Driving around Ridgway and the surrounding area evokes images of the Old West, when cowboys led rather lawless, louche lives and nothing worthwhile was earned without a little grit.
Several Westerns have been shot in town over the years, but the most famous tale of bronco-busting brutality in the area is chronicled in the movie “True Grit” (1969), starring John Wayne as U.S. Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn and Glen Campbell as his Texas Ranger sidekick, La Boeuf. The movie, which was filmed in Ridgway in 1968, has become one of the most iconic Westerns in history. (The 2010 remake, featuring Jeff Bridges, was not filmed
For John Wayne aficionados, pilgrimages to Ridgway have become commonplace, according to Eve Becker-Doyle.
“Many, many people that come to town or the visitor center are very, very interested in John Wayne and the ‘True Grit’ film,” she said.
As a former Chamber of Commerce board member, Becker-Doyle helped organize the “True Grit” walking tours three years ago.
The tours meet at the Ridgway Visitors Center (150 Racecourse Road) every Friday at 10:45 a.m. from May to October. The tour is from 11 a.m.-noon. Cost is $10 a person (admission for children under 12 is free). Tours of six or more can be accommodated year-round, Becker-Doyle added.
“I did have one family of 25 people that took a tour, and it was great,” she said.
Reservations, especially outside of the summer months, are recommended; to make a reservation call 970-626-5181 or email email@example.com.
The tour visits nine different spots relating to the film in Ridgway. There are two locations in Ouray County — which are not part of the walking tour — where plaques mark filming locations.
Other than movie landmarks, including the gallows, livery stable and railroad depot site, fun facts about the film are shared.
“There’s really interesting information on John Wayne, and the filming and casting and everything, that just makes it really interesting and fun,” Becker-Doyle said.
For example, before the studio committed to Campbell, a popular recording artist at the time, there were talks with another music star. Studio reps reached out to Elvis Presley in hopes he’d be able to provide a hit song to accompany the film.
“They actually talked with Elvis’ manager, because Elvis could act and sing, but the manager insisted that Elvis get top billing over John Wayne. And that wasn’t going to happen — not in a John Wayne movie,” Becker-Doyle said.
She added that the role of “Rooster” earned the Duke his only Academy Award for Best Actor.
During his acceptance speech for the long-awaited statuette, Wayne quipped, “Wow! If I’d known (that he would get an Oscar), I’d have put that patch on 35 years earlier.” Wayne was referring to the now-famous eye patch his character, “Rooster,” wore.
Charles Portis penned the novel “True Grit” in 1968. When Wayne got his hands on an advanced copy of the book, he immediately envisioned it on the silver screen, according to Becker-Doyle, and he pictured himself in the lead: “He said, ‘I want to play this character.’”
The story is Mattie Ross’ account of when she 14 years old, and hired Cogburn and La Boeuf to avenge her father’s death at the hands of a drifter named Tom Chaney. The three leave central Arkansas and head into Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma) before confronting Chaney’s new Ned Pepper gang.
Wayne’s interpretation of the character further cemented his status of a Western icon. Of the 142 films Wayne acted in, 83 of them were Western films, according to online accounts from his biographer, Ronald Davis.
“John Wayne, the way I look at it, is the most popular film actor of all time,” Becker-Doyle said. “He has become an icon for the American West. It’s not just John Wayne, it’s the West and the frontier and all that.”
Other Westerns that were filmed in Ridgway include “Ticket to Tomahawk” (1950), “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), “Night Passage” (1957), “Tribute to a Bad Man” (1957), “How the West Was Won” (1962), “The Sons of Katie Elder” (1965) and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969).