John Wayne (born Marion Michael Morrison; May 26, 1907 June 11, 1979), nicknamed "Duke",note is considered by many to be the closest thing to the epitome of manliness in American film. For the most part, Wayne had two roles on-screen: he was either a cowboy or a soldier. It didn't matter which he was, though, because he was John Wayne.
A former college football star at USC (a leg injury led to his well-known gait), Wayne got his start as a bit actor before John Ford cast him as a major player in the movie Stagecoach. From there, he went on to appear in dozens of Westerns, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, True Grit, The Searchers, and McLintock!. Occasionally, he switched to being a soldier (assuming, as was the case in Ribbon, he wasn't both at the same time), and his wartime roles include a paratrooper in The Longest Day.
However, as said earlier, just about all of his movie roles were the same: A gruff man, world-weary and realistic, but definitely not one to take no for an answer; probably harder on himself than anyone else is; not a fan of violence, but when the chips are down, turns out to be a spectacular fighter; at best confused about women and at worst saw them as a hindrance, but eventually warms up to one and gets over his prejudices; on the other hand, often said to hold views on minorities, especially Native Americans, that are shockingly racist even for the times. (Hondo is a notable aversion of that last one....)
At this point, John Wayne is more an invocation of the Cowboy Cop or the manly man than he ever was in films. His most famous scenes were always the fight scenes, which ranged from dramatic (The Searchers) to comical (McLintock!). In addition, his stilted delivery and loud, commanding voice have made him the subject of imitation by just about anyone worth their imitating salt. None of it matters: he is seen as the man's man, so much so that one beer company spliced his movie footage into a series of their ads (after all, what's more manly than John Wayne and beer?).
If there is a trope in The Western, odds are Wayne used it (or, almost just as likely, invented it). (As a 17-year-old set dresser, he met an aging Wyatt Earp several times, and is said to have based his Western characters on his perception of Earp from their conversations). He also did lots of things that are covered by the Rule of Cool. But above all, he just made great movies that people love to watch, full of suspense, silliness, fistfights, and down-home American values. No wonder his style is often the caricature of America overseas, although nowadays his roles would likely be filled by a Boisterous Bruiser.
Although Wayne is known for his conservative activism— among other causes, he supported the Hollywood blacklist and The Vietnam War— he rarely let politics interfere with whom he worked with. Kirk Douglas, as liberal as Wayne was conservative, praised Wayne for his willingness to keep promises and help other actors find roles.note When George Takei balked at appearing in The Green Berets for political reasons, Wayne told Takei that he didn't mind his politics - he only cared that Takei was right for his part.
Today his politics would probably be considered pretty far to the right due to his attitudes on race which were condescending at best and blatantly bigoted at worst; in a now infamous 1970 interview for Playboy, he proudly stated "I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility." Additionally, he was generally skeptical about the Civil Rights movement, believing minorities should be "grateful" for being born in America and stop "bellyaching so much". More than anyone else, Wayne is probably the one responsible for shifting American conservatism away from its genteel, country-club image and toward the rough-and-tumble, often disgruntled reactionary cultural attitude it has today.
His son Patrick is respected by cinephiles as a good character actor in many of John Ford's films, but is conversely reviled by game show fans for (badly) hosting the 1990 version of Tic-Tac-Dough. His grandson, Brendan, is also an actor who served as one of Pedro Pascal's doubles in The Mandalorian.
Orange County, California's airport is named after him; this fact has been a point of controversy over the years due to Wayne's political views, and the re-unearthing of the aforementioned Playboy interview briefly led to calls to have the airport renamed.
Some of Wayne's famous films include:
- The Big Trail (1930): Should have been his Star-Making Role, but it bombed at the box office, and Wayne spent the rest of the 1930s making cheapo B-Movie westerns for Poverty Row.
- Baby Face (1933): Before Wayne became a star with Stagecoach, he spent years as a bit player and B-movie lead. Here he plays very much against his later type, as one of Barbara Stanwyck's pathetic rejects.
- Stagecoach (1939): The one that put Wayne on the map, in which he plays the Ringo Kid, a criminal who turns himself in to a sheriff protecting a wagon party moving westward so that he can avenge the murders of his father and brother.
- The Long Voyage Home (1940): Ensemble piece with Wayne as one of a group of sailors aboard a British cargo ship sailing in dangerous Atlantic waters.
