John Wayne Completely Ignored The ‘True Grit’ Novel For Its Sequel


It’s rare that an iconic Western such as True Grit would find itself with a sequel. Most classics in the genre didn’t get a traditional sequel, least of all with John Wayne reprising his role from the original. But that’s exactly what 1975’s Rooster Cogburn did, with Wayne back in the saddle as the titular U.S. Marshal. Wayne won an Academy Award for his role as Cogburn in 1969’s True Grit (not to be confused with the 2010 version starring Jeff Bridges), so it’s no wonder that the Duke would come back for seconds. Only, this time, Marshal Cogburn rides with an even more unlikely pair than before.

‘True Grit’ Spawned a Sequel That Had the Same Plot as the Original (With a Twist)

Based on the novel of the same name, the original True Grit followed John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn as he hunted down a man named Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey) at the request of a young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), whose father had been gunned down by the outlaw. Mattie hires Cogburn and eventually joins him and Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Glen Campbell) — who don’t take kindly to her following them at first — on the journey. Eventually, Cogburn kills Chaney and saves Mattie, with the ending of the film differing significantly from the original novel in which Mattie loses an arm after a rattlesnake bite and never sees the one-eyed Marshal again.

While a sequel to True Grit might sound particularly exciting on paper (John Wayne’s performance as Rooster Cogburn has been hailed as one of his most notable) Rooster Cogburn is basically the same movie as the first. Drunk and out of luck, Marshal Cogburn finds himself on another revenge quest, this time taking on the criminal known only as Hawk (Richard Jordan) on behalf of spinster Miss Eula Goodnight (Katharine Hepburn), whose preacher father was killed by Hawk and his gang. Cogburn, Goodnight, and their Indian companion Wolf (Richard Romancito), whose family was also killed in the drunken skirmish, travel all across Arkansas (though it was actually filmed in Oregon) to take on the band of outlaws.

Just like before, the flick ends with Cogburn standing outnumbered against a band of villains, and somehow manages to come out on top. But Rooster Cogburn isn’t just a re-hash of True Grit. It also takes more than a few cues from Hepburn’s previous feature The African Queen, which she starred in opposite Casablanca star Humphrey Bogart. Aside from Hepburn’s Eula Goodnight being a missionary as she was in the 1951 picture, the True Grit sequel also borrows from The African Queen’s plot, namely the river sequences and the rocky romance between the two leads (though Wayne and Hepburn don’t end up together in the end). That’s right, unlike the romance-less True Grit, Rooster Cogburn plays with the good Marshal’s heart, and it runs away from him in the end.

‘Rooster Cogburn’ Shows a Softer Side of John Wayne’s ‘True Grit’ Character

Brash, drunk, mean, fat, and lazy are words that have often described Marshal Rooster Cogburn, something that remains true in both the original True Grit and its sequel, but don’t let that fool you, he’s still a force to be reckoned with. While Cogburn might not be Wayne’s greatest role, he’s a complex character who transcends Wayne’s performance and deserves to be revisited time and again (yes, even by Jeff Bridges, who may not be the Duke, but still does great). Rooster Cogburn does just that and adds an extra layer to the seasoned Western hero.
Unlike his time with Mattie Ross in True Grit where he acted more like a father figure to the young girl, Rooster Cogburn shows a different side of Reuben J. Cogburn, namely a romantic one. Sure, he can’t stand Miss Goodnight at first, and, in typical Katharine Hepburn fashion, she walks all over him and all-but-runs the show, but eventually he warms up to the “Bible-thumper” and even begins to see her as a friend, maybe more. In the original True Grit novel, author Charles Portis never once mentions that Cogburn ever settled down, save for a brief note about a kid he had with a woman who up and left him years prior.


In Rooster Cogburn, the Marshal mentions that he’s been married before (possibly more than once), though things never quite worked out. Even with Eula at the end, the one-eyed Marshal struggles to tell her how he feels, and instead of following her back to Fort Peck, he’s content to watch her (and Wolf) ride away into the wilderness as the credits begin to roll. In contrast to the novel (which notes that Cogburn died alone after participating in a traveling Wild West show) Rooster Cogburn leaves our hero with the hope that one day, he and Miss Eula Goodnight might settle down after all, when his fight is done. We never get to see that, of course, but it doesn’t seem too far-fetched following Hepburn’s near-confession of love at the end.

Why Is ‘Rooster Cogburn’ John Wayne’s Only Sequel?

In John Wayne’s impressive career, which spanned five decades, not once had the Duke ever made a traditional sequel. But when it came to playing Rooster Cogburn, Wayne seemingly couldn’t get enough. Jumping from Paramount Pictures to Universal for the follow-up, Wayne and Hepburn teamed up here for the very first time in their respective careers. By all accounts, Rooster Cogburn — originally branded Rooster Cogburn (…and the Lady) — should’ve been a success, with John Wayne reprising his Oscar-winning role opposite one of Hollywood’s most triumphant leading ladies. The problem is, most critics didn’t see it that way.

“A high-class example of the low Hollywood art of recycling,” wrote New York Times contributor Vincent Canby in 1975, noting that Rooster Cogburn pulled from other stories to make something else that isn’t entirely “new” or “fresh.” Veteran film critic Roger Ebert likewise gave the film one out of four stars, deeming it “a ripoff of some of [Wayne and Hepburn’s] finest moments.” If only critics had the gall to say that about many of the poorly made sequels today. Ironically, though Rooster Cogburn is a less serious and more jovial look at the titular Marshal than the last time we saw him, it’s nowhere near the worst Western of Wayne’s career, either. Additionally, it has some pretty memorable moments along the way.

Most critical reviews of Rooster Cogburn judged the picture to have failed the high standards of True Grit, and maybe rightfully so, but seeing John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn once more doesn’t hurt. Strangely, following Rooster Cogburn, another True Grit sequel was eventually made, albeit without Wayne’s involvement. The 1978 made-for-TV True Grit: A Further Adventure reunited Cogburn and Mattie Ross (now played by Warren Oates and Lisa Pelikan) for a lackluster sequel that’s hated even more than Rooster Cogburn. No wonder Wayne never touched the character again. (Not that he made a lot of pictures afterward.) The following year, he released his final feature film, a Western titled The Shootist, which was his final theatrical appearance before his death three years later.