American actor Gary Cooper (1901 - 1961), dressed in a fringed jacket and cowboy hat with a gun belt and holster around his waist, in a publicity still for the film 'Fighting Caravans', 1931. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Movies - TV
How Gary Cooper Indirectly Gave John Wayne His First Big Hollywood Break
Before John Wayne cemented himself as an icon of the Western genre, he was a washed-up college football player, who had to rely on silent movie star Tom Mix and director John Ford to give him steady and unspectacular work as an extra and prop man. What’s even more surprising is, if it weren’t for Gary Cooper, John Wayne would have never been a Hollywood legend.
At the end of the silent era, every director wanted to work with Gary Cooper, including Raoul Walsh, who wanted him to play Breck Coleman in his frontier Western, “The Big Trail.” When Cooper decided the part wasn’t for him, Walsh set his sights on unknowns and recalled a towering prop boy from a previous production who went by Duke Morrison, aka the future John Wayne.
When Walsh’s colleague John Ford praised the struggling actor's work ethic, Walsh brought him in for an audition, and all it took was one screen test to get him cast as Breck. John Wayne was only born when it came time to figure out the billing for “The Big Trail,” and everyone in production agreed that Morrison was in dire need of a new moniker.