John Wayne

We all knew that John Wayne wasn’t really John Wayne: we knew he was really Marion Robert Morrison born in Winterset, Iowa, the son of a pharmacist Clyde Morrison and his wife Mary.

John Wayne was part of my life from the beginning.  In ‘28 he was an extra in John Ford’s Four Sons; and in 1930, twelve years before I was born, he starred in The Big Trail.  He was with me until his death at age 72 in 1979.

To misuse a term applied to the theatre, we suspended our disbelief and believed that John Wayne was John Wayne.  It made us feel better about ourselves, Hell, about our country.  Throughout his movie career, he always, at least figuratively, wore the white hat.

Frankly, I was never a big John Wayne fan as a little kid.  He finally won me over with his performance in The Quiet Man in 1952.  I was ten years old.  I’ve watched it on television several times since then.  John wasn’t a cowboy in this movie; he was an Irishman who returned to his Irish home after a successful boxing career in America.  John Ford directed Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond, and Barry Fitzgerald in this film.  It was a comedy-drama with the funniest fist-fight scene ever.  Oh yeah, there was a love story too.  You know, I just realized that I miss all of these folks.

John was seldom popular with the critics.  Probably because of his B-Western heritage and the fact that he played in Westerns so consistently.  In spite of the critics, Wayne finally received an Academy Award for his role as “Rooster” Cogburn in the Western True Grit in which he portrayed U. S. Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn.  He played “Rooster” again in Rooster Cogburn in 1975.  I’ve long suspected they gave him an Oscar because Glen Campbell, his co-star, was just so gosh awful.  Upon receiving his Oscar, Wayne, who wore an eyepatch for his role, commented, “If I'd known this was all it would take, I'd have put that eyepatch on 40 years ago.”

Wayne was called Duke by his friends.  When he was asked how he got the nickname “Duke,” he replied, “Hell, the truth  is that I was named after a dog!”

Wayne was very careful of his public image.  He once chided Kirk Douglas for playing the role of Van Gogh because he felt it would hurt his manly image.

My favorite John Wayne quote of all times has got to be, “If everything isn't black and white, I say, 'Why the hell not?’”

He also made some remarks that you may not at first recognize as being typically John Wayne.

        Listen, I spoke to the man up there on many occasions,  and I

        have what I always had: deep faith that there is a Supreme Being. 

        There has to be, you know; it`s just to me, that`s just a normal thing,

        to have that kind of faith. The fact that He`s let me stick around

        a little longer certainly goes great with me, and I want to hang

        around as long as I`m healthy and not in anybody’s way.

        [When asked if he believed in God] There must be some higher

        power or how else does all this stuff work?

        We must always look to the future.  Tomorrow - the time that

        gives a man just one more chance - is one of the many things that

        I feel are wonderful in life.  So's a good horse under you. 

        Or the only campfire for miles around. Or a quiet night and

        a nice soft hunk of ground to sleep on. A mother meeting her

        first-born. The sound of a kid calling you “dad” for the first time. 

        There's a lot of things great about life.  But I think tomorrow is

        the most important thing. Comes in to us at midnight very clean. 

        It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. 

        It hopes we've learned something from yesterday.

Wayne was a patriot:

        I am an old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness, flag-waving patriot.

        It`s kind of a sad thing when a normal love of country makes

        you a super patriot. I do think we have a pretty wonderful country,

        and I thank God that He chose me to live here.

        We`ve made mistakes along the way, but that`s no reason to start

        tearing up the best flag God ever gave to any country.

        [on The Alamo (1960)] This picture is America.  I hope that seeing the battle

         of the Alamo will remind Americans that liberty and freedom don`t

        come cheap. This picture, well, I guess making it has made me feel

        useful to my country.

        I can tell you why I love her [America]. I have a lust for her dignity.

        I look at her wonderfully classic face, and I see hidden in it

        a sense of humor that I love. I think of wonderful, exciting,

        decent things when I look at her.

Wayne didn’t seem to care much for liberals:

        If it hadn`t been for football and the fact I got my leg broke and

        had to go into the movies to eat, why, who knows, I might have turned

        out to be a liberal Democrat.

        I`m not going to give you those I-was-a-poor-boy-and-I-pulled-

        myself-up-by-my-bootstraps-stories, but I`ve gone without a meal

        or two in my lifetime, and I still don`t expect the government to turn over

        any of its territory to me.

        I have found a certain type calls himself a liberal . . . Now I always

        thought I was a liberal. I came up terribly surprised one time

        when I found out that I was a right-wing conservative extremist, when I

        listened to everybody's point of view that I ever met, and then

        decided how I should feel. But this so-called new liberal group,

        Jesus, they never listen to your point of view.

        Very few of the so-called liberals are open-minded . . . they shout

        you down and won't let you speak if you disagree with them.

        I'd like to know why well-educated idiots keep apologizing

        for lazy and complaining people who think the world owes them a living. 

