Pappy and The Duke – The Brief History of a Successful Friendship

I have looked at, in an earlier blog post, the types of factors which make up the Western genre. However, since I have been looking at the ‘Auteur’ and ‘Auteur Theory’, I believe that not all of these factors appeal to the same directors. John Ford, for example, had a certain friendship with John Wayne, which spanned over 50 years, both personally and professionally, and effected the way in which Ford began to make films.

John Wayne (left) and John Ford (right). A friendship which lasted more than 50 years.

John Ford had been a successful director for more than 10 years before he met Wayne (then known by his birth name of Marion Morrison), a student at the time who had landed himself a summer job at Fox. After speaking to Morrison, Ford noticed something about him, and began to give him minor walk-on roles in the films he was making at the time. Impressed with his acting abilities, Ford recommended Morrison to Raoul Walsh, another director at the time. Within two years of meeting John Ford, Morrison had changed his name to John Wayne.  Sadly, Walsh’s film ‘The Big Trail’ was a flop, and whilst Wayne’s dream career of becoming an actor were in tatters as the cinema world saw him relegated to category C roles, Ford’s reputation as a director soared. Many argue that Ford could have stepped in to help Wayne, after all he was meant to be his mentor. However, Ford argued that he was waiting to see how Wayne would react, whilst also waiting for the right role to emerge for the new actor. Ford and Wayne remained friends however, and whilst on a voyage on Ford’s yacht in 1938, Ford asked Wayne to read the leading role from a script he had been writing. The role was ‘Ringo Kidd’; the film, was ‘Stagecoach’.

This film, besides being one of Ford’s most successful productions of all time, made Wayne a star over night. Many directors and fellow actors began to notice his talent, and started to support him.

Almost two years later however, the war started. John Wayne had finished five films with Ford since ‘Stagecoach’. In this time, John Ford had been called to service by his country, in order to fight for America in the War. Wayne however, wanted Ford to stay behind so they could continue making more films. Ford asked Wayne numerous times to join the forces, and it has been reported that Wayne investigated going into the military, only if he could have been placed in the same regiment as Ford; but by the time of Pearl Harbour, Wayne was 34 years old and therefore exempt from service. Ford’s disappointment in Wayne began to show, which clearly affected their friendship.

By the end of the war and Ford’s death in 1973, Pappy and The Duke (the pair’s nicknames for one another) had made 12 films together.

By the end of the 1950s, John Wayne had become the biggest star in Western cinema. Ford on the other hand, found that he was becoming less successful on his own, as well as becoming increasingly more reliant on Wayne. The pair grew increasingly apart, until 1960 when John Ford was filming his own film ‘The Alamo’. Apparently, Ford arrived on the set of this production, much to Wayne’s delight, who offered him the chance to help shoot some of the production.

Clearly, John Ford and John Wayne had a very memorable career which proved to be extremely important for the American and Western film industry. Together, they created many productions, which made the Western genre popular once again. Ford’s faith to reach out to what he saw in Wayne the first time they met, brought around a promising new actor, who would become highly successful and popular throughout the world.

If it wasn’t for Ford, who knows? Maybe the Western genre wouldn’t have become popular again, perhaps it may have even been forgotten.


Online References

Bowser. K (2006) ‘John Wayne and John Ford – Pappy and The Duke’. Accessed: May 2010. Available from:

Feeney. J. M ‘John Ford’. Accessed: May 2010. Available from:

Morrison. M. R. ‘John Wayne’. Accessed: May 2010. Available from:


The Alamo (1960). Directed by John Wayne. United States. United Artists.

    • chrislowthorpe
    • May 17th, 2010

    This is looking good Maz. Nicely formatted and referenced it evidences strong academic research of secondary sources and some good primary analysis. I shall look forward to reading it in its entirety.

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