You’re chewing dust. You’re saddle sore. You’re broken and bruised from the last bad guys you got rough with. Hell, yes. You’re living the cowboy dream. And over to the West there’s the sunset, all ready to be ridden off into. But wait. Something’s missing. The girl. You’re being all John Wayne and you need a girl to kiss. Hard on the lips. Like that.
Who would Duke choose? Well, as the actor who played the most leading roles, 142 to be precise, from The Drop Kick (US, 1927) to The Shootist (US, 1976), he had plenty to choose from. But here’s eight who we think are a sure shot.
Shortly before he became a household name, Wayne featured in Overland Stage Riders with this former dancer, nude model and silent screen star. Of her first meeting with him, she said: “Looking up at him, I thought this is no actor but the hero of all mythology brought miraculously to life, a purely beautiful being.” Good grief, Lou. Get some perspective.
No list of Wayne’s leading ladies is complete without the girl who helped make him famous. Claire Trevor, already well known in 1939, got top billing in Stagecoach, alongside the virtually unknown Wayne. They starred together in three more films over the next decade and she helped him build the classic onscreen chemistry that made his name.
Not given to understatement, she once said: “John Wayne is not just an actor, and a very fine actor – John Wayne is the United States of America.” Their chemistry onscreen and off was famous, and they made five films together. Their rainy entanglement in The Quiet Man is often quoted as an alltime favourite classic movie kiss. Their not so politically correct spanking scene in McLintock is often described as, well, a not so politically correct spanking scene.
By 1940, Dietrich was so successful she was given the pick of any leading man for the upcoming Seven Sinners. She chose Wayne – and why wouldn’t she? Their first meeting saw the start of a very public affair that lasted three years.
Hayward starred with Wayne in three movies. Now none of them were strictly Westerns, so she was never much of a cowgirl – but their last film together, despite being a very fictional, and truly awful, biopic of Genghis Khan, was pretty much filmed as one. Tragically, the Nevada location, downwind of the US military’s nuclear testing sites, was probably the cause of the brain cancer which led to Hayward’s early death.
This gorgeous young actress developed a big crush on Wayne while filming Angel and the Badman in 1947. Wayne did the honourable thing. He had his secretary to let her down gently. But that didn’t stop his wife getting jealous – and trying to shoot him when he arrived home late after the film’s wrap party. Fortunately for Duke, poor Esperanza’s sharp shooting wasn’t nearly sharp enough.
Uncharacteristically, John Wayne got all nervous about his love scenes with her character Feathers in Rio Bravo. Apparently it was the age difference, he was 51 and she a mere 26, that got him all a flustered. He needn’t have worried though, she knew what she was doing. Both Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin said, who knew a thing or two about the ladies, said she was “the best in bed.”
What to say about her. Really now. It was Sophia Loren. They kissed. He rode into the sunset. Enough said.