        I'd like to know why they make excuses for cowards who spit in the faces

        of the police and then run behind the judicial sob sisters. I can't understand       

        these people who carry placards to save the life of some criminal,

        yet have no thought for the innocent victim.

On acting and film he had the following to say:

        I want to play a real man in all my films, and I define

        manhood simply: men should be tough, fair, and

        courageous, never petty, never looking for a fight, but

        never backing down from one either.

        I don`t want ever to appear in a film that would embarrass a

        viewer. A man can take his wife, mother,

        and his daughter to one of my movies and never be ashamed or

        embarrassed for going.

    When I started, I knew I was no actor and I went to work on

        this Wayne thing.  It was as deliberate a projection as you'll

        ever see.  I figured I needed a gimmick, so I dreamed up the drawl,

        the squint and a way of moving meant to suggest that I wasn't

        looking for trouble but would just as soon throw a

        bottle at your head as not.  I practiced in front of a mirror.

   I never had a goddamn artistic problem in my life, never, and

        I've worked with the best of them. John Ford isn't exactly a bum, is he?

        Yet he never gave me any manure about art.  He just made movies and

        that's what I do.

   I made up my mind that I was going to play a real man to the

        best of my ability. I felt many of the western stars of the twenties

        and thirties were too goddamn perfect. They never drank or smoked.

        They never wanted to go to bed with a beautiful girl. 

        They never had a fight.  A heavy might throw a chair at them,

        and they just looked surprised and didn't fight in this spirit.

        They were too goddamn sweet and pure to be dirty fighters.

        Well, I wanted to be a dirty fighter if that was the only way

        to fight back. If someone throws a chair at you, hell, you pick

        up a chair and belt him right back. I was trying to play a man who

        gets dirty, who sweats sometimes, who enjoys kissing a gal he likes,

        who gets angry, who fights clean whenever possible but will fight dirty

        if he has to. You could say I made the western hero a roughneck.

   [at Harvard in 1974, in response to a question whether

        then-President Richard Nixon ever advised him on 

        his films]  No, they've all been successful.

   When people say a John Wayne picture got bad reviews, I

        always wonder if they know it's a redundant sentence, but hell, I don't care.

        People like my pictures and that's all that counts.

   I'm an American actor. I work with my clothes on.  I have to.

        Riding a horse can be pretty tough on your legs and elsewheres.

   I want to play a real man in all my films, and I define manhood

        simply: men should be tough, fair, and courageous, never

        petty, never looking for a fight, but never backing down from one either.

        Any man who’d make an X-rated movie ought to have to take

        his daughter to see it.

Many of us associate the word “Pilgrim” with John Wayne.  Actually, he didn’t use it in his films as much as you may think, but he did use it twenty-three times in the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance with such lines as, “Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim,” and, “Hey, Pilgrim, you forgot your pop-gun.”

Here are a few memorable lines from some of Wayne’s movies:

        "Sorry don't get it done, Dude."  John T. Chance, Rio Bravo

        "I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a

        hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I expect the

        same from them."  John Bernard Books, The Shootist

        "Well, there are some things a man just can't run away from." 

                                                                            Ringo Kid, Stagecoach

        "Yup. The end of a way of life. Too bad. It's a good way.

        Wagons forward! Yo!"  Hondo Lane, Hondo

        "A lot of guys make mistakes, I guess, but every one we make, a

        whole stack of chips goes with it.  We make a mistake, and

        some guy don't walk away - forevermore, he don't walk away." 

                                            Sergeant John M. Stryker, Sands of Iwo Jima

        "Out here a man settles his own problems."  Hondo Lane, Hondo

        "All battles are fought by scared men who'd rather be

         some place else."  Capt. Rockwell Torrey, In Harm's Way

        "Out here, due process is a bullet."  Col. Michael Kirby, The Green Berets

        “Fill your hands, you sons-of-bitches!” Rooster Cogburn, True Grit

My personal favorite of all the John Wayne lines in movies comes from True Grit: "Mr. Rat. I have a writ here that says you're to stop eating Chen Lee's cornmeal forthwith.  Now it's a rat writ, writ for a rat, and this is lawful service of same."

There have been a few John Wayne jokes through the years.  My favorite is the following one which brings home the message of how Wayne was viewed.

        Two friends were having a conversation in a bar when one of them asked

        the other, “If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you

        like to be stranded with?” 

        The friend thought a moment going over his list of beautiful

        women in his head.  He finally settled on his favorite and

        proclaimed his choice to his friend. 

        His friend rocked back and forth for a few moments staring at his

        friend and thinking about his friend’s choice.  He then said,

        “Not me.  I’d want to be stranded with John Wayne.” 

        “John Wayne?” his friend questioned incredulously. 

        “Yeah, John would figure out a way to get us off the damned island.”

When asked how he wished to be remembered, he responded in Spanish, “Feo fuerte y formal” which means ugly, strong, and dignified.  I’m not sure about the ugly part, but the strong and dignified were true to the end.


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