John Wayne: How an Early Silent Movie Star Influenced the Duke’s On-Screen Presence

by Suzanne Halliburton
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John Wayne still is one of America’s most iconic actors. Flip on any of his movies, you hear the cadence of his voice and know that the character may be flawed, but the moral compass is there.

Did you ever wonder who was the Duke’s mentor, what person put him on the right path decades ago and gave him terrific career advice?

That was answered in the first John Wayne Gritcast hosted by son Patrick Wayne. Sister Marisa and brother Ethan also were featured.

And the answer to the mentor question? It’s Harry Carey, the silent film superstar. Once talkies arrived, Carey became more of a character actor. He was nominated for an Academy Award for best-supporting actor for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Carey also was terrific friends with John Wayne. So was his son, Harry Carey, Jr.

Harry Carey, Sr. (Getty Images)

Sons Tell Story of How Harry Carey Told John Wayne to Keep His ‘True North’ in Movies

Patrick Wayne said that when his dad first started “getting a little success under his belt” he went to Carey on what to do next. Carey described who people wanted to see when they watched a John Wayne movie. Ethan Wayne called it his dad’s “true north.”

“This is the guy who people want to see on the screen,” Patrick said, as he relayed the Carey conversation. “They want to walk in there and they want to leave the theater knowing that you can have a different name, you can have a different story around you, everything. But that guy has to be the guy who they have come to appreciate and love. You carry what (his brother) describes as a moral compass. That’s the guy they want to see. He figured out a way, like in The Searchers where he was a mean, nasty son of a gun (but) showing this (good) person after all. That was Harry Carry.”

Ethan Wayne said that his dad could feel uncomfortable on screen. He didn’t initially like listening to the sound of his voice or how he moved on screen. He’d then watch a Harry Carey movie for some tips.

Earlier this year, the John Wayne estate shared a video with Carey Jr, who was both an actor and an unofficial Hollywood historian.

“I know John Wayne, too,” said Carey Jr. “John Wayne was a friend of my family. You see, my dad was a big western star in the old days. Harry Carey. Harry Carey Sr if you’d like. He was Duke’s idol.”

John Wayne hosted Carey Jr’s wedding. And when Carey Sr died in 1947, he was one of his friends who was with him in the final hours. Wayne helped Carey Jr earn his first role as a cattle wrangler in Red River. Carey Sr also was in the movie directed by Howard Hawks.

Outsider.com