John Wayne is synonymous with manliness, portraying Western gunslingers and war heroes. However, an earlier role challenged his masculinity. Movies like Rio Bravo and The Alamo put John Wayne’s rugged and macho acting style on full display. In the early days, he lit up the screen both figuratively and literally, blazing through scenes and knocking out his competition. But he also took on some not-so-glamorous gigs to carve his way to greatness.
Following the box office disappointment of his first leading role in The Big Trail, Wayne found himself starring in several B-movies throughout the 1930s before finally achieving a breakthrough role in John Ford’s acclaimed film, Stagecoach. In 1933, he starred in the pre-Code western musical Riders of Destiny as the second version of the singing cowboy character, “Singin’ Sandy Saunders.”
Although Ken Maynard had previously portrayed Saunders in the 1929 film The Wagon Master, John Wayne took on the role with mixed sentiments. However, it wasn’t a character close to his heart throughout his life. Wayne felt embarrassed by his performance, especially because he didn’t want to be associated with singing characters he considered weak.
John Wayne Had Choice Words For His Singin’ Sandy Role
Writer Michael Munn wrote in John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth just how beleaguered the Duke was by playing such an emasculated role.“I was just so [darn] embarrassed by it all,” Munn quotes Wayne as saying. “Strumming a guitar I couldn’t play and miming to a voice which was provided by a real singer made me feel like a [dang ol’] pansy. After that experience, I refused to be Singin’ Sandy again.”
However, this wasn’t the only film in Wayne’s catalog that made the Duke blush. Of course, we’re talking about 1956’s The Conquerer. It’s a film so infamous, that it reportedly made the Duke shudder every time he heard the title uttered.
Directed by Dick Powell, The Conqueror is considered one of Wayne’s biggest flops. It tells the story of Genghis Khan, the former Khagan of the Mongol Empire. Of course, historical accuracy takes a backseat. The film has several flaws, such as a rough script and Wayne’s casting in the lead role. It totally ignores that Wayne lacks any East Asian heritage. The Conqueror has a low 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also featured in The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the “100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.”