Sam Elliott Once Told Incredible Story About Meeting John Wayne During His Final Film

by Suzanne Halliburton
Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage

Count Sam Elliott as a fan of the late John Wayne.

His movies inspired Sam Elliott. So did a brief meeting between Wayne and Elliott. One actor was at the end of his career, one was just beginning.

Elliott, in an interview with the South Bend Tribune five years ago, said he’d go watch John Wayne movies when he was a kid. Who didn’t? Elliott named some of his favorites, the movies that inspired him.

The Searchers,” films like that,” Elliott said. “The Quiet Man.” I was going to the (movie) theater and having that experience and thinking “wow, that’s incredible.” Then later on in high school I was always in plays. I was always in the choir, always in vocal ensembles. My mom dragged me to sing in the church choir — the Congregational church — when I was like 5 years old. That’s where it began.”

Wayne’s movie The Searchers came out in 1956. Wayne played a middle-aged Civil War veteran searching for his niece, who was played by Natalie Woods. Wayne’s The Quiet Man was released in 1952. Wayne portrayed an Irish-born boxer from Pittsburgh. Maureen O’Hara plays his love interest. It was an unusual movie in that it was a romantic comedy with elements of drama.

Sam Elliott Met John Wayne in the 1970s

Elliott said he met Wayne in the 1970s. He sought his autograph. Elliott said:

“He was doing The Shootist, his last film. I had this collection of water-colored prints called a John Ford Collection — beautiful paintings done by 14 of his favorite 20 actors he ever worked with. Wayne was among them. … I went in and talked with him for a few minutes. He didn’t know me from Adam but he knew I was an aspiring actor.”

John Ford, the director, did amazing movies with John Wayne. The movies included The Quiet Man, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Rio Grande, Stagecoach and How the West Was Won. When asked about his favorite movies, Ford said: “All of the films in which my friend John Wayne played the main character.” 

Meanwhile, Sam Elliott is 76 and still going strong. He’s a little older than John Wayne was when Elliott met him.

Elliott earned his first-ever Academy Award nomination for the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born. He played Bradley Cooper’s older brother and manager. He’s actively worked in his 70s, enjoying a resurgence, with projects like The Ranch, Grace and Frankie, The Good Dinosaur, The Hero and The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot.