All About John Wayne’s Top Leading Ladies

Over the course of his three-decade career, John Wayne starred in over 140 films, many of which were westerns. While he was the star and box office draw, the movies wouldn’t have been as successful if they didn’t also feature some remarkable leading ladies.

Some of these actresses are very well known, while others have had less high-profile careers. Either way, they all made an impact due to their beauty and charisma while they appeared alongside one of America’s greatest western heroes.

Redheaded Beauty Maureen O’Hara Was Close Friends With Wayne

John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara stand over a baby in a crib in a scene from the film 'The Wings Of Eagles
Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images
Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images

Pretty redhead Maureen O’Hara played many heroines in westerns and adventure films and collaborated frequently with director John Ford and John Wayne, who was a very good friend of hers. She played the Duke’s estranged wife in several films, including Rio Grande, The Wings of Eagles, Big Jake, and McLintock.

She’s probably best known for her role as Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man. The chemistry between her and Wayne was palpable. O’Hara died at age 95 in 2015 and was one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Claire Trevor Was More Famous Than Wayne When They Appeared In Stagecoach

John Wayne and Claire Trevor embracing in Dark Command.
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Claire Trevor was another talented and versatile actress who shared the silver screen with Wayne on several occasions. The pair appeared together in Stagecoach, Allegheny Uprising, and Dark Command. The standout was 1939’s Stagecoach, which catapulted Wayne’s status as a sex symbol.

When they appeared in the film together, Trevor’s star power was actually larger than Wayne’s. Trevor was nominated for three Academy Awards over the course of her career. She died in 2000 at the age of 90.

Marlene Dietrich Made Wayne’s Heart Flutter On And Off The Screen

Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne gaze into each others eyes in a scene from the film 'Seven Sinners
Universal/Getty Images
Universal/Getty Images

Marlene Dietrich and Wayne co-starred in three films: Seven Sinners, The Spoilers, and Pittsburgh. The actress played sophisticated women opposite Wayne’s shy and awkward characters, and these differences made their on-screen relationships even more appealing to audiences.

The big-screen actors also had an off-screen romance. Dietrich loved being in love and had relationships with several Hollywood bigwigs (including a few women). She had affairs with Gary Cooper, Yul Brynner, Errol Flynn, George Bernard Shaw, John F. Kennedy, Kirk Douglas, and Frank Sinatra.

Susan Hayward Starred In One Of Wayne’s Worst Films

American actors Susan Hayward and John Wayne acting in 'The Conqueror'
Mondadori via Getty Images
Mondadori via Getty Images

Susan Hayward and John Wayne were still climbing the ladder to fame when they appeared in the films Reap the Wild Wind and the Fighting Seabees. They also starred in The Conqueror, which is considered one of the worst films of Wayne’s career. In the film, Wayne played the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan.

Hayward was a former model and was nominated for five Oscars during her career. She appeared in many films from the 1930s through the 1950s and sadly, died at the age of 57 in 1975 from brain cancer.

Patricia Neal Played A Navy Nurse And Wayne’s Love Interest In Two Films

Operation Pacific lobbycard
LMPC via Getty Images
LMPC via Getty Images

Patricia Neal is best known for her roles in 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still and 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She won a slew of awards, including an Oscar and Tony Award. She also won a BAFTA for In Harm’s Way, which she starred in opposite Wayne. She played a Navy nurse and Wayne’s love interest.

She also starred alongside Wayne in Operation Pacific, again playing a Navy nurse. She was once married to the famed British writer Roald Dahl and died in 2010 at the age of 84 from lung cancer.

Colleen Dewhurst Starred Alongside Wayne In One Of The Few Films In Which His Character Died

still image from The Cowboys
Paramount/Getty Images
Paramount/Getty Images

Colleen Dewhurst starred alongside Wayne in two films: the neo-noir action film McQ and the western The Cowboys. The latter was released in 1972 and was based on the novel by William Dale Jennings. It’s one of the only films in which Wayne’s character dies and is the only film in which his death is caused by the main antagonist.

Dewhurst was a popular stage actress known for working with Eugene O’Neill. She won two Tony awards and four Emmy awards before dying of cervical cancer at the age of 67 in 1991.

