|Fresh faced and looking for the big break|
This is where it all began. In the first five years of his film career, John Wayne appeared in 19 movies. 18 of those parts were unbilled. His third film, The Great K&A Bank Robbery, was a Tom Mix western, but Wayne was only an extra. Finally in 1930, in The Big Trail, he got his first leading role.
Legend has it director Raoul Walsh wanted Tom Mix or Gary Cooper for the part. When he couldn‘t get them, he settled for the relatively unknown 23-year-old Wayne. Wayne was paid only $75 a week, a move that allowed Walsh more money for production. The film eventually cost $4 million, and was released in the full bloom of the Great Depression. Ouch.
“The Most Important Picture Ever Produced” didn’t quite meet expectations. Had the film been a success, Wayne’s star might have risen right then. As it was, he was relegated to serials and B-pictures for nine more years until getting another big break in Stagecoach. The Big Trail was filmed in an early version of 70mm widescreen. Since most theaters didn’t have the equipment to play it, a 35mm was released at the same time. The widescreen version was unavailable to the home market until just last year. It’s a half hour longer, and reportedly pretty cool. Among the supposedly 20,000 other cast members were Ward Bond and Iron Eyes Cody.