Despite his decades-long career, Rooster Cogburn was the only time John Wayne appeared in a sequel. Wayne made his screen debut with an uncredited appearance in 1926’s Brown Of Harvard and ended his acting career 50 years later with Don Siegel’s The Shootist. Wayne appeared in many different kinds of genres during his long career, from bizarre romantic drama The Barbarian And The Geisha – where Wayne fought his director – to war movies like Sands of Iwo Jima.
Despite his success with other genres, Wayne is forever tied to Westerns. 1939’s Stagecoach was the film that made him a star, while he went on to appear in many classics of the genre, including The Searchers, Rio Bravo and 1969’s True Grit. While the success of Westerns waned during the late ’60s and ’70s, Wayne continued to headline in movies like Cahill U.S. Marshal and The Cowboys. His second last movie was 1975’s Rooster Cogburn, which saw him reprise the title character from True Grit.
Wayne won his only Oscar for playing Cogburn in True Grit, an aging, cantankerous U.S. Marshall hired by a teenage girl to track the man who killed her father. Rooster Cogburn arrived six years later and saw Wayne – who turned down a Clint Eastwood Western – titular’s character having been stripped of his badge for misconduct. He’s given a chance to redeem himself by chasing after a gang of bank robbers, and during the story, he’s joined by Hollywood legend Katharine Hepburn as a spinster who – just like True Grit’s Mattie Ross – wants to find her father’s killers. Rooster Cogburn is also notable for being the only time in Wayne’s career he made a sequel or reprised a character, with the team-up between him and Hepburn being the highlight of the movie.
Sadly, Rooster Cogburn is utterly inferior to True Grit despite its leads, and while it’s not Wayne’s worst Western, it’s far from his best either. Reviews for the sequel weren’t kind either, with critics feeling both Wayne – whose grandson Brendan is also an actor – and Hepburn were much too old to convincingly portray their characters. During this era in Hollywood, sequels and franchises were still more of the exception than the rule, and while many of Wayne’s Westerns were essentially variations on the same stories or characters, he may have wished to avoid direct follow-ups for the stigma attached to them at the time.
He had appeared in thematic trilogies like John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy or thinly veiled remakes like Rio Bravo riff Rio Lobo, but Rooster Cogburn was his only direct sequel. It appears there were plans for a franchise had the movie being a success, with a third movie called Someday being developed. Rooster Cogburn proved to be a box-office disappointment, however, though a TV movie titled True Grit: A Further Adventure aired in 1978 with Warren Oates playing Cogburn.