On this day in movie history, John Wayne emerges in his breakthrough role in director John Ford’s classic Stagecoach (1939). After rejection by all the top studios, Ford struck a deal with independent producer Walter Wanger in which Stagecoach was a huge critical and financial success, and Wayne became a star.
Claire Trevor — a much bigger star at the time — received top billing
Skillfully blending shots of Monument Valley, in the American Southwest on the Arizona-Utah border, as a location with shots filmed at Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, California, and other locations, Stagecoach was the first of many Westerns that Ford shot using Monument Valley
Although John Wayne had shown up as an extra in a number of John Ford’s early silent westerns, no one was prepared for the John Wayne in Ford’s 1939 western Stagecoach.
According to John Carradine, “Ford had never intended that Ringo Kid establish Wayne as a box-office draw.”
From then on, Wayne dominated the film.
While they applauded Ford’s vision, awarding Stagecoach the New York Critics Best Director Award, critics did not credit Wayne, nor give him neither a single nod nor nomination.
But, in hindsight, nearly every historian points to John Ford’s Stagecoach as the film from which the mythic John Wayne emerged.
In 1995, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.