Cast of The Shootist (1976) Then and Now in 2023

Cast of The Shootist (1976) Then and Now in 2023
The Shootist Cast Updated

The western drama The Shootist (1976) marked the final film and iconic farewell performance of legendary actor John Wayne. Co-starring fellow icons like James Stewart and Lauren Bacall, The Shootist assembled a cast of Hollywood heavyweights for a poignant reflection on fame, mortality, and the end of an era.

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Now, decades later, let's take a nostalgic look back at The Shootists' unforgettable stars and examine where they are now in 2023. This elegiac western gathered luminaries during a pivotal twilight period in their illustrious careers. We'll explore the acting legends who indelibly brought The Shootist to life and cemented its reputation as a classic.

John Wayne as J.B. Books

John Wayne as J.B. Books

John Wayne delivered one of his most iconic and poignant performances as J.B. Books, an ageing gunfighter dying of cancer, in the 1976 western drama The Shootist. Wayne brought gravitas and dignity to the role of Books in his final screen performance.

Wayne, known for starring in classic westerns like True Grit and The Searchers, was 68 years old while filming The Shootist in 1976. Books mirrors Wayne's own career and life at the time, as the actor was also dealing with health issues and facing his own mortality. According to the Academy Museum, Wayne famously said about the film:

"'The Shootist' is my last picture, but I hope it's the best one."

Born in 1907, Wayne had a prolific career spanning decades. But by the 1970s, he was battling cancer and knew his days were numbered. As J.B. Books, the ageing gunslinger hoping to go out in a "blaze of glory," Wayne brought nuance, gravitas and empathy to his performance.

Reviews praised Wayne's work, with Roger Ebert writing:

"Wayne does, indeed, go out in a blaze of glory...the role was played brilliantly."

Had he lived, Wayne would have turned 116 years old in 2023. But the legendary actor passed away in 1979 at the age of 72. His iconic performance in The Shootist serves as a poignant culmination to his groundbreaking film career.

Lauren Bacall as Bond Rogers

Lauren Bacall as Bond Rogers

The magnificent Lauren Bacall lit up the screen as the strong-willed, quick-witted widow Bond Rogers in The Shootist. Bacall was 51 years old while filming the 1976 western, starring opposite frequent collaborator and friend John Wayne.

Bacall and Wayne had previously worked together in films like Blood Alley and North to Alaska. In The Shootist, Bacall provided heart, humor and an equal match to Wayne's iconic screen presence. Bond is independent, fiery and compassionate. Bacall told the AV Club about filming emotional scenes with Wayne:

"It was very hard for him to do that kind of scene. He's never been an actor who's been very easy on expressing sentiment and emotion."

But their rapport shines through in the film's poignant moments. Bacall went on to earn acclaim and awards for her work in The Shootist. She had a distinguished career on stage and screen, and passed away in 2014 at the age of 89. Had she still been alive, Bacall would be approaching her 100th birthday in 2023 at 99 years old. Her wit, determination and talent live on through memorable performances like her turn in The Shootist.

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Ron Howard as Gillom Rogers

Ron Howard as Gillom Rogers

A young Ron Howard portrayed Gillom Rogers, the impressionable teen who becomes the understudy and friend to Wayne's Books in The Shootist. Howard was only 22 years old at the time, showing off natural charisma and acting skills.

Long before he transitioned to an accomplished directing career, Howard made his mark as an actor in films like American Graffiti and the TV series Happy Days. As Gillom Rogers, Howard serves as the stand-in for the audience while watching Wayne's final performance.

In an AV Club interview, Howard discussed learning from the legendary actor:

"I got to know him, spend time with him, watch him work, and also got to see him struggle with illness, so it was very, very meaningful to me."

Now 69 years old, Howard has had an illustrious Hollywood career both in front of and behind the camera. He's won Academy Awards for films like A Beautiful Mind while still acting occasionally. Throughout it all, Howard credits experiences like working with Wayne in The Shootist for shaping him into the consummate professional he is today.

James Stewart as Dr. Hostetler

James Stewart as Dr. Hostetler

James Stewart brought his signature sincerity and gravitas to the role of Dr. Hostetler, who diagnoses Wayne's Books with terminal cancer. Stewart, known for films like It's a Wonderful Life and Rear Window, was 67 while filming The Shootist in 1976.

Dr. Hostetler provides a calm, moral center in the story. Stewart's earnest delivery balances the vulgarity and chaos surrounding Books. In perhaps the film's most moving scene, Dr. Hostetler and Books share an intimate discussion about death. Stewart's empathy radiates through the screen.