- The Flying Tigers (1942): Wayne plays the Colonel in charge of the American Volunteer Group in a propaganda film finished just after Pearl Harbor.
- Reap the Wild Wind (1942): Wayne is Jack Stuart, captain of a sailing ship along the Florida coast in the 1840s.
- The Flying Leathernecks (1943): Wayne stars as the commander of the "Cactus Air Force" the small Marine fighter squadron on Guadalcanal.
- Back To Bataan (1945): Another propaganda film, Wayne leads a typically ethnic platoon in the desperate, doomed defense of the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines in 1941-42.
- They Were Expendable (1945): Wayne plays the executive officer of a PT boat unit in another war film set in the Philippines in 1941-42.
- Angel and the Badman (1947): Wayne plays Quirt Evans, a notorious gunslinger who falls in love with a Quaker girl.
- Fort Apache (1948): Wayne co-stars with Henry Fonda as Kirby Yorke, an officer long-experienced in dealing with the Apaches chafing under the martinetish ways of his new commander.
- Red River (1948): Wayne plays Tom Dunson, a rancher whose adopted son (Montgomery Clift) turns against him in the middle of a cattle drive, mainly because Dunson has become unhinged. It's like Mutiny on the Bounty, but set in the post-Civil War Old West.
- 3 Godfathers (1948): Wayne is Robert Hightower, a genial bankrobber who unexpectedly finds himself in charge of a newborn baby.
- She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949): Wayne is Nathan Brittles, an aging cavalry commander with one last duty before retirement: stop an Indian tribe from attacking a fort. Notable because he was playing a 65-year-old man at the age of 42, and yet he's so convincing, many people born since Wayne died have a hard time placing it at the start of his career.
- Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949) Wayne plays a grizzled Sergeant, a Guadalcanal and Tarawa vet who leads a squad through Iwo Jima. What famously shocked audiences was that Wayne died in the movie.
- Rio Grande (1950): The sequel to Fort Apache has Kirby Yorke (Wayne) stationed at the Mexican border, with the Apaches attacking from the Mexican side.
- The Quiet Man (1952): Transport the scene to Ireland, as Wayne plays Sean Thornton, a retired boxer who wants to live a simple life until a burly big brother prevents him from pursuing his romantic interest.
- Big Jim Mc Lain (1952): Wayne's love letter to the Red Scare, infamously casting himself as a heroic HUAC agent assigned to root out Soviet spies in Hawaii. The first film Wayne produced as well as starred in.
- The Conqueror (1956): Wayne plays Genghis Khan. Widely regarded as the worst movie he ever made, though little actual blame was directed at Wayne for this. The New York Times observed: "John Wayne as Genghis Khan — history's most improbable piece of casting unless Mickey Rooney were to play Jesus in King of Kings." Unfortunately, Wayne among others in the production paid a heavy price considering they shot this film in Nevada when the US military was conducting open air nuclear weapon tests and they were downwind of the fallout, resulting in fatal cancers, including, quite possibly, the cancer that finally killed Wayne in 1979. This was compounded by Howard Hughes then ordering tons of the contaminated soil to be shipped back to Hollywood for studio shooting at a time when the effects of fallout and nuclear contamination were not completely understood.
- The Searchers (1956): Widely considered Wayne's finest role, as well as one of the greatest movies ever made, he is Ethan Edwards, out to avenge the apparent death (or worse) of his niece at the hands of savage Indians while combating his own internal bigotry (and not too successfully for the latter).
- Rio Bravo (1959): Teaming up with Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Walter "Old Codger Voice" Brennan, Wayne as "Sheriff John Chance" has to keep a criminal in jail despite the efforts of his rich, unscrupulous brother.
- The Alamo (1960): Wayne's first of two full-fledged directorial efforts.
- North to Alaska (1960): Wayne is an Alaskan gold miner who has to bring his partners' wife-to-be up from Seattle, only she's already married someone else! Now Wayne tries to find his friend a substitute to help his pal.
- The Comancheros (1961): Wayne is a Texas Ranger who hunts for, arrests, and eventually befriends a professional gambler as they investigate who is manipulating the Comanche into another war. Co-directed by Wayne when director Michael Curtiz fell sick.
