John Wayne believed one scene from True Grit featured his best ever work as an actor. Wayne starred in everything from romantic dramas to wacky comedies throughout his 50-year-long career but was typecast – comfortably so – in cowboy roles. He began his career working on so-called “Poverty Row” Westerns during the ’30s, before breaking through with Stagecoach at the end of the decade. In the years that followed, he appeared in many classics of the genre, including The Searchers and Rio Bravo. He won his only Oscar, however, for his turn as the ill-tempered U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.
This 1969 John Wayne Western adapted the book of the same name and saw Cogburn hired by teen girl Mattie (Kim Darby) to find the man who killed her father. While the two partners bicker throughout, one of the most affecting scenes in True Grit sees them bond as Rooster recounts his past, including the wife and son who left him. It’s a rare moment of vulnerability, both for the character and Wayne as a performer. In an interview with Roger Ebert, he stated that “I guess that scene in ‘True Grit’ is about the best scene I ever did.”
Wayne Felt True Grit Let Him Play A Character Instead Of Himself
In the same way Clint Eastwood’s long history with Westerns loaned poignancy to Unforgiven, Wayne’s past with the genre is all over this True Grit scene. The actor himself certainly felt Rooster offered him one of his best parts, stating again to Ebert that “It’s sure as hell my first decent role in 20 years and my first chance to play a character role instead of John Wayne.” Whatever project he appeared in, Wayne’s – who was nicknamed “Duke” – screen persona didn’t differ much from role to role, while audiences specifically turned up to see the new “John Wayne” movie. This didn’t leave him much room to experiment with his performances.
True Grit’s Rooster was one of Wayne’s most textured characters. On the surface, he’s a cantankerous, lazy Marshal who would much prefer spending his time drinking. That said, he’s also really good at his job, and inspire of himself not only takes a liking to Mattie, but he even opens up to her. The film gave Wayne some of his most famous scenes too, including his climatic horse charge, where he dual-wields revolvers against Ned Pepper’s outlaws.
True Grit’s Rooster Is The Only Character Wayne Reprised
Wayne made some thematic sequels during his career, such as the unofficial Rio Bravo trilogy, consisting of Rio Bravo, El Dorado and Rio Lobo. The only time he ever played the same character again, however, was True Grit sequel Rooster Cogburn. This 1975 Oater saw Rooster team up with Katharine Hepburn as a spinster setting out to avenge her father. While the two Hollywood icons have good chemistry together, Rooster Cogburn – which proved to be Wayne’s penultimate performance – is one of Wayne’s most mediocre Westerns. Still, out of the many roles he could have returned to, it says something that he felt like reprising Rooster.