John Wayne

Leading By Example: John Wayne’s Work Ethic According To Those Who Knew Him Best


Working in Hollywood for half a century, John Wayne got to know quite a few people. Whether he was their crewmate, their co-star or their director, Duke was consistently called a tireless worker, a mentor figure and all-around stand-up guy by any with whom he shared a set. The same could be said by those who knew Duke behind the scenes. He consistently lived up to his own legacy, proving himself to be the genuine article in the process. Take a closer look at the legend from those who loved him most in Volume 38 of The Official John Wayne Collector’s Edition. Read an excerpt from the issue below and get your own copy here.

Leading By Example

Duke was a model employee who made sure his co-workers had the best experience possible on set each day.

John Wayne was not the star of so many films for decades on end simply because he had a charismatic presence and a marketable look. The icon’s role as the main man on set was due in part to his reputation for handling the responsibility about as well as anyone could ever hope. “I spent a lot of time with my father on location when I was a young boy,” Duke’s son Ethan Wayne says. “Typically we were up early, he’d get some exercise or stretching in and he’d constantly be looking at the script. We’d get to work and he’d be one of the first people if not the first person there.”

Punctuality was one of the traits John Wayne was best known for, as many of the actors who graced the screen with him over the years have gone on record to praise Duke’s apparent readiness to begin a hard day’s work. While their personal ideologies may have differed, Kirk Douglas and John Wayne were able to share an uncanny on-screen chemistry and forge a lasting friendship thanks to the legend’s reliability and respect for the craft. Sharing the screen in films such as In Harm’s Way (1965) and The War Wagon (1967), the Hollywood legends became a favorite pairing among moviegoers; and Douglas once revealed a secret to their success on The Dick Cavett Show. “We have never seen eye to eye on a lot of things,” the actor told the host. “But professionally, I think he’s one of the most professional actors I’ve ever worked with….He’s the first guy on the set, the hardest worker I’ve ever worked with.” Kim Darby, who got the professional opportunity of a lifetime when she was cast alongside John Wayne in True Grit 

(1969), had a similar experience. Watching Duke when the cameras were rolling was surely enlightening for the young performer, but seeing the professional manner with which he carried himself between takes made an even greater impact on Darby. “He was there on the set before anyone else and knew every line perfectly,” the actress recalled in a biography.

Even before he became a certified legend in the industry, John Wayne always carried himself as a true leader on set. Unlike some other leading men in Hollywood, Duke was free of ego and always willing to help those around him rise to the next level on a given project. While filming the “Three Mesquiteers” entry Red River Range (1938), the star made a lasting impression on his co-star, actress Lorna Gray (later known as Adrian Booth). Describing her experience filming the Western to one of John Wayne’s biographers, Gray revealed she had quite a rough start to the production as she struggled to ride a horse—an essential skill the young actress had, but exaggerated. “Duke could see I didn’t know what I was doing, but he was terribly, terribly nice to me anyway,” Gray said. “He helped me get through it, and on the strength of Red River Range, I did a lot more pictures for Republic.”

Above all, John Wayne always appreciated the time and tireless effort of everyone comprising the casts and crews of his films. As a token of his gratitude, the legend routinely had custom coffee mugs commemorating his films made for all involved in the production. The gift served as a symbol of the memories made, as a July 18, 1962 letter from Duke’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance co-star Andy Devine reveals what a pleasure it was having John Wayne on set. “I’m certainly very proud of this fine coffee mug and will always remember Liberty Valance,” Devine’s letter to Duke reads. “Might add, too, that I’ll be keeping it and using it along with the one I have from Island in the Sky.” Whether he was the first person they saw every morning on set, the one who helped them succeed in a difficult scene or the provider of their favorite coffee vessel, John Wayne always made a lasting impression on all those who worked with him.


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