D to the AZ

John Wayne on location of The Searchers (1956) in Monument Valley, Arizona. Photo by John R. Hamilton courtesy of John Wayne Enterprises.

The latest installment of On Location with John Wayne traces the Duke down Arizona way.

Written by Jenn Thornton

In the early years of his acting career, future Hollywood honcho John Wayne starred in the 1931 film Arizona. It was a sign of things to come. The actor went on to shoot several films in the Grand Canyon State during his long and illustrious run as the biggest thing on the marquee, including the classics Stagecoach (1939) and Red River (1948). But when it came to AZ, the man with legions of admirers across the world was, well, a pretty big fan himself. He loved the place—he worked there, vacationed there, and owned a ranch there. Here, The Journal trails the Duke to a few of what were among his favorite haunts.

Arizona’s landscape is, like the Big Man himself, legend. There are any number of places in the state where John Wayne is, if only in memory, on the map. Nowhere bigger than Monument Valley—the landmark terrain located on the Navajo Nation in Arizona and Utah where the actor’s friend and frequent collaborator, director John Ford, immortalized it in all its panoramic glory. Particularly in his film The Searchers (1956) where, in what is one of the most iconic film endings of all time, Ford captured Wayne’s character Ethan Edwards moseying off into the distance. Any visit to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park today must, then, include stops at John Ford’s Point (bring a point-and-shoot for old times’ sake) and, for souvenirs including John Wayne memorabilia and Navajo crafts and totems, the Trading Post at the View Hotel.

John Wayne with Pilar Pallete on set of The Searchers.

In the central part of the state is Phoenix, where John Wayne fans can really get their fill. Literally, with heaps of good eats, and in the case of the casual-western steakhouse the Stockyards Restaurant, a seat at the table. Once popular with cattlemen, the restaurant with allegiances to the Old West offers a bona fide “John Wayne Booth” (aka booth 26) where Duke, a regular, often sat when he was in town. Partake of a menu dominated by major protein with a healthy side of history. Not enough? Head to old-school chophouse Durant’s for a 48 oz. Porterhouse. Duke wasn’t the only heavyweight who dined at Durant’s. Clark Gable grubbed there too, along with legendary Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio.

All trails in Arizona eventually lead to Old Tucson Studios. The Old West movie set where Wayne shot four films—Rio Bravo (1959), McLintock! (1963), El Dorado (1966) and Rio Lobo (1970)—is a little dusty but still standing. It has more of a theme park vibe these days, with scripted shows and dance-hall shenanigans, but there is a backlot area with soundstages and a range of different attractions for visitors.  For more cowboy culture, take it from Old Tucson to Old Tombstone Western Town, another theme park (not far from where the actual gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place) with gold panning, trolley tours, a chuckwagon and Wild West shootouts with the Tombstone Cowboys.

John Wayne with Maureen O’Hara behind the scenes of McLintock! (1963).

Finally, a little more of an hour’s drive from Tucson is Rancho de la Osa. After crisscrossing the state, channel your inner outlaw and hang your hat at this historic guest ranch. Why? Because John Wayne (and other bigtime figures like him) did too. Spend the day in the saddle exploring the same trails as U.S. Presidents and Pancho Villa alike, then throw back a cold one at the Cantina and hit the hay in the Hacienda for a good night’s sleep. It’s the dude—and the Duke—ranch of your Old West dreams.

Photo (home page): John Wayne with his son Patrick behind the scenes of The Searchers.