Wayne Finds His Star in Stagecoach

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Director John Ford purchased the rights to “Stage to Lordsburg” for $7,500, envisioning the tale as a template which would eventually become his Stagecoach, the film that would help John Wayne become a star after a career of unremarkable Westerns.

“I expected it to be a good picture, but I didn’t expect to be swept up and carried along with such joy,” Claire Trevor said. “I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen. I forgot I was in it.”

1. Ford teased Wayne.

Director John Ford is known for his aggressive demeanor and his tough personality on the set, especially when dealing with the Duke. Before Stagecoach even got off the ground, Ford had fun at Wayne’s expense and invited him for a weekend on his boat. There, he asked if Wayne knew any actors who would be the right fit to play the Ringo Kid. After a weekend of making the Duke throw out suggestions, the director finally offered him the role.

2. Wayne wasn’t a big enough star.

Despite his confidence in Ford’s ability, producer David O. Selznick didn’t think the director understood what brought an audience to see films – that is, star power. In Selznick’s mind, Stagecoach needed heavy-hitters, not Claire Trevor and John Wayne. He suggested Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich. But Ford wouldn’t budge, so he parted ways and found a new producer, Walter Wanger. He too had doubts about Wayne, so as a curtesy, Ford auditioned some other talent, such as Bruce Cabot, all the while never intending the part to go to anyone but the Duke.

3. Trevor got first billing.

In their careers, Claire Trevor and Wayne appeared in four films together – the first being Stagecoach. She was paid $15,000 for her role, more than any other cast member. Wayne’s salary was only $3,700. However, the Duke knew that the opportunity of getting second billing was too good to pass up, so much so that he took Ford’s regular chewing out and name calling. Trevor remembered, “I felt sorry for Duke because he wanted to succeed so badly, and this was his big chance… He took it like a soldier because he knew [Ford] was helping him.”