John Wayne: Relive the Legendary Actor’s Academy Award Acceptance Speech in 1970

by Katie Maloney

Fifty-one years ago, western legend John Wayne landed his first and only Academy Award.

Despite spending decades starring in western movies, John Wayne was 63-years-old when he finally won an Academy Award. It was his first and only Oscar and he won for his performance in the 1969 film, True Grit. During the movie, Wayne plays U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” J. Cogburn in 1880. Rooster Cogburn is hired by a young girl named Mattie to apprehend the man who killed her father. Cogburn joins forces with a young Texas Ranger named La Boeuf to find the outlaw. Despite the two’s best efforts to ditch Mattie, they’re unsuccessful. So, the three of them embark on a series of misadventures in the hopes of finding justice.

John Wayne won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Peter O’Toole for Goodbye, Mr. Chips was also nominated. Both Dustin Hoffman and John Voight were nominated for their performances in Midnight Cowboy. And Richard Burton was nominated for his role in Anne of The Thousand Days. But John Wayne beat ’em all.

Watch John Wayne’s Emotional Acceptance Speech

After accepting his award and wiping away a tear, The Duke joked, “Wow, if I had known that, I would have put that patch on 25 years earlier.”

“Ladies and Gentleman, I’m no stranger to this podium. I’ve come up here and picked up these beautiful golden men before. But always for friends,” said Wayne. “One night I picked up two: One for Admiral John Ford and one for our beloved Gary Cooper.”

Wayne once again cracked a joke when he said, “I was very clever and witty that night to the envy of even Bob Hope.”

However, Wayne quickly became serious again as he continued with his speech.

“But tonight I don’t feel very clever or very witty,” said Wayne. “I feel very grateful, very humble. And all thanks to many many people. I want to thank the members of the Academy. To all you people who are watching television, thank you for taking such a warm interest in our glorious industry. Good night.”

Wayne Said True Grit Was His ‘First Decent Role in Twenty Years’

For True Grit, John Wayne did far more than just fight bad guys. His character, “Rooster” Cogburn is a disreputable, one-eyed, drunk who’s given one last chance to do the right thing. During the movie, the irritable curmudgeon, Cogburn, eventually warms up to his young cohort Mattie, and the two form a heartwarming bond. During an interview in 1969, Wayne admitted that the role was one of the first where he could be more than just “John Wayne.”

“It’s sure as hell my first decent role in 20 years,” he said. “And my first chance to play a character role instead of John Wayne. Ordinarily, they just stand me there and run everybody up against me.”

During the same interview, Wayne talked about being nominated for an Academy Award (this was before he actually won).

“Well, whether or not I win an Oscar, I’m proud of the performance,” said Wayne. “I’d be pleased to win one, of course, although I imagine these things mean more to the public than to us. There are a lot of old standbys who don’t have one.”

Luckily, western mainstay John Wayne took home the Oscar he always deserved just a few months after that interview.