John Wayne — Oh, for a Hair Cut! (1930) 🇺🇸

December 03, 2021

Big John Wayne, who’s made good in “The Big Trail,” longs for the snip-snip of the shears.

by Miriam Hughes

He hasn’t had a hair cut since February. And when they told him he was to have the lead in “The Painted Lady”’ he stroked his long locks and asked if he were to be given the title role.

John Wayne is six feet, two inches tall and weighs 198 pounds. He’d give five hundred dollars (if he had it) if they’d let him get a hair cut tomorrow. But such is the price of fame.

John Wayne (Duke Morrison, to you football fans) began his picture career as a prop man. And, if you were to sec him in the flesh, you’d believe him when he says he had no intention whatsoever of becoming an actor.

He won by a walk. Literally!

Here’s the story. In 1925, a freshman at the University of Southern California, he made the football team, and during the summer, the school found a job for him and Don Williams, also on the varsity, at the Fox studio. Tom Mix told the two boys that he wanted them as trainers and that he would take them on location to Colorado with him. In the meantime they were put on what is known as the swing gang in the prop room. When you’re on the swing gang you’re a sort of glorified furniture mover, and not too darned glorified.

Weeks went by and the boys discovered that he had gone to Colorado without them, he had forgotten. Don Williams gave up in disgust, but John Wayne worked on and the next summer he was put on a company as prop man, which was a better job. During that year he broke his ankle and didn’t play football until the term was almost over. He expected to return to school in the fall, but a loan which he hoped for did not come through and he had to go to work.

He had been a good prop man and he got a steady job with the Fox company. He hoped that, perhaps, if he worked hard and kept his eyes open some day he might become a director. One morning he was on his way to his set carrying a table. Raoul Walsh was standing talking to a friend. John spoke to the friend. He didn’t know Walsh.

“Who is that fellow?” asked the director.

“Prop boy on John Ford’s company.”

“I like his walk,” said Walsh, “He might be O. K. for the lead in The Big Trail.”

“Shall I call him and tell him you want to see him?” asked the friend.

“No,” said Walsh. “I’ll wait until he passes this way again.”

Job-like, the director waited.

He watched the door of the stage. Forty-five minutes passed, and at last the lad returned, this lime without the table, on the way to the prop room.

Walsh called to him. “Do you mind letting your hair grow?” he asked.

“Er — no,” said John, who had been in the picture business long enough to know about some of the maniacal requests that are made.

“Then let it grow. I want to make a test of you.”And the director left the boy standing there with his chin on his chest and his eyes bulged!

Weeks passed. And John shunned the barbers. At last, he began to think that, like Mix, Walsh had forgotten about him. But the director remembered the proud boy with the interesting walk.

A test was made and John was handed the lead in the most important picture that Fox has ever made, The Big Trail. On this film the company places high hopes. The company traveled thousands of miles and spared no expense or energy in getting the effects they wanted.

And John Wayne, an absolutely inexperienced lad, plays the leading role, that of the out-door, trail-hitting Breck Coleman.

He is shy, boyish, with that same appeal that made Charlie Farrell a delight to fans. Yet he has more energy and virility and less of whimsy than Charlie has. His eyes are grey. His hair, dark brown.

If he doesn’t go Hollywood he’ll be a big star some day. He’s got the stuff it takes. He had never been in a saddle until a few weeks before the picture began, and in one of the scenes he went charging into a herd of buffalo on a skittish horse. The hardships, the dangers which the picture demanded meant nothing to John Wayne.

Many a lad has been chosen. Many a one has failed, but John has a better chance of slaying simple and unaffected than the average. Don’t forget he has seen the other side. He’s been one of that legion behind the lights. He knows what happens to stars with a grandeur complex.

“I think,” he said, earnestly, “that I’ve got sense enough and that I’ve seen enough of the other kind lo keep myself level-headed. I’ve heard the prop men and electricians talk about these people who go Hollywood. And I know that nobody, in Hollywood, can lead a life apart. If you don’t act right around the sets they catch on to you at once. And it doesn’t pay.”

He was not frightened of riding into a herd of buffalo, nor of climbing over a steep precipice clinging to a rope. He was frightened, like a little child in the dark, of his first scene. “But Walsh was so great to me,” he says. “He helped me so much that I even got over that pretty soon.”

‘The Big Trail’ is ‘The Covered Wagon’ of the talkies.

And John Wayne is its most sensational actor.

And he didn’t want to be an actor. That is the kind of men to watch out for. Remember the fellow that you coaxed to get into the poker game? He walked off with the money, didn’t he?

John Wayne wearing his four bushels of hair (natural) plays a scene with Marguerite Churchill for ‘The Big Trail.’

Upper right, the handsome kid himself.

Source: Photoplay MagazineDecember 1930