39. Crafting a Public Image
During the Great Depression, Hollywood director Raoul Walsh cast an aspiring actor named Marion Robert Morrison in his first lead role in The Big Trail, released in 1930. The movie was an epic flop, and sent its lead actor back into Hollywood purgatory. However, the one good thing that came out of the venture was that the lead actor, on the recommendation of Walsh and the studio, had changed his name to John Wayne.
Over the next few years, Wayne toiled in dozens of forgettable Westerns for so-called Poverty Row Studios. He was saved from obscurity in 1938, when Oscar-winning director John Ford offered him the lead role in Stagecoach. The movie was a hit. It kicked off a productive relationship that lasted for 23 pictures, during which the iconic director crafted John Wayne’s public image, and transformed him into a Hollywood legend.