‘Stagecoach’: John Wayne Recalls John Ford Screaming at Him for Washing His Face Incorrectly in a Scene

John Wayne truly got his start working with filmmaker Raoul Walsh, but his collaborations with John Ford turned the actor into a star. However, their working relationship wasn’t always the most positive. Wayne once recalled Ford screaming at him for incorrectly washing his face while filming Stagecoach in a minor scene.

John Wayne plays Ringo Kid in ‘Stagecoach’

John Ford film 'Stagecoach' Claire Trevor as Dallas and John Wayne as Ringo Kid standing with his arm around her
L-R: Claire Trevor as Dallas and John Wayne as Ringo Kid | LMPC via Getty Images

Ford’s Stagecoach is a classic piece of western filmmaking set in the 1880s. The story follows a group of intriguing passengers on the Overland stagecoach heading toward Lordsburg, New Mexico. Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell), Dallas (Claire Trevor), and Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek) are among the passengers. They must work together to deal with an escaped outlaw named Ringo Kid (Wayne).

Ringo broke out of prison after discovering that Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) killed his brother and father. He’s determined to get revenge at all costs. Stagecoach leads to an intense shoot-out that pits Ringo against Luke and his two brothers. However, he ultimately survives the three-on-one conflict.

John Ford screamed at John Wayne for washing his face incorrectly in a scene

The American Film Institute posted an interview with Wayne about his experience filming Stagecoach with Ford. He had a very positive reception of Ford, particularly when it came to his art as a director. However, Wayne shared a story from the set of Stagecoach where Ford yelled at him.

“The second day on the picture, there’s quite a big scene going on in which I have one line toward the end of the scene,” Wayne said. “In the meantime, to keep me busy in the background, he has me washing my face and drying it. He’d say, ‘Cut, all right.’ He’d look over at me and say, ‘Let’s do it again.’”

Wayne continued: “Now I become conscious that he’s certainly paying a lot of attention to me with that scene going on over there. He says, ‘Cut! Duke, you’re dabbing your face! Can’t you wash?!’ And I said, ‘I am washing! I’m doing this! (Pretends to splash his face with water) What more can I do?!’”

“I’m using the towel hard like that,” Wayne said. “Finally, all the crew, all the actors, the cast was completely on my side. From then on, I had the cast helping me, you know, as my first time really in the big time working with so many top people.”

The interviewer asked Wayne if he thought that Ford intentionally planned for this to happen.

“I know he planned it that way,” Wayne said. “He has a way of picking on actors when they’re not too important part of a scene in order to get them on their toes, so they’ll come in ready when they really have something to do. Then, he handles you like a baby.”

‘Stagecoach’ risks paid off

Ford took a chance on bringing Wayne into the fold for Stagecoach. Industry figures criticized him after 1930’s The Big Trail box office failure. As a result, he starred in many B-movies during the 1930s. However, Stagecoach ultimately turned Wayne into a mainstream movie star.

Wayne starred in 142 films over the course of his career. He would go on to make movies such as The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and True Grit. Wayne continues to personify western filmmaking even after his death.

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