Lauren Bacall Starred Alongside Wayne In His Final Film

American actors John Wayne and Lauren Bacall on the set of Blood Alley, based on the novel by Albert Sidney Fleischman
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Lauren Bacall and Wayne co-starred in Blood Alley in the mid-1950s while she was married to Humphrey Bogart. The film, which had a political bent, didn’t do well at the box office. The pair also co-starred in the highly acclaimed film The Shootist in which Bacall played a widowed mother.

The movie is notable because it was Wayne’s final film, and also because Bacall received a BAFTA Film Award nomination for best actress. Bacall passed away in 2014, one month before her 90th birthday, after suffering from a stroke.

Katharine Hepburn Played A Spinster Who Helped Wayne In Rooster Cogburn

American actors John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn on the set of Rooster Cogburn
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Wayne reprised his role as U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn in 1975’s Rooster Cogburn opposite Katharine Hepburn. The two actors were the same age – 68 – while filming. When you watch the film, it’s obvious the pair had a good time working together even though they butted heads politically in real life.

Hepburn’s robust 60-year acting career resulted in a record four Academy Awards for lead actor and eight additional nominations. She died in 2003 at the age of 96.

Angie Dickinson Won A Prestigious Award For Rio Grande

John Wayne and Angie Dickinson on the set of the movie 'Rio Bravo' in 1959 in Tucson, Arizona
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Even in the 1950s men’s love interests were sometimes significantly younger than them, which was the case with Rio Bravo, which featured Angie Dickinson alongside Wayne. Yet, the relationship was compelling and featured a lot of on-screen chemistry between the pair.

Wayne was 52 when he made the film, while Dickinson was 28. She received the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year due to her role in the movie. Dickinson continued acting through the early aughts.

Gail Russell And Wayne Reportedly Had An Affair, And She Died Young

a scene from the film 'Angel and the Badman'
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

The beautiful Gail Russell appeared alongside Wayne in Angel in the Badman and Wake of the Red Witch. She reportedly fell in love with Wayne, but it’s unclear if they actually had an off-screen love affair. During divorce proceedings, Wayne’s estranged wife claimed they had an affair, which they both denied.

While she played an innocent Quaker in Angel, there was something beguiling about the way she flaunted her wardrobe and paraded around in Wake of the Red Witch. She died at age 36 in 1961.

Sophia Loren Lit Up The Screen Opposite Wayne In Legend Of The Lost

Portrait of actors John Wayne and Sophia Loren amongst Roman ruins
Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Italian actress Sophia Loren played a lady of the night named Dita in Legend of the Lost opposite John Wayne, whose role was desert guide Joe January. Critics lambasted the 1957 film despite Wayne’s prowess and Loren’s beauty. However, it was one of Loren’s first major Hollywood films and the only one she appeared in with the Duke.

Loren is one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. While she no longer acts, she’s won an Oscar award, Grammy award, five special Golden Globe awards and the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement.

Wayne Starred With Femme Fatale Louise Brooks In Her Final Silent Film

 on the set of the movie 'Overland Stage Raiders'
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Louise Brooks was an actress, dancer, nude model, flapper, and sex symbol from the 1920s and 1930s. She appeared in 17 silent films and eight talkies before retiring in 1938. She and Wayne appeared together in Overland Stage Riders, Brooks’ final silent film.

Brooks reportedly said of Wayne upon meeting him: “I thought this is no actor but the hero of all mythology brought miraculously to life, a purely beautiful being.”

All Eyes Were On Argentinian-American Actress Linda Cristal In The Alamo

Argentine-American actress Linda Cristal with American actor and director John Wayne on the set of his movie The Alamo
United Artists/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
United Artists/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Argentine-American actress Linda Cristal appeared in several western films during the 1950s, including The Alamo alongside Wayne. He was probably twice as old as Cristal, and the storyline alluded that their characters had an intimate relationship. Cristal later went on to play Victoria Cannon in the NBC series The High Chaparral from 1967-71.

Cristal only appeared in a few other projects after the end of The High Chaparral and spent much of her time raising her two children. She hasn’t been seen on the small screen since the 1985 Argentine television series Rossé.

