Actor John Wayne starred in a wide assortment of Western movies ranging from big studio features to small B-movies. He learned to be happy to have the opportunity to work even when he didn’t like the project itself. However, Wayne admitted that he made some movies that he hated because they forced him to dress like previous Western legend Ken Maynard.
John Wayne signed with Warner Bros. to make 6 Westerns
Wayne made his first leading performance in 1930’s The Big Trail, which was a box office bomb. After making a couple more pictures, his career didn’t appear to be going anywhere grand. He continued to push forward and found some success in another area. However, they weren’t the big-scale motion features that he was hoping to continue making.
Next, Warner Bros. reached out to Wayne to make six Western movies, but he would still have the freedom to work on other projects at other studios. The actor made $1,500 for each film. Wayne had the opportunity to make B-movies that gave him time to perfect his cowboy aesthetic across different characters that were all named John.
According to Michael Munn’s John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth, there were elements of these movies that Wayne hated. Early Looney Tunes producer Leon Schlesinger worked on all of these B-movie Westerns. However, the actor only respected the producer’s earlier works. There were elements of working on these B-movies, such as The Big Stampede, that he couldn’t stand, such as when they made him dress like Maynard for continuity reasons.
“I later thought Leon’s cartoons were better than the horse operas he put me in,” Wayne said. “Those Westerns I made at Warner Bros. were remakes of old Ken Maynard films, and all the big scenes like cattle herds and Indian attacks were taken straight from the original Maynard films.”
Wayne continued: “So, I had to dress up to look like Ken Maynard because a lot of the old footage they inserted had shots of Maynard in the distance. I really hated that.”
Wayne had to make several bad movies while he continued to build his aesthetic. He certainly developed a very strong understanding of the character he would sell to Hollywood and audiences around the world. Wayne initially didn’t enjoy watching himself on-screen, but he ultimately found a way to utilize that footage to improve his walk. Additionally, the movie star had an instantly recognizable voice that made him the perfect lead in many Western flicks.
He would later join the ranks of the greatest movie stars ever to exist in the Hollywood scene thanks to filmmaker John Ford for amplifying his presence. Actor Clint Eastwood would later present a very different and much darker version of the Western, although a generational divide was one factor that played into Wayne’s not wanting to work with the actor.