John Wayne’s son Ethan continues to celebrate and calibrate his father’s legacy
John Wayne—The Duke—one of the most iconic stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. For over four decades, John Wayne dominated the silver screen appearing in nearly 80 films between 1930 and 1976, the vast majority Westerns. Honestly, when one hears the word “Western,” John Wayne almost immediately comes to mind. At six-feet, four-inches tall, Wayne dominated the screen with his imposing presence, a six-shooter at this side, and, of course, almost always wearing a sensational cowboy hat.
To honor the movie legend, Stetson has created a line of signature John Wayne hats that will give men a chance to get the look of one of Tinsel Town’s all-time favorite Western and action-movie stars. Heading up the project is Ethan Wayne, the Duke’s youngest son, who was just 17 years old when his father passed away in 1979.
Growing up, Ethan spent a lot of time outdoors, and it was his job to get his father ready to go on long shoots on location, packing his bags with essential gear to handle weeks of living in settings far away from the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. “Most of my life was an outdoor, active life. I had a lot of freedom as a young man learning practical knowledge,” Ethan says. “You get outside of the city, and you carry something to start a fire, and you carry a compass, a knife, and a hat, practical things that when we were on location we had to deal with every day. So, I think it’s fun to bring some of that back to people. I think John Wayne can speak to people about common sense and proper utility items that will make a difference in your life if you’re not standing in a building.”
Today, Ethan oversees much of his father’s legacy, including items he wore in many of his classic movies. And while the public has the image of John Wayne in full cowboy attire and atop a horse, Ethan is quick to remind people that his father was an actor playing the part of cowboys, “He lived in Newport Beach, not in Texas. He didn’t wear a cowboy hat every day, but he certainly wore one as part of his on-screen persona.”
“We thought Stetson was a natural fit because he wore a lot of Stetsons throughout his life. So when the opportunity came up, we decided to do it,” says Ethan. “I really wanted to make sure we brought back some of the things that were important to him and that he appreciated, and a good hat was certainly at the top of that list. Nobody makes a better hat than Stetson.”
For the project, Stetson designers were given access to Wayne’s personal archives, which included many of the iconic hats that he wore in such classics as Shane, True Grit, and Hondo, many of them damaged or in various stages of decay as a result of improper storage over the last 40 years. As part of the process to develop the John Wayne line, the Stetson team returned some of the damaged hats to their former glory. “If they weren’t stored right and the brim was bent or they were crushed or something like that, Stetson took them back to their factory in Dallas and got them back into their original on-screen shape and condition,” explains Ethan. “Then we put them in some good boxes to preserve them going forward. So that was a fun project.”
“There were some really old hats in the archives that were very interesting to the Stetson crew—how they did the bindings and things like that,” adds Wayne. “I’m hoping that if this partnership goes well, we’ll reintroduce some of those old-school hats under the John Wayne banner.”
“If you can get a good product with a name that means something, then I think you’ve got something that people will enjoy.” -Ethan Wayne
Among those old-school hats was the enormous one that Wayne wore in his last film, The Shootist. Released in 1976, Wayne portrayed J.B. Books, an aging gunslinger who, during the course of the film, finds out he has cancer. At the age of 69, Wayne’s performance in The Shootist is considered by many critics to be among his best. Wayne himself died from stomach cancer just three years later, which makes this hat all the more special to his son who remembers his larger-than-life father wearing it in his final film. The Shootist model, available as part of the John Wayne Stetson line, is one that requires a large frame and even more massive cajones to pull off in real life. “The hat he wore in The Shootist is a magnificent hat, but it’s a giant hat. It’s just dwarfing if you put that on,” says Ethan. “It’s difficult for someone who’s not six-four or six-five to carry off a hat like that.”
While many of the hats in the John Wayne line are directly inspired by his famous roles, they’re not exact replicas of the ones he wore on film. And other models in the line are original designs meant to capture the style and character of John Wayne. For instance, Ethan hopes that one hat in the line, called The Black Thorn, will introduce people to Western lifestyles. “It’s not a representation of something that John Wayne actually wore, but I think it’s a nice hat to get people wearing hats,” says Ethan. “If it’s a little bit intimidating to put on a giant cowboy hat, this is something that might you might feel okay putting on.” The line also includes the Cogburn, an almost identical version of the hat Wayne wore in the classic film, True Grit.
Ethan realizes that many John Wayne fans will purchase one or more of the Stetson John Wayne models with the intention of displaying them on a bookshelf. However, he says these hats are intended to be used. While his father wasn’t a real-life cowboy, Ethan says his father did enjoy an outdoor lifestyle and knows how important items like a well-built knife, a reliable pair of gloves, or an umbrella can be, and he hopes, over time, to add items like these to the Stetson John Wayne line.
“A lot of the things that John Wayne used and that cowboys use are just things that make sense in life. If you live in a rural environment or you’re spending any time outdoors, you’re going to need a pair of gloves, you’re going to need a hat, some good pants, and some good footwear,” Ethan says. “They’re just basics, and these were all part of his life and my life growing up as a young man.”
“As we get more and more urbanized, some of that stuff goes away, but I think a lot of guys really enjoy those products,” Ethan continues. “If you can get a good product with a name that means something, then I think you’ve got something that people will enjoy.”
Learn more at stetson.com