Who is the Better Cowboy? John Wayne? Clint?
There’s been some debate recently about who the best movie cowboy is. When I was talking to a friend of mine, there was no doubt in her mind that the most memorable (and best) cowboy was either Clint Eastwood or Jimmy Stewart, but I scoff at the notion of the latter being the best. However, another friend of mine (a movie buff) had a different opinion, one based on the years and years of contributions by John Wayne to the genre, a category he probably helped establish. I think there’s a debate there. There’s no clear victor. Or is there?
If you look up Quigley’s Motion Picture Herald annual poll of the Top Ten Stars by popularity, then you’ll see that John Wayne weighed in on the list from 1949 to 1970, which is quite a reign. However, you’ll also note that 1970 featured the first appearance of Clint Eastwood on the list, and he subsequently beat the pants off of John Wayne in Quigley’s “estimated popularity” for several years, except for a relapse in 1971, the year John Wayne won an Oscar for True Grit. Eastwood has never won Best Actor, the category winner for Wayne, but did win Best Director for Unforgiven, which also captured Best Picture.
The contributions of John Wayne are hard to argue with. He’s just been in so many movies that it’s hard to picture him doing anything else. Did he live next to the studio lot? He’s had 142 total movie roles, and dozens upon dozens of them were Westerns. When Empire magazine published their top stars of all-time in 1997, Wayne was number 16. Unfortunately for him, Clint Eastwood was number 2. I think I could cite a better “list” honestly, but lists are subjective anyway, so I won’t bother. Let’s put it this way, they’re both popular and both did good movies.
When John Wayne was at the height of his popularity, he turned to alternative roles, just like Clint Eastwood, which is kind of funny. Both of them had a stab at military roles, but I think Eastwood was more popular in his modern roles as a police detective. Wayne also played a police detective in McQ in a 60s movie, but that outing didn’t spawn upteen sequels. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.
Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten what the point of this post was, except maybe to point out that there isn’t a definitive movie cowboy, except in the minds of the kids who idolized the hero of the time. For many, it was the Lone Ranger, played by Clayton Moore, on a black and white television. For others it was John Wayne, Gary Cooper, or Jimmy Stewart. For me, it’s Clint Eastwood. He’s the best, coolest, and most modern example of the best movie cowboy, to me anyway. Then again, there’s some who like Woody the Cowboy from the movie Toy Story. He was voiced by Tom Hanks, who has never been anywhere near a Western. Maybe if you count the time when Forrest Gump ran through the West.