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John Wayne

10 Famous Singers Who Starred In Western Movies With John Wayne

Singing in Western movies is as old as the genre itself, and many famous singers have starred in Western movies with one of their biggest stars, John Wayne. The Duke was a titanic figure in the genre ever since his star-making role in Stagecoach in 1939, and he dominated the box office throughout the ’40s and well into the ’50s, but as the ’60s approached, his star power had waned a little. Studios decided to pair him up with some of the most popular singers of the day in an effort to get their fans to the theater as well, and these movies were very successful.
At one point in 1969, even Elvis and John Wayne almost made a Western when he was also looking for a comeback. Elvis’s first movie was a Western in 1956 called Love Me Tender, and though John Wayne was embarrassed by a few of his own early singing cowboy Western movies, it seemed like a no-brainer to get The King and The Duke together, but things never quite worked out. Big John ended up starring in Westerns with several of Elvis’s contemporaries, who sought to replicate the trail songs and ballads cowboys sang around the campfire well before Hollywood romanticized the American West.
10Dean Martin

Dean Martin dressed as a cowboy in Rio Bravo

One of the most famous singers to appear opposite John Wayne was Dean Martin, part of the original Brat Pack (including fellow singer-turned-actor Frank Sinatra) with a string of top-ten hits in the ’40s and ’50s. The King of Cool gave a sympathetic performance as a recovering alcoholic in Rio Bravo, which was incredibly convincing despite the fact that Martin, known to have a heavy-drinking stage personality, was more of a teetotaler in real life. Though he sang the film’s beautiful ballad “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me,” when he appeared alongside The Duke again in The Songs of Katie Elder ,it was purely in an acting capacity.

9Ricky Nelson

Ricky Nelson in Rio Brvo

Alongside Dean Martin, John Wayne also starred in Rio Bravo with teen idol Ricky Nelson, who was just eighteen at the time that he played gunslinger Colorado Ryan. Ricky joins Dean in singing “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me” while also playing the guitar, and it’s a real bonding moment for the pair with Wayne’s John T. Chance, whom he later joins in a street fight outside the Alamo Hotel and displays some flashy movies with his side iron. After appearing in Rio Bravo he landed another sixteen top-ten hits on the charts with songs like “Travelin’ Man” and “Poor Little Fool.”


Ann Margret and John Wayne in The Train Robbers

Right from the beginning Ann-Margret was a sensation with her first single “And Here She Is… Ann-Margret,” and throughout her career, she was often associated with her energetic appearances in musicals, most famously alongside Elvis in Viva Las Vegas. The dancer and singer appeared in The Train Robbers with John Wayne as Lily, a mysterious woman who knows the location of buried gold and enlists Wayne’s help to find it. She’s recorded more than a dozen albums right up until 2011 with “God Is Love: The Gospel Sessions 2.”

7Roy Rogers

Roy Rogers in Dark Command

Roy “King of the Cowboys” Rogers, known for being the lead vocalist and guitarist with the Songs of the Pioneers appeared with Wayne in Dark Command. The singer, who had hits stretching as far back as 1934 with “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” played a cutthroat against type, exploring a darker side that was missing from his cheerful stage persona. He enjoyed success with classic country songs like “Happy Trails,” “Don’t Fence Me In” and “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” and after appearing opposite Wayne had a very popular television series with his wife and fellow singer Dale Evans in the ’40s and ’50s.

6Frankie Avalon

John Wayne and Frankie Avalon in The Alamo

Like fellow teen idol Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon was another pop star added to a John Wayne movie in order to appeal to a younger audience. Frankie played Smitty, the youngest of Davy Crockett’s Tennesseans, in The Alamo and has the distinction of being one of the few characters to make it out alive. The young heart-throb recorded four songs for The Alamo which were made into hit singles including “Ballad of the Alamo”, “The Green Leaves of Summer”, “Tennessee Babe”, and Here’s to the Ladies.”


