John Wayne’s Attempt To Break Out Of Westerns Led To One Of The Lowest Points In His Career

The string of box office failures made it hard for John Wayne to find work in Hollywood. It was one of the lowest points of his career.

“Finally I just had to come crawlin’ back to [Republic Pictures president] Herbert Yates and beg for mercy,” Wayne recalled. “I didn’t want to make these cheapies for Republic, but seemed like there was nothin’ else to do.”

Wayne was hoping to play his idol, Sam Houston, in the upcoming large-budget production “Man of Conquest.” Republic told the actor he wasn’t big enough of a box office draw for the role (it went to Richard Dix). It left Wayne feeling pigeonholed. Zolotow wrote:

“Duke felt he was condemned to be just a ‘cheapie’ actor in ‘cheapie’ B’s. […] He made eight ‘Mesquiteers’ for Republic. They were the dreariest films he made in this decade. Shot in five days, they looked as if they had been made in one morning. They were slapped together with absurd dialogue and a paucity of action stunts.”

Director John Ford, who advised Wayne against signing long-term with Republic, fought for the actor to star in his upcoming Western “Stagecoach.” The film revitalized Wayne’s career and is considered one of the most influential Westerns of all time. Not bad for a defeated hero who had to “come crawlin’ back” to the business.

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