John Wayne Was Ashamed of His B Western Roots

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He had played heroic frontiersmen, football players and even a singing cowboy, but John Wayne still wasn’t what he had set out to be: A movie star. The year was 1938 and after the box-office failure of Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail, Wayne’s first starring role, it seemed as though he’d be consigned forever to being a secondary player on the Hollywood back lots. “I was ashamed for being a B Western cowboy,” Wayne said.

An indication of his fading star was his newly signed contract with Republic Pictures, a company specializing in low-rent frontier fodder. And the Duke soon found himself as a member of one of B-moviedom’s longest-running franchises: The Three Mesquiteers.

Of course, a starring role in John Ford’s Stagecoach just a year later would change everything for Wayne. But wasn’t the
Duke being a little too hard on himself? His years as a matinee cowboy had offered a crucial apprenticeship and steady work to the young actor. Between 1930 and 1939, he made over 60 films, making him a familiar presence to the young audience who would soon idolize him. Indeed, his B movies were a large part of his later success.

In any case Wayne’s first picture after Stagecoach, The Night Riders, was the beginning of the end of his tenure as a second-tier actor. Riding on the dust clouds of Wayne’s success, Republic Pictures put the newly confident actor out in starring roles; The Night Riders serves as a bridge between the iconic Western heroes to come and the cowpokes of his past.

For a full schedule of The Night Riders on AMC, click here.

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On April 28th, our commenting features will become unavailable while we upgrade the site. We apologize for the inconvenience. Commenting and the Talk forum will relaunch along with a range of new site features early next month. If you would like to be notified when commenting and the Talk forum have relaunched you can sign up for our newsletter here.

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