Actor John Wayne starred in a large quantity of Westerns over the course of his career. They didn’t all land with audiences, but he certainly crafted a character that continues to live on. However, Wayne hated the term “adult Westerns,” which became a Hollywood buzzword after Gary Cooper’s Oscar-winning role in High Noon made its cultural impact.
Director John Ford and Wayne worked together on a variety of Westerns. However, the actor was hesitant to return to working with the filmmaker again. According to Marc Eliot’s American Titan: Searching for John Wayne, there was industry buzz regarding Ford’s drinking and on-set fight with Henry Fonda. Wayne’s son, Patrick, explained that he wasn’t so sure that his father wanted to do The Searchers, even though Ford really wanted his old pal back on set.
However, Wayne decided to return to Ford Westerns after the filmmaker didn’t make a movie in the genre since 1950’s Rio Grande. The actor initially turned down the lead role in High Noon because he found the film “un-American,” which Cooper happily accepted. He ultimately won an Oscar for the role, and critics hailed the film “the greatest Western ever made,” which got under Wayne’s skin.
Wayne wasn’t the only star who wanted to jump back into Westerns. According to Eliot, High Noon had a big impact on the Hollywood machine that resulted in every major male star wanting to try their hand at the genre. Clark Gable, Gregory Peck, Fonda, Robert Taylor, and Jimmy Stewart are just some of the A-listers that entered the genre of so-called “adult Westerns.”
The television industry also fell in love with the genre, moving Gunsmoke from a radio series to a small-screen adaptation. Wayne was approached, but he had no interest in the medium. Rather, he suggested his friend, James Arness, get the part, who played the role for 20 years. As a result, Westerns started popping up everywhere, giving many stars a leg up, including Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Michael Landon, and Burt Reynolds.
However, Wayne became “visibly rankled” when folks would talk about adult Westerns because he believed that he was already making them with Ford since Stagecoach. It wasn’t anything new to him. Nevertheless, every movie studio in Hollywood wanted another High Noon. As a result, Wayne wanted to make superior Westerns to prove that he was the “greatest cowboy actor,” even better than Cooper. And that’s how he came to star in The Searchers.
The actor represents his own brand of the genre
Wayne was very possessive over the portrayal of Westerns. He operated in the genre for so long that he began to have a sort of ownership of it along with Ford. However, many other actors still looked up to Wayne because he will always represent a very specific archetype of Westerns. Eastwood admired the actor and wanted to work with him, but the feelings weren’t mutual.
Wayne even finished his career on 1976’s The Shootist with a performance that shocked audiences around the world. He wanted to continue working, but his health didn’t allow him to continue to do so. Even his daughter, Aissa, found The Shootist difficult to watch because of what he was going through in real-time. Nevertheless, Wayne still wanted to uphold an image of machoism and strength for the public in all of his appearances.