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