John Wayne’s ‘Stagecoach’: The Funny Story About How the Cowboy Icon Was Cast in the Film

by Katie Maloney
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How did John Wayne land his breakthrough role in the 1939 movie Stagecoach?

Every famous actor had a breakthrough role. Marlon Brando soared to fame with A Streetcar Named Desire. Nicole Kidman’s big break came with the 1989 movie, Dead Calm. Jack Nicholson landed his first major role in Easy Rider. And western legend, John Wayne made a name for himself in the 1939 film Stagecoach. After his debut in Stagecoach, Wayne went on to star in at least 80 movies and became a symbol of the rugged, strong, straight-shooting American man.

But how did John Wayne land his breakthrough starring role in the movie? According to IMDB, John Wayne wasn’t expecting to be offered the role.

The Duke Lands The Role Of A Lifetime

In 1938, movie director John Ford invited John Wayne on a weekend boat trip. Ford told Wayne he wanted him to read a copy of the Stagecoach script and recommend an actor to play Ringo Kid. Ford said, “I’m having a hell of a time deciding whom to cast as the Ringo Kid. You know a lot of young actors, Duke. See what you think.” After reading the script, Wayne suggested actor Lloyd Nolan for the part, but Ford was not interested in the idea. “Nolan?” Ford asked critically. “Jesus Christ, I just wish to hell I could find some young actor in this town who can ride a horse and act.”

The next day, as the two concluded their weekend trip, Ford said, “I have made up my mind. I want you to play the Ringo Kid.” Wayne said the offer left him feeling as if he had been “hit in the belly with a baseball bat.” And he was worried that Ford would change his mind and offer Nolan the part instead.

Luckily, Ford didn’t change his mind and John Wayne starred as Ringo Kid in Stagecoach. The movie was nominated for six academy awards and won two: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Thomas Mitchell) and Best Music, Scoring.

https://youtu.be/BKa0ehuALd0
John Wayne in Stagecoach

‘Stagecoach’ And John Wayne’s Stuntman Yakima Canutt

John Wayne may have been the king of westerns. But his stuntman Yakima Canutt was the king of western movie stunts. Canutt could arrange a wagon crash, leapfrog onto a horse or fall off it, or stage a convincing fight scene. And even more importantly, he could teach other actors how to do those stunts too.

He even invented techniques of his own. And he developed equipment that allowed for train crashes and wagon attacks while keeping actors and stunt workers safe. With his inventions, Canutt boosted the entertainment value of a movie and ensured the safety of everyone involved.

One of Canutt’s most memorable stunts occurs in a scene from Stagecoach. During the scene, Canutt jumps from his horse onto a team of six stagecoach horses. And then he slides underneath all of them and brings the stagecoach to a safe stop on the ground. Editors didn’t magically edit the stunt, Canutt actually did every single one of those stunts himself.

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