John Wayne Almost Quit The Acting Business Over Girls Demand Excitement


John Wayne was a Hollywood legend for decades, and his rugged individuality was a big part of his image. It’s hard to imagine a guy best known for playing a lonesome cowboy as a ladies’ man, but before he starred in Westerns, studios hadn’t quite nailed down Wayne’s image. The actor found his brief stint as a romantic comedy actor so embarrassing that he almost hung up his cowboy hat for good before ever becoming a household name.

Before he was America’s movie cowboy, the Duke’s early work like “Brown of Harvard” and “Girls Demand Excitement” featured a sports edge. “I should’ve been playing on the National Football Team in 1928,” Wayne explained in a 1976 interview, per The Bobby Wygant Archive.

Wayne starred in his first feature-length cowboy film in 1930, titled “The Big Trail,” but the studio wasn’t sure that they saw him as a cowboy just yet. Here’s what he said:

“So the next picture they had me do [after ‘The Big Trail’], they had been training some girls to play basketball for some musical that they were going to make that would cost a lot of money. Now with the depression, they’ve decided against it. So now they have these girls that have learned to play basketball. So they write a story about a college in which the boys don’t want the girls there. So it was probably as ridiculous a thing as I’ve ever been in.”

Wayne was allegedly not a fan of the film’s vulgarity. He described couples hanging out of windows “in each other’s clutches leaving lipstick all over” with extreme vitriol. The film deeply embarrassed his traditional masculine sensibility.

“I remember that [film] decided me to get out of the business all together,” he recalled.

The rom-com was too embarrassing for Wayne

John Wayne was still in school for the first several years of his acting career. Moviemaking was still a relatively green field, and being in a romantic comedy like “Girls Demand Excitement” wouldn’t have made Wayne popular on campus.

“I can remember I was going down the street just talking to myself. Thinking, ‘Geez, how am I going to face…’ You know, most of my friends were still the kids in school,” the actor explained. “I just didn’t think I could face my fraternity brother if they saw this picture.” Thankfully, Wayne’s embarrassment was very short-lived and his career took a turn soon after. “Luckily they put me in those quicky Westerns,” Wayne said, “and I developed a beautiful life then for about 10 years of hunting from September to March and doing the four-and-a-half and five-day pictures.”

Even during this blissful period of Duke’s early life, he still hadn’t achieved mainstream success. He was starring in Westerns, but they weren’t exactly what one might call serious acting jobs. Cowboy movies like “Riders of Destiny” in 1933 and “Westward Ho” in 1935, for example, featured Wayne in a totally unexpected archetype.


“They made me a singing cowboy,” he admitted to Playboy in 1971 (via The Wrap). “The fact that I couldn’t sing — or play the guitar — became terribly embarrassing to me, especially on personal appearances.” But it wasn’t vanity that deterred Wayne from singing cowboy roles — it was disappointing his young fans.

“Every time I made a public appearance, the kids insisted that I sing The Desert Song or something,” Duke explained. “But I couldn’t take along the fella who played the guitar out on one side of the camera and the fella who sang on the other side of the camera.”

So Duke became a cowboy

Wayne has always connected a lot with young fans, and he was tired of letting them down when they found out he couldn’t sing or play guitar without movie magic.

“So finally I went to the head of the studio and said. ‘Screw this, I can’t handle it,’” the Hollywood legend claimed. “And I quit doing those kind of pictures.” This choice might have been the first move in nailing down his now immortal image, but he was still quite a few years off from becoming a household name. “It was 1939 before I made ‘Stagecoach’ — the picture that really made me a star,” Wayne explained. It was important to Wayne that he forged and maintained a connection with his adolescent viewers. He felt that his rebellious sensibility would resonate best with young people.

“Let’s say I hope that I appeal to the more carefree times in a person’s life rather than to his reasoning adulthood,” he admitted. “I’ve played many parts in which I’ve rebelled against something in society. I was never much of a joiner. Kids do join things, but they also like to consider themselves individuals capable of thinking for themselves. So do I.”

“Girls Demand Excitement” and other more romantic roles almost drove Wayne to quit acting before he ever became a star, but luckily the actor fought to find his niche. He became the best-known movie cowboy in cinematic history, and all thanks to his persistence as an actor, even when he was being criminally miscast. He might have been a little out of touch in more ways than one, but Wayne knew how to avoid being corny.