Arts & Culture

Fifty Years of True Grit

John Wayne’s granddaughter gives a behind-the-scenes look at a new exhibition that compares the classic Western novel and two films

photo: Tim Bower

“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood,” says the narrator, Mattie Ross, in the first lines of True Grit, the 1968 Western novel by Charles Portis and the basis for two heralded films of the same name. The tale follows Mattie and her cowboy sidekick, Rooster Cogburn, on a late-1800s journey of justice through Arkansas and the territory that would become Oklahoma. 

A recently opened exhibition, Two Grits—A Peek behind the Eyepatch, at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1969 film, starring Kim Darby and John Wayne, and compares it with the 2010 Coen brothers remake with Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges playing the lead roles.

photo: Courtesy of the National Cowboy & Western Museum
Two Grits runs through May 10, 2020.

“The book is our jumping-off point, and people might be surprised to know that the Coen brothers film follows closer to the book,” says curator Michael R. Grauer. While the 1960s version modernized Mattie’s speech, for example, the later adaptation usd more of Portis’s original scripture-laced dialogue. Props and costumes from both films will be on display, as well as a trove of John Wayne memorabilia, including his film script, his eye patch, and the actor’s only Academy Award (for his portrayal of Rooster). 

photo: Courtesy of the National Cowboy & Western Museum
Parts of john Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn costume.

Wayne’s granddaughter and museum board member Anita Swift shares behind-the-scenes tidbits: “Some of my grandfather’s boots will be on display,” Swift says, “and people will be surprised: He was six foot three, and if you shook his hand, you would have thought a bear was shaking your hand, but he had little tiny feet.” As a thirteen-year-old watching the earlier film in a Hollywood theater, Swift remembers, she was mesmerized by the unyielding female lead bossing around her grandfather’s character on-screen. “Mattie Ross was a good foil for Rooster,” Swift says. “She brought out the tender- ness and humanity in this gruff old man— and she was tough, too.” 

photo: Courtesy of the National Cowboy & Western Museum

Two Grits—A Peek behind the Eyepatch runs through May 10, 2020 at the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City.