Maverick Men in the Media: John Wayne

Updated: Aug 14, 2021

Who was he? “One of the greatest male stars of classic American cinema” according the the American Film Institute. And from Wikipedia, “Alone among his generation of movie stars, he remains an apparently permanent image of American masculinity. You can accept his representation of manhood or you can reject it, but you can’t ignore it. And... Like Elvis Presley, he was a pure product of America, unthinkable in any other culture. “

The 6'4" movie character we know professionally as John Wayne and nicknamed Duke, was born in 1907. He appeared mostly in small parts, until the movie, Stagecoach in 1939, that made him a mainstream star. He starred in 142 motion pictures altogether before dying of cancer in 1979.

Wayne’s roles in Westerns include a cattleman driving his herd on the Chisholm Trail in Red River (1948), a Civil War veteran whose niece is abducted by a tribe of Comanches in The Searchers (1956), a troubled rancher competing with a lawyer (James Stewart) for a woman’s hand in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and a cantankerous one-eyed marshal in True Grit (1969), for which he received the Academy Award for Best Actor. He is also remembered for his roles in The Quiet Man (1952), Rio Bravo (1959) with Dean Martin, and The Longest Day (1962). In his final screen performance, he starred as an aging gunfighter battling cancer in The Shootist (1976).

And - last, but not least... He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States.

What makes him or him in his movie roles a Maverick Man? There are many ways that John Wayne was a Maverick Man, both in his personal life and on screen. Here are some of our favorites:

  • He was the first one on the set in the morning and the last one to leave.

  • He would play anything except weak.

  • When he said something, he meant it.

  • He was loyal.

  • He never gave a damn about critics.

  • On-screen he always wanted a woman who was his full equal.

  • He was never afraid to play against another dominating leading man like Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, or Lee Marvin

  • All he had to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.

  • He never had a sense of entitlement toward his career.

  • The dog in Hondo was actually played by Lassie, and when he won the dog in a card game from trainer Rudd Weatherwax, he gave him back.

  • Because when he was dying of cancer, in excruciating pain, he never complained.

  • Because the more a director challenged him, the better he got.

Our favorite John Wayne movie quote:

“I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to others, and I require the same from them” (from The Shootist).

Our favorite John Wayne quotes:

“All I do is sell sincerity, and I’ve been selling the hell out of that since I started.”

“For years I’ve played the kind of man I’d like to have been.”

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