1 Secret John Wayne Taught Ron Howard About Making Movies

Although they were celebrities for different reasons, Ron Howard worked with John Wayne on one of The Duke’s late-period movies. Howard said Wayne gave him some interesting advice. In addition, Howard revealed what made Wayne a little different from other actors.

Ron Howard and John Wayne near a tree
Ron Howard and John Wayne | Bettmann / Contributor

What John Wayne taught Ron Howard about ‘manhood’

As an actor, Howard is most known for his appearing in the sitcoms The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days as well as George Lucas’ American Graffiti. However, he also appeared in Wayne’s final Western, The Shootist.  The film also included James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, and John Carridine. With that cast, the film was almost like a roll call of Old Hollywood actors. Howard’s appearance in the film almost feels like a passing of the torch from one generation to the next.

In an interview with Men’s Journal, Sean Woods asked Howard if working with Wayne and Stewart taught him anything about manhood. “John Wayne used a phrase, which he later attributed to [film director] John Ford, for scenes that were going to be difficult: ‘This is a job of work,’ he’d say,” Howard recalled. “If there was a common thread with these folks – Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Glenn Ford – it was the work ethic. It was still driving them. To cheat the project was an insult. To cheat the audience was damnable.”

James Stewart and John Wayne
John Wayne and James Stewart | FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

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What Ron Howard said John Wayne, Bette Davis, and Jimmy Stewart had in common

In a separate interview with the HuffPost, Howard also praised Wayne’s work ethic. “I always admired him as a movie star, but I thought of him as a total naturalist,” Howard said. “Even those pauses were probably him forgetting his line and then remembering it again, because, man, he’s The Duke. But he’s working on this scene and he’s like, ‘Let me try this again.’ And he put the little hitch in and he’d find the Wayne rhythm, and you’d realize that it changed the performance each and every time. I’ve worked with Bette Davis, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda. Here’s the thing they all have in common: They all, even in their 70s, worked a little harder than everyone else.”

How critics and audiences responded to ‘The Shootist’

Howard obviously admired Wayne’s methods as an actor. This raises an interesting question: Did the public embrace The Shootist? According to Box Office Mojo, the film earned over $8 million. That’s not a huge haul for a film from 1976. However, the film is widely regarded as a classic among 1970s Westerns. 

Ron Howard and Cindy Williams near a tree
Ron Howard and Cindy Williams | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

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Howard even received a Golden Globe nomination for his role in the film. The other nominees were Laurence Olivier for Marathon Man, Marty Feldman for Silent Movie, Jason Robards for All the President’s Men, and Oskar Werner for Voyage of the Damned. Oliver won the award. While Howard didn’t earn a Golden Globe for working with Wayne, he learned an important lesson about filmmaking.