Fabian and John Wayne in North to Alaska

Fabian was another well-known teen idol that joined The Duke for North to Alaska in the part of Billy Pratt, younger brother to George Pratt, who has tasked Wayne’s Sam McCord with bringing his fiancée back to their gold claim in Alaska. Finding she’s already married, Sam brings a prostitute named Capucine instead, and Fabian serenades her with “If You Knew” from behind a curtain while she bathes in preparation to meet his older brother. While Fabian had a lovely singing voice, he wasn’t the same caliber of singer-turned-actor as Frankie Avalon or Ricky Nelson.

4Yvonne DeCarlo

Yvonne DeCarlo and John Wayne in McClintock

Yvonne DeCarlo was known for serious roles, but had a beautiful mezzo-soprano voice and sang in both musicals and on albums throughout the ’50s, with hits like “Take It Or Leave It” and “That’s Love.” She starred in McLintock! with John Wayne in the titular role, though she didn’t perform any singing in the film. One of her most well-received albums was simply called “Yvonne De Carlo Sings”, where she covered contemporary classics such as “One for My Baby” and the melancholy “Blue Moon.”

3Bobby Vinton

John Wayne and Bobby Vinton in Big Jake

Unlike when John Wayne was paired with pop stars in earlier films, Bobby Vinton was considered more of a lounge singer like Dean Martin when he starred in Big Jake and The Train Robbers. He’d already had several top-ten singles including “Blue Velvet” and “Roses Are Red My Love” prior to appearing as Jeff McCandles, son of Wayne’s “Big Jake,” or as Ben Young, who joined Wayne in recovering half-a-million dollars of gold buried in the desert. It’s worth noting that Vinton didn’t do any singing in either of the Westerns he appeared in with The Duke.

2Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell and John Wayne in True Grit

A singer and musician in the ’60s, Glen Campbell starred in True Grit as Texas Ranger La Boeuf, a part offered to The King of Rock and Roll when Elvis and John Wayne almost made a Western. Prior to appearing opposite The Duke’s ornery cowboy Rooster Cogburn, he was a session guitarist for Elvis, as well as Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys. He became a chart-topping success with “Universal Soldier” and “Gentle On My Mind,” but one of his all-time greatest hits would be “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and Campbell received numerous Grammy Awards for Best Country Song, Album, and Male Pop Vocality over his career.

1Howard Keel

John Wayne and Howard Keel in War Wagon

John Wayne shared the screen with a lot of country and pop singers, but Howard Keel was known for musicals and love ballads and had made a splash on Broadway in “Oklahoma!” before appearing in War Wagon. His role wasn’t a singing part, but he did get to try out his comedic chops in one memorable scene with Emilio Fernandez’s bandit who shoots bottles of tequila off his head. A baritone singer with a booming voice, he was known to sing in musicals like “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Kiss Me Kate”, “Calamity Jane”, and the incredibly popular “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

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John Wayne

John Wayne Once Explained Why He Turned Down so Many ‘Petty, Mean’ Movies

Actor John Wayne is one of Hollywood’s most iconic figures to ever work in movies. However, he was very specific about the roles he would accept and the ones that he refused to involve himself in. Wayne once explained why he turned down so many potentially big movies that he described as “petty,” “small,” and “mean” through the evolution of Hollywood.

John Wayne played particular movie roles

John Wayne in one of his last movies 'The Shootist' alongside Ron Howard. He's wearing a Western outfit and holding a gun, pointing it out standing next to a stunned Howard.L-R: Ron Howard and John Wayne | Bettmann / Contributor

Wayne has over 180 acting credits to his name, spread across movies and television shows. He became a household name for the Western and war genres, ultimately contributing huge star power to the projects later in his career. However, Wayne also wasn’t afraid to speak up when he didn’t like something about the movies that wanted him involved. This held true for both prospective projects and ones that he already signed on for.
The actor ultimately turned down projects that earned attention at the Academy Awards, including High Noon. However, it wasn’t always because he didn’t like the roles themselves. Rather, Wayne was a patriot, who didn’t want anything to do with movies that he deemed insulting to the American image.

