John Wayne: How One Stunt Nearly Killed the Duke

by Madison Miller
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It isn’t all easy being one of the most influential and popular Western cowboys in American cinema.

For John Wayne, playing the macho cowboy or rural hero was second nature. From “The Shootist” to “Big Jake” to “Rio Lobo” to “True Grit,” John Wayne was an incredibly typecast actor. He once said, “I play John Wayne in every part regardless of the character, and I’ve been doing OK, haven’t I?”

However, it really did work out for him during his expansive career.

John Wayne Movie Injury

While roles were plentiful and often well-rewarded, filming Westerns could come with a certain level of risk. The Duke did most of his own stunts for his films and he rarely had any kind of injury while doing so.

However, according to Cowboys & Indians, the closest he came to a serious, near-death injury was while filming “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” in 1949. While he was riding his horse from the movie his cinch belt on his saddle suddenly loosened. This caused him to be thrown off his horse. He went down hard, immediately blacking out when he crashed into the ground.

That isn’t even the worst part of the incident, however. Wayne was thrown off his horse right in the path of 50 other stampeding horses. Luckily, another wrangler could change the direction of the horses before any further tragedy struck.

John Wayne certainly got lucky that day, but still continued doing his own stunts in the future. He even turned down the role of “Dirty Harry” because he felt like the script was too violent and profane. The Old West is a violent, dangerous, and unpredictable place after all.

“She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” also happened to be one of John Wayne’s most successful films of his career, as well. It was shot on location in Monument Valley, utilizing parts of the Navajo reservation. The film won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

Wayne’s Injury That Started His Career

While he mostly avoided on-set injuries, John Wayne wasn’t so lucky prior to starting life as a Hollywood superstar.

When he graduated high school, Wayne decided to attend the University of Southern California. He was on a football scholarship as well. However, he suffered from a serious shoulder injury that caused him to lose that scholarship.

Suddenly, The Duke had to figure out a new path for himself. While he was in college, Wayne started working as a film extra. Whether he was an extra or a prop man, he was slowly being introduced to the moviemaking process.

Eventually, he would land his first leading role in the movie “The Big Trail” with director Raoul Walsh in 1930. From that point, Wayne was in Western after Western until his last film in 1976, “The Shootist.”

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