John Wayne's Five Most Important Lessons

Posted by Topix Media Lab on

John Wayne's legacy isn't limited to the big screen. His advice, personal morality and commitment to integrity have long outlived the man who could make a 10-gallon hat look small. Duke lived his life by a code and the characters he portrayed on-screen did as well. In the new book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from John Wayne, we explore a collection of Duke's best lessons, pulled straight from his beloved films. While Duke might have cast a long shadow, there's no reason we can't all aspire to measure up to the example he left behind. Keep reading to explore five lessons from the all-new book. And click HERE to get your copy today.


Lesson #1: Actions Have Consequences 

John Wayne Chisum movie promotional image
"Because no matter where people go, sooner or later there's the law."
—John Chisum, Chisum (1970)

Duke's character John Chisum in Chisum is not a man who would ever let geographical details get in the way of what needs to be done. The rugged cattle baron lets his sidekick James Pepper (Ben Johnson) know he's mistaken when Pepper recites an old saying: "There's no law west of Dodge and no God west of the Pecos." As far as Chisum sees it, justice knows no boundaries. And this lesson applies well beyond the realm of legalities and Western heroes and villains. You can't run from your problems—especially those you create for yourself.


Lesson #2: You Can Only Rely On Yourself

John Wayne They Were Expendable movie still

"For years I've been taking your fatherly advice and it's never been any good. So from now on, I'm strictly a one-man band!"
—Lt. "Rusty" Ryan, They Were Expendable (1945)

In They Were Expendable, Duke's character, Lt. "Rusy" Ryan, has a sizable chip on his shoulder, which often results in him butting heads with his superior, Lt. John Brickley. This comes to a head when Brickley refuses to let Ryan help defend against Japanese attacks, believing his unit of PT boats to be unsuitable for combat. Following a surprise attack, however, Brickley's hand is forced, and Ryan proves his worth once and for all. The takeaway from this story? You know what you're capable of, and the only person you can rely on to advocate for you is the man in the mirror.


Lesson #3: A Little Patience Goes a Long Way

John Wayne Ride Him Cowboy

"Where I come from, we don't shoot horses when they get ornery; we tame 'em."
—John Drury, Ride Him, Cowboy (1932)

In Ride Him, Cowboy, John Wayne's character John Drury saves a horse on trial for murder by offering to ride him. As it turns out, the horse was framed by the nefarious Henry Sims, known by reputation as the Hawk. When Drury is later tied up by the Hawk and left to die in the desert, the horse comes to his aid—untying the cowboy and saving his life. It goes to show that by practicing patience, we can see things the way they truly are.


Lesson #4: Take Responsibility

John Wayne Stagecoach movie still

"Well, there are some things a man just can't run away from."
—The Ringo Kid, Stagecoach (1939)

In his breakout film, Stagecoach, John Wayne plays the Ringo Kid, a fugitive looking for vengeance against the man who killed his family. His love interest, Dallas (Claire Trevor), begs him to let it go so they can move on with their lives. But the Ringo Kid knows he'll never rest easy until the score is settled, and explains as much with a line that still resonates. If there's something in your life you know you can't run away from, you're better off facing it head-on.


Lesson #5: Do the Right Thing for the Right Reason

John Wayne True Grit promotional image

"I never shot nobody I didn't have to."
—Rooster Cogburn, True Grit (1969)
In True Grit, John Wayne portrays the rough curmudgeon U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. After testifying against an outlaw whom he arrested, a defense attorney tries to make him seem like a loose cannon based on the number of people he has had to kill. But Cogburn holds firm that it's a dangerous job and whenever he shoots to kill, the person deserves it. At the end of the day, Cogburn's just doing what he has to so he can come home safe—and truly, that's the best any of us can do.