Top John Wayne Character Actor Is…

My Number 1 John Wayne Character Actor Is…


Victor McLaglen

There seems to be a bit of confusion as to where the mighty man was born, Stepney in London, or Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

Victor McLaglen


Being a Londoner myself, Stepney’s fine with me but I lived for quite a while in Kent as well – from where I’m writing this very article right now – so I’ll go for that.

His birthplace comes as a bit of a surprise when you consider McLaglen played so many Irishmen in his day, most famously in The Informer and The Quiet Man.

His roles as Sergeants Mulcahey and Quincannon in Fords cavalry trilogy also sported an Irish brogue, so I’d say McLaglen’s Irish screen persona was more Ford’s idea than his own.

I think I’m on fairly safe ground in stating that Victor and JW first appeared in the same film back in 1928, in John Ford’s silent picture, Hangman’s House, although they didn’t share any scenes together.

Another Ford stock actor, McLaglen’s John Wayne movie appearances were all in John Ford films, although he featured in a few of the director’s offerings without Duke, winning a Best Actor Oscar in 1935 as ‘Gypo’ Nolan in The Informer.

Not exactly a subtle actor, he made up for this with a huge cinematic presence that threatened at times to blow JW off the screen.

It’s for his performance as ‘Red’ Will Danaher in The Quiet Man, however, for which he will probably be most remembered.

In the classic fist-fight at the end of the film, McLaglen played Danaher the bully to perfection before then morphing into the best brother-in-law John Wayne never had.

Talking of bullying, his son Andrew repeated to me back in 1998 the oft-told tale about how Ford angered his father almost to the point of physical violence.

The director asked for countless retakes of McLaglen sweeping the coins from the table at the wedding sequence when he finds out he’s been trickled into letting his sister, Mary Kate, marry Sean Thornton.

I don’t know how many times he had to repeat the gesture, but eventually a very angry Victor walked off the set rather than punch ‘Pappy’ round the chops.

What with McLaglen having once been both a wrestler and a professional heavyweight boxer prior to his screen career, I’d say the old man got real lucky that day.

For my money, Wayne and McLaglen are even more impressively matched in the earlier She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, JW at one point memorably sniffing McLaglen’s breath to check if Quincannon is intoxicated.

If I had to choose my favourite Victor McLaglen scene, I’d go for the sequence in the same film where Quincannon quizzes the men lined up in front of him as to who owns the dog that keeps running back and forth across the parade ground.

It’s such an incongruous moment in what is mainly a serious film, McLaglen’s bar room fight notwithstanding.

It feels like an improvised scene, although I’m not sure that’s the case, but for me it’s a highlight of the film every time I catch it on TV, and I’d I’d say that makes it more of a testament to Mr. McLaglen than it does Ford’s direction.

And that ends my list of personal favourite JW character actors. Apologies if you were looking for Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Stack, Robert Ryan, William Holden, Red Buttons, Stewart Grainger, John Carradine or any of the other actors that you feel should have been included.

Maybe Next Time…

If you missed the first part of my top 15 John Wayne male character actors…

2 thoughts on “Top John Wayne Character Actor Is…”

  1. I’ve been enjoying a boxed set of John Wayne’s 1939 films. The funny ways they transition from one location to the next; sped up horse chases; had silent scenes when there should be noise; lit up a whole cave or large room with the flame from one candle; left a big fly sit on an actors face while filming a close up shot, all made me laugh. I am traumatized each time a horse is filmed tumbling from high speeds, shot, rode off of cliffs into water or obviously struggling while trying to get through a scene. They did not have the regulations we do these days with regards to filming with animals. Don’t cancel JW because of his racist comments in the past, just acknowledge that those attitudes are not acceptable and that a lot has changed since then. There is still a long way to go but history can teach us to be better people and can be used as a gage of how far we have come.

    • Tina, you have spoken a world of truth. When people feel the need to take John Wayne to task forty years after he died for something he said fifty years ago then we say someone has got their priorities very wrong.


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