10 of John Wayne's Characters: What He Got Right and What He Failed Miserably At
10 of John Wayne’s Characters: What He Got Right and What He Failed Miserably At

10 of John Wayne’s Characters: What He Got Right and What He Failed Miserably At

Larry Holzwarth - June 5, 2018

10 of John Wayne’s Characters: What He Got Right and What He Failed Miserably At
John Wayne played himself on I Love Lucy and again on the later The Lucy Show. Wikimedia

John Wayne. Television and documentaries

Throughout his career in film John Wayne appeared in documentaries and short films as himself, though in scripted roles. Later, with the emergence of television, he appeared in several programs as a guest, nearly always playing on his status as a major motion picture star. Wayne appeared in the first television episode of Gunsmoke, introducing the series and his friend James Arness, though the program had already built a substantial audience on radio. He made two appearances on the wildly popular I Love Lucy, again appearing as himself, a comical victim of the shenanigans of the show’s star, Lucille Ball.

In 1961 Wayne appeared in an anti-communist documentary opinion program called The Challenge of Ideas. The program was labeled as propaganda, produced by Dragnet producer Jack Webb, and featured Wayne, again as himself, and Webb as well as television news anchor Chet Huntley and actress Helen Hayes. He made several short films which supported his own movies, describing how and where they were made, or providing information regarding the characters or the times. One such was a documentary short in 1970 entitled John Wayne and Chisum, about the life of the real John Chisum, narrated by Wayne.

Wayne made several appearances at the Academy Awards as a presenter, but at only one in which he was awarded an Oscar for acting. He received the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1970 for his role as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. That same year he also presented the Academy Award for Best Cinematographer, to Conrad Hall for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He appeared in several other sitcoms, always as himself, including The Beverly Hillbillies, Maude, and The Lucy Show. He also appeared in television dramas playing himself in scripted appearances.

Wayne made numerous appearances on The Dean Martin Show, and appeared on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. He was a semi-regular on the talk show circuit, usually to support an upcoming or recently released film of his, and appeared in numerous specials and celebrity galas, especially during the bicentennial year of 1976. That year he appeared in a special entitled Chesty: A Tribute to a Legend, which honored General Lewis “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated United States Marine in the history of the Corps. The film had been made six years earlier.

In 1970 John Wayne appeared as the narrator on No Substitute for Victory, a propaganda short supporting the involvement of the United States in Vietnam, at a time when support for the war was dwindling. The short featured commentary by General William Westmoreland, retired General Mark Clark, Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty, and several others, who questioned the loyalty of those protesting against the war and presented true Americans as giving its prosecution their unquestioning support. It was among many controversial positions taken by John Wayne in his career, but there was never any doubt about where he stood on a subject when he portrayed himself.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Hollywood’s Representation of Naval Aviation: Frank W. “Spig” Wead and John Ford’s ‘The Wings of Eagles'”, by Dominick Pisano, The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, January 5, 2012, online

“Lights, Camera, History: Portraying the Past in Film”, by Richard V. Francaviglia and Robert A. Rosenstone, 2007

“A Time to Stand”, by Walter Lord, 1961

“James Smith”, entry, Ohio History Central, ohiohistorycentral.org

“Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant”, by Ulysses S. Grant, 1885

“The Latin Passion Play: Its Origins and Development”, by Sandro Sticca, 1970

“In the Shadow of Billy the Kid: Susan McSween and the Lincoln County War”, by Kathleen P. Chamberlain, 2013

“Yankees and Samurai: America’s Role in the Emergence of Modern Japan” by Foster Rhea Dulles, 1965

“Combat Films: American Realism”, by Stephen Jay Rubin, 1981

“The John Wayne Filmography” by Fred Landesman, 2004