Marion Morrison began his acting career after losing his football scholarship due to an injury. But he’d end it as the legendary John Wayne.
Here are the eight John Wayne roles that distinguished the gunslinger as America’s iconic star.
1. Breck Coleman (“The Big Trail,” 1930)
Director Raoul Walsh told Wayne to simply “sit good on a horse and point” when the newbie stated his lack of acting experience, according to the Library of Congress
. His first starring role left him with his legendary John Wayne screen name, but not much success until nine years later, according to John Wayne Enterprises
2. The Ringo Kid (“Stagecoach,” 1939)
Hard work in minor films gave way to a starring role in the movie that Wayne himself said, “really made me a star,” according to the IMDb
. The tall and lean gun-toting 32-year-old had left his mark, and his life and career would never be the same, according to film critic Roger Ebert
3. Sean Thornton (“The Quiet Man,” 1952)
The Duke charmed as an ill-reputed American boxer in one of many successful pairings with actress Maureen O’Hara. Critics considered it Wayne’s most powerful performance in a lead romantic role, according to Biography.com
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4. Sgt. John M. Stryker (“Sands of Iwo Jima,” 1949)
Wayne played the rough yet unruffled Marine in what is generally considered "the quintessential World War II movie," according to OliveFilms.com
. He drew an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur told Wayne that he represented the American serviceman “better than the American serviceman himself,” according to IMDb.
5. Col. Davy Crockett (“The Alamo,” 1960)
Wayne’s problem, he said, was that he wasn’t handsome like Cary Grant. But directing would give him work when he could no longer get top roles, according to the IMDb.
“The Alamo,” the 1960 patriotic film, was the first that Wayne starred in and directed. The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther said
Wayne, “dared to make a picture entitled ‘The Alamo’ in which he, not (actor Fess) Parker, is king of the wild frontier ... And he never once kills a b'ar.”
6. Col. Mike Kirby (“The Green Berets,” 1968)
Wayne showed his political hand by producing, directing, and starring in “The Green Berets.” His role was the difficult colonel in the pro-Vietnam War film. Critics called his most contentious work propaganda, but moviegoers thought it worth their while, making it a box office success, according to Biography.com.
7. Rooster Cogburn (“True Grit,” 1969)
Wayne won his only acting Oscar as the one-eyed, alcoholic U.S. Marshal. “If I'd have known that, I would have put that patch on 35 years earlier,” he said while accepting the award, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Roger Ebert called “True Grit” “a masterpiece.” “Well, I knew that ‘True Grit’ was going to go — even with the critics,” Wayne said in a 1971 Playboy interview.
8. J.B. Books (“The Shootist,” 1976)
Books is a gunman battling cancer as he rounds out his final days. In real life, Wayne was doing much of the same. He died three years later of stomach cancer. “The Shootist” is a synopsis of the legend’s work, according to The Telegraph writer Philip Horne
: “It leaves his image indelibly fixed on our imagination.”
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