From the gun-slinging classics cited above all the way to The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie (and everything in-between), Westerns would come to dominate television alongside film for more than a full generation. Through it all, audiences couldn’t get enough of The Duke in Hollywood pictures. They never found him on their favorite television Westerns, however.
As it turns out, this was all a result of the man’s own take on the medium, and how he felt it could never do justice to the genre he helped define.
As part of the October 27, 1962 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, the one and only John Wayne gave a remarkable “twilight” interview at 55-years-old. Within, he spoke directly on his thoughts about “television Westerns” to fascinating results.
“Television has a tendency to reach a little,” Wayne began in the infamous article. “In their Westerns, they’re getting away from the fact that those men were fighting the elements and the rawness of nature, and didn’t have time for this couch work,” the icon offered.
Perhaps “couch work” referred to the somewhat softer Westerns America leaned into later in his life (like the latter listed above). Or perhaps he didn’t see television as grand enough for his beloved Westerns at all.
John Wayne’s Fascinating History with Television
“For me, basic art and simplicity are most important,” The Duke rounded out for The Saturday Evening Post.
In the end, John Wayne found that “Love. Hate. Everything” was “right out there without much nuance” when it came to the episodic nature of TV.
While Wayne would make literally hundreds of appearances on television, the icon stuck to film and never once became a part of a scripted show’s recurring cast. He would make guest star appearances only a handful of times.
The closest Wayne ever came to a “television regular” was as part of variety shows such as Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. He would appear in a total of 11 episodes for the show’s 1968-1973 run. Similarly, he would appear on The Red Skelton Hour, but only twice: once in 1966 and once in 1969.
Outside of this, several television shows were lucky enough to secure the icon as a guest star. Each pertained to the passions of John Wayne, too. Such shows include Alcoa Premiere in which he played a Marine Sergeant in 1962. Before this, he would show up as Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in Wagon Train.
Perhaps most famously, however, he would appear in two episodes of I Love Lucy in 1955 – playing himself both times. That same year, he would host the “Matt Gets It” episode of Gunsmoke which, ironically, is one of the “television Westerns” he showed disdain for in the infamous article above.