John Ford’s Claim Of ‘Discovering’ Monument Valley Didn’t Sit Well With John Wayne

In Maurice Zolotow’s “Shooting Star: A Biography of John Wayne,” the star claims he found Monument Valley a good decade before John Ford ever laid eyes on it. In Wayne’s telling he was “proppin’ and stuntin'” on a George O’Brien Western in 1929 when, in a fit of restlessness, he hopped in a car and drove around the Four Corners area of the U.S. Per The Duke:

“I went out on this Navajo reservation. It was comin’ on sunset. Then I came to this valley. I parked the car and got out and looked at it and, well, you know how it looks, and that evening it looked, well, kind of like it was another world. I said to myself this would be a fine location for a Western because the cloud formations were fantastic in this area. Those two buttes — I guess they’re over a thousand feet high — sure would frame a composition.”

A decade later, when Ford was seeking out unfamiliar locations for “Stagecoach,” Wayne recommended Monument Valley. The Duke says Ford had never heard of it. So when Wayne joined Ford and a small crew on a scouting expedition around the Utah-Arizona border, he was stunned when, upon encountering the valley, Ford boasted, “I have just found the location we are going to use.”

Wayne told Zolotow he never stopped being miffed about the petty slight. “He wanted to be the one who found it. I don’t know why he never wanted to give me credit for tellin’ him about Monument Valley.”

As for why Ford’s telling of this story has endured, Wayne could take cold comfort in the most famous line of dialogue from the last classic Western he made with the director: “When the fact becomes legend, print the legend.”

Leave a Comment