John Wayne was a towering figure of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the ’40s and ’50s, so it’s hard to imagine The Duke being embarrassed by making these three Western movies. In the ’20s, Wayne started out making pre-Code movies that capitalized on his college football days such as The Brown of Harvard but wanted to act in Westerns, and in the ’30s, he made the sort that only took a couple of days to shoot. Wayne made dozens and dozens of low-budget Westerns prior to getting his big break in John Ford’s Stagecoach, where he played an outlaw traveling through Comanche territory along with a coach full of colorful strangers.
The Duke had to find his footing in those early days, and before John Wayne’s best movies established the image of him most fans have today, he played a lot of different types of characters. During his infamous interview with Playboy in 1971, Wayne talked about the first several years of his career and noted the films he hoped would never resurface in the public eye. It’s hard to imagine The Duke embarrassed by any part of his long career, which included at least one film released from 1926 until he retired in 1976, but these films didn’t help his reputation.
John Wayne Was Once A Singing Cowboy
As it turns out, some studios in the early ’30s wanted to make John Wayne a singing cowboy, predating Gene Autry’s Tumbling Tumbleweeds in 1935. In total, Wayne made three singing cowboy movies including Riders of Destiny, The New Frontier, and Lawless Range in which he rode a horse strumming a guitar and singing “The Desert Song” and similar melodies. One of his most famous characters was Singin’ Sandy Saunders, a government agent fond of stopping bank robbers and serenading young ladies.
Wayne was only in his early ’20s when he accepted these sorts of roles, hoping that they were building blocks to a better career. Wayne jump-started the singing cowboy archetype, which was inspired by real cowboys singing around campfires about life on the American frontier. After Wayne, Gene Autry, Jimmy Wakely, Rex Allen, and Roy Rogers were able to make entire careers out of fitting into this specific type of Western hero.
John Wayne Was Embarrassed Because He Couldn’t Sing
The chief reason behind John Wayne’s embarrassment of being known as a singing cowboy was the fact that he could neither sing nor play the guitar. His voice had been dubbed in each instance by either Bill Bradbury or Glenn Strange from pre-recorded songs. When he made public appearances, young fans, in particular, would request that he sang some of his most famous ballads, and he was forced to disappoint them every time.
“The fact that I couldn’t sing—or play the guitar—became terribly embarrassing to me,” Wayne told Playboy. “Every time I made a public appearance, the kids insisted that I sing The Desert Song. But I couldn’t take along the fella who played the guitar…and the fella who sang on the other side of the camera. So finally I went to the head of the studio and said. “Screw this, I can’t handle it.” John Wayne might have represented a romantic image of the Old West, but he craved authenticity in this regard, and not being able to handle the embarrassment freed him up to be a different Western icon.