Joanne Dru And John Wayne Starred In One Of The Greatest Westerns Of All Time

John Wayne and Joanne Dru on the set of
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Joanne Dru played a pioneer opposite Texas rancher John Wayne in 1948’s Red River. The film is considered one of the greatest westerns of all time. The pair also starred together in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, although they weren’t love interests. It was one of the most expensive westerns made up until that point.

Dru appeared in several westerns over the years. Her career slowed down after the 1950s, but she appeared in a few projects here and there. She died in 1996 at the age of 74.

Vera Miles Collaborated With Alfred Hitchcock After Working With Wayne

Vera Miles and Wayne co-starred in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Warner Brothers/Getty Images
Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Even though Vera Miles did not play Wayne’s love interest in The Searchers, she still made a big impact in the film, which is considered one of America’s best westerns. She and Wayne also co-starred in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, although her character doesn’t show her love for Wayne’s character until it’s too late at the end of the film.

Miles perhaps is more known for playing Lila Crane in 1960 film Psycho and the 1983 sequel Psycho II. She’s been married four times, and she retired from acting in the ’90s.

Wayne’s Daughter Played Joan O’Brien’s Daughter In Two Of Wayne’s Westerns

Joan O'Brien played Captain Dickinson's wife in The Alamo
LMPC via Getty Images
LMPC via Getty Images

Joan O’Brien played Captain Dickinson’s wife in The Alamo opposite Wayne and then starred as his love interest in The Comancheros in 1961. Wayne’s daughter Aissa played O’Brien’s daughter in both films.

O’Brien had a respectable career, starring alongside other big names, such as Cary Grant, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lewis. She really made a name for herself in the 1960s on various TV shows, including Perry Mason and The Man from UNCLE. She eventually retired from acting and is still alive and kicking.

Capucine’s Life Ended Tragically Decades After Starring Alongside Wayne In A Comedic Western

American actor John Wayne as Sam McCord, and French actress Capucine
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

French model and actress Capucine played Angel in the 1960 comedic western North to Alaska with Wayne, and the film performed well at the box office. While she was beautiful to behold, Capucine didn’t appear particularly invested in the role. Still, she went on to appear in 36 films, including The Pink Panther and What’s New Pussycat?

Capucine acted throughout her life, up until her death in 1990. When she was 62, she jumped from her eighth-floor apartment in Switzerland after suffering from depression.

Claudia Cardinale Turned Heads In Circus World As Wayne’s Delightful Daughter

Claudia Cardinale
RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images
RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images

While Rita Hayworth was Wayne’s true leading lady in 1964’s Circus World, Claudia Cardinale is hard to push aside. She played the pair’s daughter and is charming to watch in the film. Cardinale appeared in many French and Italian films during the 1960s and 1970s and is one of Italy’s most famous actresses.

Her other popular films include 8½, The Leopard, Blindfold, and The Professionals. She has been a UNESCO goodwill ambassador for the Defense of Women’s Rights since 2000 and is considered one of the world’s most beautiful stars.

Ann-Margret’s Role In The Train Robbers Was Toned Down, But She Was Magnetic Nonetheless

John Wayne, Ann-Margret and Ben Johnson playfully hand-holding during a break in shooting new film on location.
Bettman, contributor, Getty Images
Bettman, contributor, Getty Images

Ann-Margret and Wayne appeared together in 1973’s The Train Robbers. While her role was not as fleshed out as it could have been, and the twist at the end of the film wasn’t accepted by all filmgoers, she made an impact nonetheless. The film was released after she appeared as a sex kitten in Viva Las Vegas, The Pleasure Seekers, and Kitten With a Whip.

Ann-Margret’s acting career has spanned 50 years, and she’s also known for her singing talent. She continues to act and has won various Golden Globe, Grammy and Screen Actors Guild awards.

Dorothy Jordan’s Role Opposite Wayne Was Small But Poignant

Dorothy Jordan at MGM studios
Keystone-FranceGamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Keystone-FranceGamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Dorothy Jordan played Wayne’s brother’s wife Martha in The Searchers, and even though the pair only share one major scene in the film, it’s obvious the characters share feelings for one another. Martha died before anything happened between them, but her role was important in the storyline.

Jordan started her career in 1929 and retired in 1933 before she made a comeback in a few small roles for director John Ford, including 1956’s The Searchers. She died in 1988 from congestive heart failure at the age of 82.