A Young John Wayne Looks Stoic in Epic Black-and-White Photo from ‘Stagecoach’

by Suzanne Halliburton
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When you think of John Wayne, you remember him as tall and heroic, whether he was wearing a cowboy hat and boots or a military uniform.

He played all kinds of characters from a retired boxer to a football coach to a lawman or a rogue gunslinger.

But did you ever think of John Wayne as a young man, an actor with decades of movies ahead of him?

On Monday, the John Wayne estate posted a photo of Duke from Stagecoach. The snap was tight, showing only his face. His hat was tilted to the side. One thing was noticeable. He was so very young.

The estate captioned it with a famous John Wayne line from the movie:

“Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.”

John Wayne Met Stagecoach Director When He Still Was in College

John Wayne was in his early 30s when he made Stagecoach. He’d done plenty of movies before the film. But they were mostly B movies. That meant they were low budget and made to be part of a double feature, an add-on to the major film.

But Stagecoach wasn’t a B movie. The great John Ford directed it. Ford already knew John Wayne. In fact, the two met when Wayne still was going by his given name, Marion Morrison. Back then, Morrison was a student at USC, working in the props department on the Fox lot.

Ford started giving Morrison some small roles in his movies. He basically was an extra. But Ford did give him a part herding geese for the 1928 film Mother Machree. Ford introduced Morrison to director Raoul Walsh, who cast him in his first meaty role. That was Breck Coleman in the 1930 movie, The Big Trail. Morrison changed his name to John Wayne as the movie was produced.

Ford offered John Wayne the part in Stagecoach when the two were out on Ford’s yacht. Wayne played Ringo Kid. Here’s the movie poster from Wayne’s first big movie.

(Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)

Wayne’s Character Was a Prison Escapee Out to Avenge Murder of His Father, Brother

Ringo Kid escaped from prison after he learned about the death of both his father and brother. They were murdered by Luke Plummer and Ringo Kid was out to avenge their deaths. The movie is about a group of travelers on a stagecoach going to New Mexico. Ringo Kid ends up on the stagecoach. The travelers go through a variety of adventures, including an attack by the Apaches.

Later in the movie, Ringo Kid gets into a three-on-one shootout with the Plummer brothers. The Kid survives the shootout and turns himself into his friend, a U.S. marshal. Kid already had proposed to Dallas, a fellow traveler who didn’t tell him she was a prostitute. In the final scenes, Kid is allowed to escape so he could go to his ranch across the border into Mexico.

Ford earned an Academy Award nomination for best director for the movie. And John Wayne officially launched his long career. The two worked together for 50 years. Ford died in 1973, Wayne passed away six years later.

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