John Wayne: Greatest Movie Star–Wayne Vs. Cary Grant

John Wayne’s career resembled in some respects that of Cary Grant, though their screen image could not have been more different.

Grant was older than Wayne by 3 years–he was born in 1904, in Bristol in the U.K.

Grant started his acting career at Paramount, in 1932, playing second fiddle to the studio’s major stars, Gary Cooper, Mae West and others.

John Wayne, born in 1907 and thus only younger than Grant by 3 years, began as a stunt man and bit player in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

In 1937, after five years of routine pictures, except for the camp comedies opposite Mae West, Grant became Hollywood’s first successful free-lance actor.

Determined never again to sign exclusively with another studio, he became responsible for his own career, choosing most carefully screenplays and directors.

Indeed, many of his films after 1937 were not only popular but became classics of their kind, including The Awful Truth, the turning point in his career, Bringing Up Baby, in 1938, and His Girl Friday, in 1940.

Wayne’s breakthrough roles was also in the late 1930s, in John Ford’s seminal Western, Stagecoach, which was nominated for the Best Picture and other Oscars.

John Wayne, like Grant, gave his best performances when he was on his own.  Moreover, the distinctive screen image of both Grant and Wayne took shape after leaving their sponsors and home studios: Grant after Paramount, and Wayne after Republic.

Howard Hawks

Both Grant and Wayne had worked with maestro director Howard Hawks, who knew how to cast them in the proper vehicles (Grant in comedies, Wayne in Westerns) and get the best performances out of them.

Grant retired in 1966, age 62, just when his career began to decline.  His last film, Walk, Don’t Run, was the first in which he played a secondary role.  Grant died in 1986, age 82.

In contrast, John Wayne continued to work many years after he had been diagnosed with cancer.  Wayne’s swan song, Don Siegel’s superb Western The Shootist, was released 3 years prior to his death, at age 72.