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John Wayne, one of the most popular film actors of the 20th century, remains a popular American icon to this day.
John Wayne - Mini Biography (7:48)
Montgomery Clift - Full Episode (43:44)
Watch a short video about John Wayne and learn how "The Duke" got his start in the film industry.
A short biography of John Wayne who became an American icon and Hollywood star after his performance in John Ford's 1939 film "Stagecoach."
Clint Eastwood starred on the TV western "Rawhide" before transitioning to film as "the Man with No Name" in Sergio Leone's films. Eastwood has won the Academy Award for Best Director twice, for "Unforgiven" and "Million Dollar Baby."
Montromery Clift won stardom in "From Here to Eternity" and became a 1950s movie icon. A car accident in 1957 changed his looks, and from then on his off-screen days were filled with pills, alcohol, and a complicated sexual identity.
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In 1956, Wayne starred in another Ford western, The Searchers,
and again showed some dramatic range as the morally questionable Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards. He soon after reteamed with Howard Hawks for Rio Bravo (1959). Playing a local sheriff, Wayne's character must face off against a powerful rancher and his henchmen who want to free his jailed brother. The unusual cast included Dean Martin and Angie Dickinson.
Wayne made his directorial debut with The Alamo (1960). Starring in the film as Davy Crockett, he received decidedly mixed reviews for both his on- and off-screen efforts. Wayne received a much warmer reception for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) with Jimmy Stewart and Lee Marvin and directed by John Ford. Some other notable films from this period include The Longest Day (1962) and How the West Was Won (1962). Continuing to work steadily, Wayne refused to even let illness slow him down. He successfully battled lung cancer in 1964. To defeat the disease, Wayne had to have a lung and several ribs removed.
In the later part of the 1960s, Wayne had some great successes and failures. He co-starred with Robert Mitchum in El Dorado (1967), which was well received. The next year, Wayne again mixed the professional and the political with the pro-Vietnam War film The Green Berets (1968). He directed and produced as well as starred in the film, which was derided by critics for being heavy handed and clichéd. Viewed by many as a piece of propaganda, the film still did well at the box office.
Around this time, Wayne continued to espouse his conservative political views. He support friend Ronald Reagan in his 1966 bid for governor of California as well as his 1970 re-election effort. In 1976, Wayne recorded radio advertisements for Reagan's first attempt to become the Republican presidential candidate.
Wayne won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for True Grit (1969). He played Rooster Cogburn, an eye-patching drunkard and lawman, who helps a young woman named Mattie (Kim Darby) track down her father's killer. A young Glen Campbell joined the pair on their mission. Rounding out the cast, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper were among the bad guys the trio had to defeat. A later sequel with Katherine Hepburn, Rooster Cogburn (1975), failed to attract critical acclaim or much of an audience.
Wayne portrayed an aging gunfighter dying of cancer in his final film, The Shootist (1976), with Jimmy Stewart and Lauren Bacall. His character, John Bernard Books, hoped to spend his final days peacefully, but got involved one last gunfight. In 1978, life imitated art with Wayne being diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Wayne died on June 11, 1979, in Los Angeles, California. He was survived by his seven children from two of his three marriages. During his marriage to Josephine Saenz from 1933 to 1945, the couple had four children, two daughters Antonia and Melinda and two sons Michael and Patrick.
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Got chaps? Their cowboy and cowgirl personas are tough, rugged, and wild—just like the frontier in which they come from—and in turn, they elicit the nostalgia of The Old West with its fierce individualism and sense of golden opportunity. From the indomitable swagger of John Wayne to the intimidating scowl of Clint Eastwood, explore our Wild West Film Actors group.
Notable Wild West Film Actors 15 people in this group