John Wayne Let ‘Liberty Valance’ Director John Ford Bully Him for 1 Reason

In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Wayne helps James Stewart stand up to the title outlaw. Wayne was the ultimate tough guy in movies but in real life, there was one man who always kept him in his place. It just so happened that Wayne made 14 movies with that man, director John Ford. Their last was the classic Liberty Valance, and Wayne was still taking Ford’s bullying then. 

John Wayne, James Stewart and Woody Strode stand in front of a wagon in John Ford's 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'
L-R: John Wayne, James Stewart, and Woody Strode | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Paramount Home Entertainment released The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance on 4K UHD on May 17. The 4K edition of the film is so clear you would think the world was really black and white in 1962 and they just captured it on film. The home video release also includes a new interview with Leonard Maltin explaining Wayne’s relationship with Ford, and some archival material with his co-star James Stewart backing it up. 

John Wayne was in good company taking John Ford’s abuse in ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ or any film

Maltin explained that Wayne was hardly singled out by Ford. It was Ford’s reputation

“John Ford is the only filmmaker to have four Academy Awards for Best Director so he was held in the highest esteem by critics, pundits, and the audience too because he made films for the people,” Maltin said. “John Wayne’s eldest son Michael once told me he thought John Ford was a great director between action and cut. Aside from that, he was an absolutely quixotic, cantankerous, sometimes outright mean-spirited guy. He teased and goaded everyone on the set and he was especially nasty to his protege, John Wayne.”

According to Maltin, Wayne just took it because he credited his whole career to Ford. Wayne became the king of westerns after that.

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“But Wayne was eternally grateful to Ford for giving him his first great opportunity in this film Stagecoach so he never talked back,” Maltin said

Bullying might have gotten the best performance out of John Wayne in ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

Ford’s grandson, Dan Ford, is also in the bonus features. He explained how his grandfather’s bullying behind the scenes may have helped Wayne’s performance in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

“Ford would use anything he could to get what he wanted out of an actor,” Dan said. “If he wanted to put him down, which is basically where John Wayne is in this movie the whole way through, he’s put down. He’s the guy who doesn’t get the girl, he’s the guy that plays the drunk, he’s the guy who only has one function. That’s to kill Liberty Valance. He’s an action hero but he’s not really the lead. Jimmy Stewart’s the hero. Ford would probably work on Wayne to keep him in that frame of mind.”

The late director and film historian Peter Bogdanovich is also included on the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 4K UHD. Bogdanovich reminds fans that Ford would have wanted to take Wayne down a peg.

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“People wonder why he was so tough on John Wayne,” Bogdanovich said. “Well, John Wayne was a huge star so it was Ford’s way of showing his control by attacking him and by minimizing him.”

Jimmy Stewart finally got it on ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

Stewart tells this story of working on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Wayne marveled that Stewart had made it through most of the shoot without getting on Ford’s bad side. 

“Remember in Liberty Valance, Duke came up to me and said, ‘Jesus, here we are, we’ve got three more days on the picture and you’ve never been in the barrel. Everybody else gets it and everything and you come out of it clear. What are you doing? Are you bucking for something?’” Stewart said. “I said, ‘I don’t know.’”

Stewart’s tenure as golden boy on the set of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was about to come to an end anyway. 

Well, that very day, he came up and Woody Strode, at the end with the funeral, Woody Strode had on a blue overalls. He came up to me and said, ‘What do you think of Woody’s outfit?” For some reason, I’ll never know why. I said, ‘It looks a little like Uncle Remus, doesn’t it?’ That’s all. He said, ‘Oh?’ He called everybody together, called the whole company together, and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, what do you think of Woody’s outfit?’ They all said fine, fine. He said, ‘Well, there’s an actor in the company that doesn’t like it. I wanted to point him out to you. Now that you know this actor doesn’t approve of Woody’s costume, now we can all go back to work, thank you very much.’ This lasted until the end of the picture with me. 

James Stewart, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 4K UHD

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