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The Alamo director and actor John Wayne had a lot of pride packed into the film. He became a movie star thanks to his Western and movie roles, but he held onto his passion for specific projects. The Alamo certainly became the film that he refused to back down from making. However, the Oscar campaign trail ultimately led to what was considered the “greatest disappointment of his career.”

John Wayne made ‘The Alamo’ as a passion project

'The Alamo' John Wayne wearing an animal fur hat while he looks onward
John Wayne | Tom Nebbia/Corbis via Getty Images

The Alamo takes place in 1836, as the Mexican army is prepared to invade Texas. Meanwhile, General Sam Houston (Richard Boone) tries to create a diversion for Santa Anna’s forces to buy time. As a result, a band of colonels puts together a collection of soldiers to fight at the Alamo mission.

Wayne wanted to make The Alamo for years, but every movie studio turned it down. It was an expensive venture, and the movie star himself initially didn’t want to even star in it. However, the studios didn’t see any point in making it if Wayne himself didn’t appear in the film as a box office draw, so he later changed his mind and agreed to star in it as Col. Davy Crockett.

‘The Alamo’s Oscar campaign was the ‘greatest disappointment of his career’

Ronald L. Davis’ book, Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne, explored how proud he was of The Alamo. Even his mentor, John Ford, called it the greatest film he had ever seen. “It will last forever, run forever, for all peoples, all families everywhere,” he said.

The next step was to prepare for the awards season trail. At this point, Wayne only received an Oscar nomination for his lead performance in 1949’s Sands of Iwo Jima, which he lost to Broderick Crawford in All the King’s Men.

However, Wayne would face what Davis called the “greatest disappointment of his career” during The Alamo awards campaign. He hired Russell Birdwell as the lead publicist, who previously worked with heavy hitters like 1939’s Gone With the Wind and Jane Russell in 1943’s The Outlaw. Unfortunately, he made a serious miscalibration this time around. Birdwell tied the film’s enjoyment with the angle of patriotic duty, as well as connections to the upcoming 1960 presidential election.

Wayne and The Alamo faced public and industry backlash, which soured moviegoers and critics. This gutted the movie star after all that he put into making it.

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Wayne still managed to score Oscar nominations for The Alamo in Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Song, and Score. Additionally, the film picked up a win in the Best Sound category.

The movie star often didn’t get much appreciation for what he considered his greatest works. He thought that he deserved more recognition for the work he turned in for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Meanwhile, his third Academy Award nomination wound finally spell out his first and final win for his leading performance in True Grit.