John Wayne: Timeline of Iconic Actor’s Film Career

by Keeli Parkey

John Wayne was one of the most well-known actors in the history of Hollywood. His career spanned decades and he was in some of the most memorable movie Westerns ever made.

The legendary actor was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907. John Wayne was the actor’s professional name, but he was also known by the fond nickname, “The Duke.”

The first time he appeared as a star in a movie was in 1930 when he appeared in “The Big Trail.” It was during the production of this movie that Marion Robert Morrison became known as John Wayne. Director Raoul Walsh thought the actor should go by the name “Anthony Wayne” in honor of “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a general during the Revolutionary War.

However, Winfield Sheehan, the chief of Fox Studios didn’t like the name. Walsh then suggested “John Wayne.” The rest is history.

“The Big Trail” was not a successful film and it was, initially, harmful to Wayne’s career. For years after that, he appeared in low budget B-movies. His big break came with the 1939 release of “Stagecoach” directed by John Ford. The film was a hit with the critics and was also financially successful. It made John Wayne a star.

The Duke appeared in one of his most beloved roles in 1954 in “The High and the Mighty.” In it, he played a heroic copilot and his performance received positive reviews. Being an aviator was a role Wayne played many times in his career. His roles included “Flying Tigers” in 1942, “Flying Leathernecks” in 1951, “Island in the Sky” in 1953, as well as “The Wings of Eagles” and “Jet Pilot” in 1957.

John Wayne Again Collaborates with Director John Ford

John Wayne’s collaboration with Ford on “Stagecoach” proved to be fruitful to both of their careers as they went on. The Duke appeared in many of Ford’s films over a two-decade span. The films included “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” from 1949; “The Quiet Man” in 1952, “The Wings of Eagles” in 1957, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” in 1962.

It was in a John Ford film that John Wayne first used the term “Pilgrim” to refer to someone else. That film was “The Searchers” in 1956. Many consider his work in this film to be one of the best in Wayne’s career.

One of the highlights of Wayne’s career was winning the Best Actor Oscar for “True Grit,” which was released in 1969. The nomination came two decades after he received his first Oscar nomination.

In addition to acting, Wayne also directed two films. One was “The Alamo” in 1960. The second was 1968’s “The Green Berets.” Interestingly, “The Green Berets” was supportive of Vietnam War and it was the only major movie released during the war that took that stance.

The last movie John Wayne ever made was “The Shootist,” which was released in 1976. The main character of the film was fighting to survive cancer, but could not. Ironically, Wayne would die of cancer only a few years later.

The Duke died on June 11, 1979, at the age of 72. His grave marker reportedly bears the following quote: “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”