Why John Wayne Didn’t Think He’d Win an Oscar for ‘True Grit’

John Wayne is one of the biggest names in classic Hollywood movies, however, not every star wins an Academy Award. He was nominated for Best Actor twice. Here’s a look at whether he won — and why he thought he wouldn’t win.

Kim Darby and John Wayne wearing cowboy hats
John Wayne and Kim Darby | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

The first time John Wayne was nominated for an Academy Award

While Wayne was a Hollywood mainstay for many years, he was only nominated twice for Best Actor many years apart. The first time was at the 22nd Academy Awards for his role in Sands of Iwo Jima. The other nominees were Gregory Peck for Twelve O’Clock High, Kirk Douglas for Champion, Richard Todd for The Hasty Heart, and Broderick Crawford for All the King’s Men. Crawford won for All the King’s Men, a satire of American populism.

What John Wayne thought about the prospect of winning an Oscar

The academy would not honor Wayne’s acting for another 20 years. At the 42nd Academy Awards, he was nominated for Best Actor for playing Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, one of his most famous films. In more recent years, the Coen brothers remade the film in a grittier style.

A True Grit trailer

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In an interview with Roger Ebert, Wayne discussed the prospect of winning an Oscar for True Grit. “Well, whether or not I win an Oscar, I’m proud of the performance, Wayne said. “I’d be pleased to win one, of course, although I imagine these things mean more to the public than to us. There are a lot of old standbys who don’t have one. That comedian… what the hell is his name? Gary Grant. He never won one, and he’s been a mainstay of this business.”

Wayne liked how the director of True Grit was receiving positive attention. “But to get back to True Grit, the thing that makes me happy is that Henry Hathaway is getting some credit,” Wayne revealed. “For years, Henry got the thankless jobs at Fox. They’d give him the problem pictures with three stars whose contracts all expired in six weeks. Henry was known as a craftsman, but his stature as a director wasn’t recognized. On this picture, he did a hell of a job. He took great care of those kids (Wayne’s co-stars, Kim Darby and Glen Campbell).”

John Wayne and Glen Campbell on horseback
John Wayne and Glen Campbell in True Grit | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

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The Duke’s reservations about the Oscars — and how they went for him

Wayne was a proponent of the Vietnam War. When True Grit was released in 1969, the public had a very negative attitude toward the war. He thought he wouldn’t win because Academy voters would review his politics instead of his performance. Ultimately, however, he was unconcerned with how anti-war people perceived him.

Wayne ultimately won his Oscar. He beat out four luminaries for great performances — Richard Burton for Anne of the Thousand Days, Peter O’Toole for Goodbye Mr. Chips, and Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight for their roles in Midnight Cowboy. On the other hand, Hathaway received no Academy recognition for directing the film. Regardless, True Grit remains a classic