John Wayne explained why he turned down so many ‘petty, mean’ movies at the time

The official Wayne Twitter account shared a behind-the-scenes look at one of his movies, The Shootist. He talked about the state of violence in cinema, but he also touched on how he chose what to star in. The film hit theaters in 1976, so it’s worth taking the time period in mind for what he has to say about “modern” filmmaking.

“The whole idea of our business is illusion and they’re getting away from that,” Wayne said. “They’re putting electric squibs in livers and blowing them up in slow motion and then having blood all over everything. I mean, it’s not that there’s more violence in pictures today. It’s that it’s done with such bad taste that people turn their stomachs, not their emotional insides are affected. It turns their stomach. I just don’t want to play anything petty or small or mean. I don’t mind being rough and tough and cruel, but in a big way, no little petty things.”

The actor believed that cinema should be family-friendly

Wayne had a very firm stance when it came to violence in the movies. The rating board once even reached out to the actor to get his input. However, Wayne didn’t want any part in it because he didn’t think a rating system was necessary. He believed that Hollywood should make motion pictures aimed at the whole family.

Wayne starred in a wide variety of movies that included violence, but they never reached the extremes of what he talked about while filming The Shootist. Today’s filmmaking would certainly give him a shock if he were to see how much some movies push the boundaries and make audiences squirm.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Once Confessed the ‘Stupidest Damn Thing I Ever Did in My Life’ Involving His Romance

Actor John Wayne had three wives over the course of his life. However, the couples would always go through various hardships. Wayne always publicly embraced family life and would combine his image as a father with his tough, Western one. The actor once confided in a friend and told them the “stupidest damn thing” he ever did over the course of his lifetime.

John Wayne married his second wife 3 weeks after his divorce became final

John Wayne and Esperanza Baur, the second wife over the course of his life smiling sitting in a car wearing hats

L-R: John Wayne and Esperanza ‘Chata’ Baur | Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Marc Eliot’s American Titan: Searching for John Wayne touched on personal and professional aspects of the actor’s life. The divorce from his first wife, Josephine, was finalized on December 26, 1945. However, that certainly didn’t stop the actor from jumping into another relationship soon after. Wayne married Esperanza Baur, also called Chata, exactly three weeks after his divorce in the Unity Presbyterian Church of Long Beach, which is where his mother married her second husband, Sidney Preen. Actor Ward Bond was Wayne’s best man.

However, everything in Wayne’s life would change when he returned to Los Angeles after his honeymoon with his new wife. They purchased a new home in Van Nuys, California, and made sure to have a separate room for his mother-in-law. As a result, the newly-married couple started to have some difficulties.

John Wayne said that marrying Chata was the ‘stupidest damn thing I ever did in my life’

American Titan: Searching for John Wayne mentioned that Chata wanted to get a real role in a movie, but Wayne didn’t want her to have the life of a movie star. As a result, he told her that she belonged at home. Chata didn’t take this very well and turned to alcohol, developing an addiction.

Wayne ultimately turned to Bond to complain about Chata and his mother-in-law speaking Spanish and their desire for a bigger home. His new wife and her mother would often sleep in the same bed, forcing the actor to sleep on the couch in the living room.

Eliot wrote that Wayne took pride in his physical appearance and kept it in a specific condition for the camera. His ex-wife also took care of her physical appearance, but Chata refused to remove her facial hair, as she had a bit of a mustache. She also wouldn’t bathe very often and refused to shave her legs, which would make Wayne angry. Their arguments became increasingly frequent, which Wayne told Bond.

“Our marriage was like shaking two volatile chemicals in a jar,” Wayne said, admitting that marrying Chata was “the stupidest damn thing I ever did in my life!”

The actor would marry one final time

Wayne’s life moved on past Chata, as they divorced in 1954. Tragically, she died from a heart attack in 1961. Wayne married one final time to Pilar Pallete in the same year that he divorced Chata. They would ultimately remain married until the actor died in 1979, although they no longer lived together. The couple separated, but it was never legally so.