- The Longest Day (1962): Wayne is a Colonel in the 82nd Airborne who breaks his leg landing in Normandy. Wayne was 25 years older than the man he was portraying was at the time.
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962): Wayne plays Tom Doniphon, a tragic rancher/gunfighter who may or may not have performed the title action. This is the film that codified "pilgrim" in the minds of John Wayne impressionists everywhere.
- Hatari! (1962): Wayne as "Sean Mercer" teams with Red Buttons as big game hunters in Africa forced to carry around a zoo photographer per orders in this character study.
- How the West Was Won (1962): Wayne plays General Sherman in the "Civil War" storyline.
- McLintock! (1963): Wayne is the richest man in town, but has to put up with a nagging ex-wife and strange townsfolk; the movie is famous for a fistfight on the edge of (and in) a muddy quarry.
- Donovan's Reef (1963): Wayne is Michael Patrick Donovan, a World War II veteran living in French Polynesia who pretends to be the father of his friend's children when said friend's long-lost daughter arrives unexpectedly.
- The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965): Wayne appears as the Roman soldier who, upon witnessing the death of Jesus Christ, proclaims "Truly, this man was the son of God."
- In Harm's Way (1965): A World War II War Epic centering on a group of naval officers in the first years of World War II. Shortly after filming finished, Wayne was diagnosed with lung cancer.
- The Sons of Katie Elder (1965): A Western involving a group of brothers returning home for their mother's funeral and uncovering suspicious activity involving their dead father. Wayne played the oldest brother John Elder, and was made right after Wayne finished his first fight with cancer.
- El Dorado (1966): Basically a remake of Rio Bravo by the same director and writer but with Robert Mitchum as Wayne's drunken friend and a young James Caan as The Gunfighter Wannabe.
- The War Wagon (1967): Wayne stars a wronged man who seeks to reclaim his land and his gold from a Corrupt Corporate Executive, aided by The Gunslinger played by Kirk Douglas.
- The Green Berets (1968): Wayne directs and stars as a colonel in the US Special Forces in quite possibly the only pro-Vietnam film ever made. Co-stars George Takei as a South Vietnamese Captain.
- Hellfighters (1968): Wayne plays the head of an elite team of firefighters that specialize in oil-well cases.
- True Grit (1969): Wayne's only Oscar win came about as the one-eyed hero Rooster Cogburn, hired by a young girl to capture her father's killer.
- The Undefeated (1969): Wayne plays John Henry Thomas, an Union Army Colonel that after the end of the Civil War meets with a band of Confederate Army soldiers (who have Rock Hudson as their leader), who eventually have to join forces to fight off Mexican bandits and revolutionaries during the French intervention of Mexico.
- Chisum (1970): Wayne plays John Chisum, a real-life Cattle Baron involved in the Lincoln County War in the 1870s Old West.
- Rio Lobo (1970): A second loose remake of Rio Bravo where Wayne plays a civil war colonel, allied with his former enemies to hunt down a traitor, and stop a band of Corrupt Hick's.
- Big Jake (1971). Wayne plays Retired Badass Jake McCandles whose grandson is kidnapped by a group of violent thugs who demand a ransom. Jake, along with two of his sons, goes to get his grandson back. One of the Duke's later films, and set in the year 1909, it dealt with themes such as the closing of the American West and the end of the day of cowboy heroes like the ones Wayne had always played. Notable also for featuring two of Wayne's real-life sons, as well as the son of Robert Mitchum, in prominent roles.
- The Cowboys (1972): Wayne plays Wil Anderson, a tough rancher who recruits a group of teenage boys to help him on a cattle drive as no experienced cowboys are available, and becomes their harsh-but-fair mentor. And then he gets killed by a vicious rustler, and the rest of the film is about the boys avenging him.
- McQ (1974): Wayne plays the eponymous Seattle detective. This film is notable for introducing the MAC-10 submachine gun to the public and for its climactic car chase which features the first cannon rollover in film history.
- Rooster Cogburn (1975): A sequel to True Grit that pairs Wayne with another screen legend, Katharine Hepburn.
- The Shootist (1976): Wayne's final (onscreen) role, in which he plays J.B. Books, a gunman dying of cancer who wants to end his life in peace (not coincidentally, Wayne's own cancer was in remission; it would kill him three years later).