Lady Takes a Chance, A: Starring John Wayne and Jean Arthur

Wayne Tribute: Honoring the Duke–Most Powerful Star in Film History

In “A Lady Takes a Chance,” John Wayne is cast as Duke Hudkins (Duke was Wayne’s nickname), a simple, easy-going rodeo rider who treasures his independence. Nonetheless, he finds himself getting involved with Molly Truesdale (Jean Arthur), a bank teller from New York. At first, he makes sure to tell Mollie that he does not believe in marriage; he is, in fact, contemptuous of his married friends. “They pretend they like it,” says Duke, “because they’re ashamed to admit they made a mistake.”

Refusing to settle down, Duke appears to care more about horses than women. When his sneezing horse is rushed off to a veterinarian, Mollie observes: “Any fellow who can love a horse can love a girl.” That’s how sophisticated the script is! The horse survives, but the Duke does not see Molly at the bus station off to New York. She recoils when seeing one of her old admirers (Grady Sutton) at the station

But at the end, Wayne shows up and claims Arthur for himself–though not before defeating three suitors. He tells Molly that h has divorced his sidekick Waco (Charles Winninger) and takes her off to a new life out West.

To describe Lady Takes a Chance” as a naive movie is an understatement; its scenario is replete with awkward scenes. In one, Molly asks to touch Duke’s muscles to feel his strength. And in another, when he tries to kiss her, she summarily orders him out.

The publicity campaign for the movie is revealing concerning the kinds of audiences it was targeted at. One ad stated: “When a starry-eyed maid from Manhattan tames the wildest ‘wolf’ of the West–that’s Fun!” It described the movie as “a cross-country comedy of a girl with a two weeks’ vacation and a lifetime yen for the kind of kisses you dream of. She gets ’em–but plentry!…in a picture made for the big money!”

The movie was produced by Jean Arthur’s then husband, Frank Ross, for RKO release, and as such was conceived as a star vehicle for her. Arthur was then one of Hollywood’s most popular actress, having made in the same year “The More the Merrier,” not to mention “The Devil and Miss Jones” and “Talk of the Town,” opposite Cary Grant.

Few biographers note how for a whole decade, Wayne served leading female stars such as Stanwyck, Claire Trevor, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert and other, usually getting second or third billing.