Meanwhile, Wayne became romantically involved with his former secretary, Pat Stacy, until his death.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Was a ‘Big Prankster’ With James Caan on ‘El Dorado’

Actor James Caan once talked about what it was like working with legendary actor John Wayne on El Dorado. The then-young actor didn’t initially get along with the Western star. However, they would ultimately develop their relationship in unexpected ways, as Wayne turned into a “big prankster” with Caan on the set. It’s a whole other side to the iconic actor that the world didn’t get to see very often.

John Wayne and James Caan co-starred in ‘El Dorado’

'El Dorado' James Caan as Mississippi and John Wayne as Cole Thornton wearing Western outfits surrounded by barrels

L-R: James Caan as Mississippi and John Wayne as Cole Thornton | FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

Wayne and Caan co-starred in Howard Hawks’ 1966 American Western called El Dorado, which was loosely based on Harry Brown’s novel called The Stars in Their Courses. The story begins when a heartless tycoon named Bart Jason (Edward Asner) brings in a group of thugs to claim the MacDonald family’s home right from under them. However, the town’s sheriff is too drunk to lend his aid.

An elder gunfighter named Cole Thorton (Wayne) agrees to lend his aid when he hears about the situation. He makes a trip to El Dorado, but he isn’t alone. Mississippi (Caan) joins to clean up the sheriff in time for the inevitable shootout to come.

John Wayne and James Caan turned into ‘big pranksters’ on the set

The official Wayne Twitter account tweeted an interview with Caan, where he talked about filming El Dorado. However, the situation that unfolded is anything but expected, as the tweet referred to Wayne as a “big prankster.”

“Wayne told me every time, he says, ‘Take a step, turn around.’ So, I do it and Hawks would yell ‘Cut’ and come walking, they’d reset everything, which took a half hour,” Caan recalled. “He’d go, ‘Look, kid, when you say the line, just go.’ ‘All right, coach. I’m sorry.’”

Caan continued: “Now, he walks, he does, as he’s walking back to the camera, he goes, ‘Now, look, kid. Don’t take a whole step. Just take a half a step and then turn around and give me that look you give me.’ I still have no idea what the freaking look is. I think I was smiling, just laughing at him. Action, everything starts up again, I take a half a step, turn around: ‘Cut!’ (Laughs). He comes up, yelling, ‘What’s the matter with you? Can’t you just say the line and go?’ ‘Coach, I’m really sorry. I don’t know what happened. I had a brain fart, something.’”

However, the next interaction would nearly put Wayne and Caan on very bad terms.

“He starts walking back and he goes, ‘Now look, kid,’ and I turn around and [Robert] Mitchum grabbed me, I was going to hit him,” Caan said. “From that day, we were … he knew what he was doing, you know? He was having a good time at my expense.”

The relationship between Wayne and Caan made a sudden turn for the hilarious when they started to play jokes on one another, but it clearly confused Hawks.

“But as a week went by, I’d be off camera and Hawks would be next to me, and Duke would be sitting there. Right in the middle of my scene, I’d go, (mouths) ‘You stink’ and he’d laugh. ‘Oh, what’s the matter there?’ ‘Oh, nothing. Sorry.’ It just became who can screw up who.”

Caan concluded: “Like, one day, you remember those wooden dressing rooms they had? I’d come to lunch, my dressing room’s locked. I go, ‘Excuse me, guys, how come it’s locked? I can’t get in there.’ ‘Well, here’s the key.’ Garbage just came out. He’d just pile it with garbage. He was like a 12-year-old kid.”

‘El Dorado’ became a box office success

John Wayne Wanted to Make His Home Alarm a Hilarious Tape Recording of His Voice: ‘I See You, You Son of a B****’

El Dorado would ultimately prove to be a success for both Wayne and Caan. The film earned critical praise, but the legendary Western actor often gave off the impression that he didn’t care what they had to say. Wayne would prefer for the audience to enjoy what he put up on the silver screen. Luckily, he would be in luck with El Dorado, which was a commercial success.

This particular Western would become one of Wayne’s more iconic genre pieces. Even his final movie, The Shootist would incorporate footage from it.

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