John Wayne: How the Actor Learned His Iconic Walk

by John Jamison

John Wayne talked the talk, and he most certainly had the walk to back it up. He was a powerful presence. His deep voice was underscored by a slow and sure gait. With these tools, Wayne became one of the most distinctive actors to ever grace the big screen.

He didn’t always have his iconic swagger, however.

At the start of his career, he hadn’t quite figured out how to control all of his massive 6’4″ frame. Despite his good looks and his heroic voice, the young actor would need to work on the way he moved if he was to reach his full potential.

From there the iconic walk was born. Today we get to witness the finished product in many of his films, but how exactly did it come to be?

There Are Plenty of Theories for How John Wayne Got His Iconic Walk

Were his pants just too tight? Could it really be that simple? Some think so. Others theorize that he broke his leg at some point and never quite evened out afterward.

According to some, an old stunt double friend of Wayne’s named Yakima Canutt served as the main inspiration for the famous walk. Canutt was a true cowboy and professional rodeo contestant. John Wayne’s characters were often modeled after macho people of Canutt’s ilk, so it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.

Another important detail to touch on here is the fact that Wayne had unusually small feet. This wasn’t typical for a man of his stature.

Katharine Hepburn described him as having “great legs and tight buttocks, a real great seat, and small sensitive feet.” She went on to say that “he carries his huge frame lightly, like a feather” with his walk being “very fine, light.”

Whether or not the size of John Wayne’s feet played a significant role in his signature gait remains to be seen. What does seem likely, however, is that multiple factors contributed to the final product.

When Wayne himself was asked about the walk, he said that he wasn’t “conscious” of it. He admitted, “I must walk different from other people, but I haven’t gone to any school to learn how.”

While there are tons of theories circulating out there, everyone can agree on one thing. The walk worked. And perhaps most importantly for John Wayne, “the women love it.”