John Wayne surprised many of his critics with his quiet performance in The Shootist. Audiences went to the movies to see one of his motion pictures with the knowledge of the type of performance they would get from the movie star. However, Wayne was so impressive in The Shootist that some of his fans responded with preemptive outrage at the notion that he wouldn’t get the Oscar nomination for his performance.
Before starring in The Shootist, Wayne originally started his career in moviemaking as a prop man at Fox. He became a Western icon who defined the genre as a whole. However, the industry didn’t take Wayne very seriously as a performer for many years, pointing to his signature cadence and body language that moved from one character to the next.
Wayne gave his final performance in 1976’s The Shootist before his death in 1979. The Don Siegel-directed film follows a gunfighter named J.B. Books (Wayne). However, his whole life changes when a local doctor tells him that he’s dying. As a result, J.B. decides to spend the little time that he has left holding onto his dignity and avoiding as much pain as possible. He develops an unlikely connection with widowed Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her son, Gillom (Ron Howard).
The UGA Brown Media Archives YouTube channel shared an interview that Jim Whaley conducted with Wayne regarding The Shootist. He was among those who couldn’t believe his eyes when it came to the Western movie legend’s performance in what would ultimately be his final feature film. Whaley couldn’t imagine a world where Wayne didn’t earn an Oscar nomination, praising his more subdued style of performance.
“Well, I thank you for that,” Wayne said in response to the compliments. “Actually, as a rule, as a wonderful part and wonderful support given by other actors. When you get that, that more or less ensures a nomination because there are probably only 10 parts of any size during the year. If you reach in that hat and get one of those, you get nominated (Laughs)”
Wayne continued: “Who’s had the best part usually gets the nomination, and one of them gets the award.”
The YouTube comments expressed their appreciation for Wayne and his performance in The Shootist. Unfortunately, he didn’t earn even an Oscar nomination for his work in the film, which his fans called disappointing. They thought that he deserved the win that ultimately went to Peter Finch from Network.
Other nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role that year included Robert De Niro from Taxi Driver, William Holden from Network, Giancarlo Giannini from Seven Beauties, and Sylvester Stallone from Rocky.