Roger Ebert praised this moment in his review of The Shootist:

"it establishes Stewart as the rock upon which this movie is built."

Like Wayne, Stewart was also nearing the end of his prolific career with his health in decline. Sadly, Stewart passed away in 1997 at the age of 89. But his legendary screen persona endures thanks to timeless performances like The Shootist and It's a Wonderful Life.

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Richard Boone as Mike Sweeney

Richard Boone as Mike Sweeney

Veteran character actor Richard Boone brought menace and complexity to the role of Mike Sweeney, Books' longtime rival who is intent on killing the gunfighter. Boone was 59 years old while filming The Shootist, though he convincingly embodied the murderous threat to Books.

Boone's extensive career included roles in films like The Alamo and TV shows like Have Gun - Will Travel. According to a TCM article, Boone initially turned down the villain role but Wayne persuaded him by promising to kill him violently on screen.

Indeed, Boone's Sweeney meets a memorable end during the film's famous shootout finale. Boone's intimidating screen presence makes Sweeney a palpable threat. Sadly, the actor passed away in 1981 at only 63 years old. But Boone left behind an impressive legacy of playing complex antagonists and antiheroes.

Hugh O'Brian as Jack Pulford

Hugh O'Brian as Jack Pulford

Rugged actor Hugh O'Brian brought comedic flair and zest to the fast-drawing showman Jack Pulford, an arrogant gunman eager to duel Books. O'Brian was 50 years old when he played the preening Pulford in The Shootist.

At the time, O'Brian was still known for starring in the TV series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. Playing the flamboyant Pulford allowed O'Brian to showcase his talent for humor and parody his own screen image. Roger Ebert wrote in his review:

"Pulford is the most complex of the many characters who come into Books' life..."

O'Brian continued working in film and TV until shortly before his death in 2016 at the age of 91. The Shootist allowed him to prove his versatility and talent for comedy alongside his reputation as a rugged leading man.

Bill McKinney as Cobb

Bill McKinney as Cobb

Character actor Bill McKinney was memorably chilling as Cobb, the cruel, sadistic boss of young Gillom Rogers. McKinney was 45 while filming The Shootist in 1976.

Though the role is small, McKinney makes a big impression with Cobb's malicious nastiness. McKinney was often cast as villains and outlaws, including the infamous mountain man in 1972's Deliverance. According to IMDb trivia, McKinney modeled his bizarre lip-licking habit for Cobb after observing a coyote.

McKinney worked steadily in TV and film up until his death in 2011 at the age of 80. But his performance as the repugnant Cobb is considered one of his most impactful, even in a small role. McKinney proved he could create an indelible antagonist with just a few scenes.

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Harry Morgan as Marshal Thibido

Harry Morgan as Marshal Thibido

Prolific character actor Harry Morgan brought his trademark humor and poise to the role of Marshal Thibido, the local lawman who maintains an uneasy truce with Books. Morgan was 61 while filming The Shootist.

Morgan was already a TV icon for playing Officer Bill Gannon on Dragnet. As Thibido, Morgan provides subtle comic relief between the film's dramatic, melancholy moments. Thibido clearly respects Books, allowing the gunfighter to dictate the terms of his stay in town.

Morgan worked constantly in film and television right up until his death in 2011 at the impressive age of 96. But his role as Marshal Thibido in The Shootist typified Morgan's ability to create quiet, competent authority figures.

John Carradine as Beckum

John Carradine as Beckum

The patriarch of the famous Carradine acting family, John Carradine played Beckum, the undertaker who assists Books on his final journey. Carradine was 70 years old while filming The Shootist in 1976.

Carradine and Wayne were old Hollywood friends, having first worked together in 1940's Stagecoach. Beckum provides much of the film's gallows humor as well as moral support to Books. Carradine plays the eccentric Beckum with warmth and wit.

According to IMDb trivia, Carradine was in poor health and relied on painkillers just to make it through filming. He died in 1988 at the age of 82, but left behind a legacy of supporting roles in films like The Grapes of Wrath and TV series like Bonanza.

Sheree North as Serepta

Sheree North as Serepta

Sheree North brought her trademark moxie and sensuality to the role of Serepta, a kindhearted saloon girl and old friend of Books. North was 44 while filming The Shootist.

Originally a dancer by trade, North transitioned to acting with films like How to Be Very, Very Popular. As Serepta, North provides comfort and good humor to Books during his final days. Serepta genuinely cares for the aging gunfighter.

North continued acting in TV and film all the way up until the 2000s shortly before her death in 2005 at 72 years old. But her emotionally honest performance as Serepta earned praise as a standout in The Shootist. According to Roger Ebert's review:

"North creates a warm, realistic character."

