John Wayne: American

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Scott Eyman’s superb new biography, “John Wayne: The Life and Legend” is an exhaustive look at Wayne’s long life and career as Hollywood’s most iconic star.

Eyman points out time and again that Duke—no one called him John, Jack, or his birth name, Marion—was not just Hollywood’s greatest star, but a symbol of America and Americanism.

Born into poverty, Wayne worked hard all his life to achieve some measure of success. His Conservative politics were already formed at an early age, and he never veered from his core beliefs. In contrast to the Neanderthal image portrayed by the liberal press, Wayne was highly intelligent and articulate.

On being an intellectual lightweight: “I came into this business from the University of Southern California, where I was taking a pre-law course. I had gone to Glendale High School, from which I graduated with a 94 average. I could say, ‘isn’t’ as well as ‘ain’t.’”

On college professors: “It takes 15 years of kissing somebody’s backside for a professor to get a chair somewhere and then he’s a big shot in a little world, passing his point of view on to a lot of impressionable kids. He’s never really had to tough it out in this world of ours, so he has a completely theoretical view of how it should be run and what we should do for our fellow man.”

On Vietnam: “I would think somebody like Jane Fonda  and her idiot husband [Tom Hayden] would be terribly ashamed  and saddened that they were a part of causing us to stop helping the the South Vietnamese. Now look  what’s happening. They’re getting killed by the millions. Murdered by the millions. How the hell can she and her husband sleep at night?”

On government: “I don’t want any handouts from a benevolent government. I think government is naturally the enemy of the individual, but it’s a necessary evil, like, say, motion picture agents are. I do not want the government… to insure me anything more than normal security… Government has no wealth, and when a politician promises to give you something for nothing, he must first confiscate that wealth from you—either by direct taxes, or by the cruelly indirect taxes of inflation.”

On acting: Wayne had a horror of allowing his craft and technique to show. “It’s not being natural,” he explained in one of the few times he discussed acting seriously. “It’s acting natural. If you’re just natural , you can drop  a scene. You’ve got to do it so the plumber sitting out there, and the lawyer next to him and the doctor don’t see anything wrong.”

To those people who always said he just played himself, he would retort, “It’s quite obvious it can’t be done. If you are yourself, you’ll be the dullest son of a bitch in the world on the screen. You have to act yourself, you have to project something—a personality.”

Lauren Bacall, his costar on The Shootist, (1976) his last movie, recalled:

“The only thing Duke told me about acting was something he said John Ford had taught him—not to take an emotion to its furthest extreme. Always leave the audience a percentage of the emotion to complete for themselves. If you have to cry in a scene, don’t feel that you as the actor  have to completely fulfill it. Hold a little back.”

John Wayne as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers.

John Wayne as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers.

Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a lovely and meaningful Shabbat.

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9 Comments

  1. Jeremayakovka
    Posted May 8, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    About 20 years ago, I happened to be working with a militant feminist in Berkeley at the time a frustrated woman cut of her husband’s sex organ. The husband’s name was John Wayne Bobbit, which the media allowed to be associated with what drove her to do it. (He was “John Wayne Bobbit,” not John Bobbit.) And yet the feminist, when talking to the press, was careful to state that John Wayne’s characters never hit a woman.

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  2. Jeremayakovka
    Posted May 8, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Recently, here in Canada, a tv ad showed a young teenager applying for a job as a dishwasher. He was ashamed and timid, and the owner lectured him that he’d rather give the job to someone more “needy.” The kid wanted to earn money to play in league sports, and at the end a statistic flashed that 1 in 3 Canadian households can’t afford to pay for their kids to participate in these leagues.

    That’s social democracy in action!

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  3. Posted May 6, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Sorry for the delay in commenting. A job move meant I was unable to recover my password for a few weeks.

    Robert, as you probably know by now, John Wayne was one of my childhood idols. I grew up loving both westerns and war movies which featured The Duke. Perhaps the only other box office draw which was remotely close was the James Bond 007 series with Sean Connery.

    In hindsight, I think my father felt a bond with Wayne’s roles — Dad served in the Army and he was the son of dirt poor Midwestern farmers raised with conservative values — and he wanted to experience the Bond roles — fast cars, strong drinks, beautiful women and exotic locations. 🙂

    The Quiet Man, McLintock and Big Jake are my favorite Wayne movies. I don’t suppose it’s a coincidence that Maureen O’Hara costarred in each!

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  4. sennacherib
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Big Jake!
    Ps: Maybe sometime you could talk about a guy who was in a lot of Wayne movies, Victor Mclaglen. I love his characters and I understand he had an exciting life.

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  5. Bob
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    My two favorite John Wayne films are “The Quiet Man” and “The Shootist,” though it is always a pleasure to watch him in any film. Also, some of the best soundtracks I have ever heard belong to his films, mostly those written by Elmer Bernstein, I think.

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    • Posted May 4, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      I had the pleasure of hearing Elmer Bernstein conduct the San Fernando Symphony a couple times in the 1970s. Excellent performances.

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  6. Michael Kennedy
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I’m about 3/4 through the book now and it is excellent. Eyman annoys me a couple of times with comments on the “blacklist” when I have read a couple of books on Hollywood in the 40s and the influence of people in The Party but I liked his book about Ford and like this one.

    The photo, as I’m sure you know, is Wayne’s tribute to Harry Carey Sr, done for his widow who was standing behind the camera as that scene was shot. I have only seen Carey in Red River, I think. That was a common pose of his, holding one elbow.

    I missed meeting him but did meet Gretchen and Michael after we operated on their son Chris in 1972. The Childrens’ Hospital threw a big lunch for Duke, hoping no doubt for a donation. We were upstairs.

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  7. Bill Brandt
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    It is ironic but even 35 years after his death, ask Americans to list their favorite stars and he is in the top 5.

    He is one of the few stars that I would have liked to have met.

    I had a funny picture of him a few weeks ago – I started out in Studio City, right next to Hollywood on the other side of the hill, and an iconic landmark there is the Sportsman’s Lodge.

    Well, what it was is long gone, replaced by an early 60s large hotel but it used to be a rustic setting with a huge man-made pond fed – I think – by an underground spring.

    A lot of stars used to go there after shooting – you would rent a fishing pole, catch some trout, and the restaurant would cook it for you.

    It was said that both Bogart and Wayne taught their sons how to fish here.

    So I am picturing John Wayne, sitting under a beach umbrella sipping a martini, showing son Patrick how to fish.

    BTW his screen persona was something he carefully nutured and guarded.

    He was shown the script to Mel Brooks Blazing Saddles, and offered the role of the sheriff.

    Wayne returned the script and said that with the image he had taken so long to build he couldn’t do this role, but he would be the first in the ticket line.

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  8. Posted May 2, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    This looked like an interesting book when I caught sight of it in an article (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2612662/John-Wayne-The-unlikely-lothario-West.html) I ran across a few days ago. Unfortunately, the article seemed a lot like myth deconstruction amidst some good info.

    The article brought up his regrets about not entering the service during WWII, but my understanding was that he was 4F due to his college football injuries, especially his broken leg, that reduced his running ability. Good grief! If he was disqualified, he was disqualified.

    Also, that article said that Wayne was “a very sick man” when he made “The Shootist.” It was my understanding he was doing well at that time and didn’t have any further serious problems until about a year or so after the film was done.

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