work at Fox Studios before he went into acting. However, the other career move that he wanted to make was to go into stuntwork, which came with its own dangers.
Zolotow wrote that he “wished he could be anybody but who he was. He was ashamed of Westerns. He hated himself during his black moods.”
The movie star saw that Yakima Canutt would make more money than him because he was earning a salary as an actor and a stuntman. Wayne added he hoped “his career as a Western star is left behind permanently.” He wanted to get into other types of features, but he would ultimately find himself trapped into making another “horse opera.”
Wayne added: “Not that I think I’m too good for Westerns, but I’m getting to be something of a veteran in this business, and if I don’t progress, there’s not much satisfaction in the job.”
Wayne also didn’t like Westerns because of the animals associated with them. His cowboy aesthetic often called for him to ride on horses, which he disliked. The actor had a soft spot for dogs, but he couldn’t stand having to be around horses. Wayne called them “stupid” animals.
“I never knew him to have a horse he loved,” a close associate named Henaghen told Zolotow. “Away from the camera, he does not act friendly with horses. A horse to Duke is what a motorcycle is to a traffic cop. Part of his work.”
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