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Scatman Crothers as Moses

Scatman Crothers as Moses

Legendary character actor Scatman Crothers twinkled as Moses, the eccentric hotel proprietor who takes a liking to Books. Crothers was 66 years old while filming The Shootist in 1976.

Crothers was already a beloved character actor known for roles in films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. As Moses, Crothers gets some of the movie's biggest laughs with hissing fits and wise pronouncements. Moses forms a touching bond with Books over their checker matches.

According to IMDb trivia, the tears during Moses and Books' goodbye scene at the end were genuine, as Crothers admired Wayne deeply. Crothers had a long, acclaimed career as a character actor right up until his death in 1986 at age 76. But The Shootist provided him with one of his most memorable big screen roles.

The Shootist Reflects the End of an Era in Film History

The Shootist marked the final big screen roles for multiple Hollywood legends, including leading man John Wayne, James Stewart, and Lauren Bacall. In many ways, the film reflects the twilight of the classic studio system era of filmmaking.

Wayne reportedly saw echoes of his own legendary career in the dying days of J.B. Books and approached the role as his "last picture." Bogdanovich elaborated in an AV Club interview:

"Wayne said, 'I've made over 250 pictures. I've killed about 500 men. It's time to be doing something that has a little something to it.'"

But The Shootist transcended its elegiac tone to become a memorable western and fitting farewell for its aging stars. As Ebert noted in his review:

"That's what so good about reflects on a traditional Hollywood genre, it contains the best work in years by a great star-and it stands on its own."

The Shootist Left a Profound Legacy

Upon its initial release, The Shootist received positive reviews and attention for being Wayne's final movie. The bittersweet story and poignant performances continue to resonate with audiences.

At the time of its theatrical run, the western drama was praised as a return to form for the genre. In his contemporary review, Vincent Canby of the New York Times declared:

The Shootist is Wayne’s best movie in a very long time. It returns him to the Western genre with honor and with humor.”

In the decades since its 1976 premiere, The Shootist has only grown in stature. As the careers and stars who made it have become iconic Hollywood legends, the film stands as a poignant epitaph.

Its influence can be seen in elegiac latter-day westerns like Unforgiven and Logan, which also depict aging gunfighters on one final ride. Audiences continue to embrace and find meaning in The Shootist nearly 50 years after its release.

Where Are They Now? Remembering The Shootist Stars

While the stars of The Shootist may no longer be with us, their contributions to the legendary western live on. Fans continue to celebrate actors like Wayne, Stewart, Bacall, and Boone through their extensive filmographies and decades of cinematic history.

Howard remains a vital force in Hollywood as an acclaimed director and producer. Actors like O'Brian, McKinney, North, and Crothers left behind outstanding character acting legacies. And director Don Siegel created an enduring classic that serves as a poignant curtain call for its iconic leading men and women.

The Shootist represents a pivotal moment in film history and a bittersweet celebration of Golden Age Hollywood. Its story and stars will remain timeless for decades to come. Though they may no longer be living, the cast of The Shootist endure through their unforgettable on-screen contributions.


Q: Why is The Shootist considered John Wayne's final film role?

A: The Shootist, released in 1976, was John Wayne's last film role before his death in 1979 at age 72. Wayne reportedly saw parallels between his own legendary career winding down and the story of his character J.B. Books facing the end of his life.

Q: How did James Stewart and Lauren Bacall contribute to The Shootist?

A: James Stewart and Lauren Bacall, also later in their esteemed careers, co-starred in The Shootist as key supporting characters. Stewart lent his trademark sincerity as Books' doctor, while Bacall provided heart and banter as the widow Bond Rogers.

Q: How old was Ron Howard when he appeared in The Shootist?

A: Ron Howard was only 22 years old when he played the role of Gillom Rogers in The Shootist. It was an early role for Howard before he transitioned to an acclaimed directing career later on.

Q: What makes Scatman Crothers so memorable in the film?

A: As hotel proprietor Moses, legendary character actor Scatman Crothers provides much of the film's humor and warmth. His emotional farewell scene with Wayne is considered one of the film's most poignant moments.

Q: How did The Shootist reflect the end of Hollywood's classic studio era?

A: With multiple aging stars from Hollywood's Golden Age in their final roles, The Shootist signaled the end of the classic studio system and western films as they once were. It served as a fitting elegy and tribute.

Q: Why does The Shootist remain so influential and beloved today?

A: Thanks to its bittersweet themes, stellar cast, and potent parallels to its stars' real lives, The Shootist continues to resonate with audiences. It is considered one of Wayne's best films and an enduring classic.

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