For most people, John Wayne was one of the cinema’s iconic cowboy. The actor helped to define an entire genre with his countless films. But the Duke also had his critics as well. Some people believed that Wayne relied too much on his cowboy persona.
These critics said Wayne often played himself in his films and it was hard to tell the difference between his numerous characters. For several viewers, Wayne gave his most distinct performance as Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit.” And he was helped in part by an eye patch, separating the character.
But such criticisms ignore the distinct touches Wayne gave in each performance. It’s hard to say Cogburn and his character from “The Cowboys” were the same character. Much less the Ringo Kid in “Stagecoach” either. In a 1969 interview with Roger Ebert, Wayne addressed his critics.
“You get something of that in the character of Rooster,” he said. “Well, they say he’s not like what I’ve done before, and I even say that, but he does have facets of the John Wayne character, huh? I think he does.”
“Of course, they give me that John Wayne stuff so much, claim I always play the same role. Seems like nobody remembers how different the fellows were in ‘The Quiet Man.’ or ‘Iwo Jima,’ or ‘Yellow Ribbon,’ where I was 35 playing a man of 65. To stay a star, you have to bring along some of your own personality. Thousands of good actors can carry a scene, but a star has to carry the scene and still, without intruding, allow some of his character into it. What do you think?” Wayne continued.
John Wayne’s Grandson Defends Him
Despite the criticism, John Wayne continued to act in an assortment of movies throughout his career. But the criticism never quite went away. Years later, Wayne’s grandson Brendan came to his grandfather’s defense. Brendan appeared in a remake of one of Wayne’s films “Angel and the Badman” opposite Lou Diamond Phillips.
He overheard his co-star speaking bad about his grandfather and wanted to confront him.
“I did overhear him doing an interview, and he said something like, ‘You know, the Duke was just the Duke. He kind of just played that character. I’m going to bring something a little bigger, a little darker to it,’” Brendan Wayne recalled.
But Brendan’s mother talked him out of confronting the actor. Still, Brendan considers John Wayne to be one of the greatest actors of all time.
“I about lost my temper,” Brendan Wayne continued. “My mom was in my ear, saying, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it.’ To be overlooked by critics is one thing, but when another actor doesn’t recognize John’s ability to be subtle and powerful. Watch the original ‘Angel and the Badman,’ and you’re going to see a guy who’s got range. It’s one of the greatest acting performances I’ve ever seen, period.”