There will never be another star like John Wayne. In fact, the actor stands in a league of his own when it comes to leading star roles. Wayne headlined more movies than any other actor in Hollywood history.
That’s quite impressive considering the number of actors in circulation for that top spot. But Wayne beat out other stars of his time like James Stewart and Steve McQueen and modern-day actors like Tom Cruise or Will Smith. So far, no one’s come close to the Duke’s record.
In total, of Wayne’s 175 films, the actor starred in 142 of them. Classics include “True Grit,” “The Searchers,” “The Cowboys,” and many others under the Wayne umbrella. He even tried his hand at directing, both behind and in front of the camera for “The Alamo.”
John Wayne’s First Leading Role
John Wayne’s first leading role came all the way back with 1930’s “The Big Trail.” Director Raoul Walsh, on the advice of John Ford, decided to give Wayne his big break. Of course, back then he was known as Duke Morrison. After injuring himself bodysurfing, Wayne lost a college football scholarship and dropped out. To support himself, he worked as a prop hand on a Fox studio set.
There, he made some pretty famous friends and learned the ins and outs of the industry. Walsh noticed Morrison working on one of Ford’s films. While initially, he wanted Tom Mix or Gary Cooper to headline the film, Walsh decided to take a chance with Morrison. Soon after, Walsh and the Fox studio head helped the young prop hand come up with his iconic stage name John Wayne.
“[Wayne] had a western hang to his shoulders and a way of holding himself and moving which is typical of a westerner,” Walsh later said. “I noticed the fine physique of the boy, his careless strength, the grace of his movements.”
The Actor’s Last Role in ‘The Shootist’
Meanwhile several decades later, “The Shootist” ended up being Wayne’s last leading and film role. Wayne and his character J.B. Books share many similarities. Books is a gunfighter, who develops terminal cancer and rather go out in a bloody duel instead. Meanwhile, Wayne himself would die only a few years later from stomach cancer.
“I don’t want to play anything petty or small or mean,” Wayne once said. “I don’t mind being rough, tough or cruel, but in a big way, not in a petty thing.”
It was important for Wayne to die on-screen with grace. He spent a lot of time making sure the shots showed him in a dignified manner. Wayne ended his career as he began – as a cowboy out in the Old West.