John Wayne and John Ford collaborated on my classic Westerns but the one that made Duke a star was 1939’s Stagecoach. The 1880-set story followed a group of strangers riding through dangerous Apache terrority, in a movie Orson Welles believed to be textbook filmmaking. In fact, he watched it over 40 times in preparation for making “the greatest movie of all time” Citizen Kane.
Stagecoach also had Wayne wearing his trademark hat that he sported in many of his Westerns, until retiring it two decades later after filming Rio Bravo – simply because it was “falling apart”.
The 1939 film was a real turning point in Duke’s career as director Ford finally decided to cast in him one of his movies as Ringo Kid. After being offered the part, Wayne felt he had been “hit in the belly with a baseball bat” and was fearful the filmmaker would change his mind and cast Lloyd Nolan instead.
Yet he kept his word with Ford having to lobby producer Walter Wanger hard since he kept turning Wayne down for being a B-movie actor, wanting Gary Cooper to star instead. In the end, he gave in since the director refused to make the movie otherwise.
Nevertheless, this didn’t stop Ford from treating Duke and his co-stars appallingly on the set of what would be his first Western of the sound-era.