John Wayne Was More ‘Particular’ About His Pants Than Anything Else in the World

Movie star John Wayne was very particular about the type of pants he wore. However, it didn’t stop there. The actor had a strong understanding of how to present himself to the world, especially in the eyes of the moviegoing audience. Legendary filmmaker Henry Hathaway once said that Wayne was more obsessed with the type of pants he wore than anything else.

Henry Hathaway directed 6 John Wayne movies

'The Sons of Katie Elder' John Wayne as John Elder and Earl Holliman as Matt Elder in Western pants. They're walking outside of a house on a dirt road.
L-R: John Wayne as John Elder and Earl Holliman as Matt Elder | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Hathaway had a strong relationship with Wayne because they worked on six feature films together over the course of his career. They first collaborated on 1941’s The Shepherd of the Hills, which starred Wayne as Young Matt, a stubborn mountaineer seeking revenge on the father that he never met.

Next, they worked on 1960’s North to Alaska. Wayne played Sam McCord, one of two prospectors dealing with romance issues with a woman. In addition, they must handle a con man.

The third Wayne and Hathaway film was 1965’s The Sons of Katie Elder. Wayne starred as John, the oldest of four sons who plans to even the score after the death of their father and the swindling of their mother.

The pair’s most critically-acclaimed film was 1969’s True Grit. Wayne played U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, who helps a young girl track down the man that killed her father and bring him to justice.

Wayne and Hathaway’s final two movies together were their least successful ventures with 1957’s Legend of the Lost and 1964’s Circus World.

John Wayne was very ‘particular’ about the pants that he wore

Scott Eyman’s book, John Wayne: The Life and Legend, detailed Hathaway’s experience working with the Western movie star over the years. He noted that Wayne was extremely “particular” when it came to the type of pants that he wore. In fact, he was so specific about them that the filmmaker pointed out that they weighed above all else.

“A funny thing about Wayne,” Hathaway said. “Wayne is more particular about the pants he wears than anything in the world. Unless he gets the thinnest kind of material, it drives him crazy. And I [told him], ‘You’ve got to wear homespun. You can’t wear cotton gabardine, for Chrissakes, or poplin or something. You’ve got to wear homespun.'”

It became a full-circle moment 25 years after that conversation took place. Hathaway’s office on the Paramount lot had a poster of The Shepherd of the Hills on the wall. The photo showcased Betty Field wearing the “homespun” clothes that he previously mentioned to the actor. Wayne stopped in his tracks and stared at the image. “Do you remember those damn pants?,” Wayne asked.

The pants played into the cowboy aesthetic

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Wayne knew that the pants he wore played into the overall image that he was selling to moviegoing audiences. He especially sold the Western cowboy aesthetic in The Sons of Katie Elder and True Grit, giving viewers exactly what they paid for. Wayne’s critics often criticized him for not instilling enough diversity between his characters, often playing himself. However, he had a strong understanding of how to deliver a cowboy aesthetic that audiences wanted to see.

The movie star would go on to win his first and only Academy Award under the direction of Hathaway in True Grit. He previously earned Oscar nominations for Sands of Iwo Jima and The Alamo, but some of his best works went unrecognized. Wayne’s fans thought for certain that his final role in The Shootist would earn him a nomination, but it didn’t earn him attention from the voting body.