In memory of John Wayne who would have been 108 today. Interestingly my granddad died age 108.
There rode a legend ………
It was a sad day for all John Wayne fans when he passed away on June 11th 1979 age 72.
John Wayne or ‘The Duke’ as he was known is my favourite actor. You can keep your Leonardo DiCaprios and Brad Pitts here was a ‘real’ man. With his rugged good looks, distinctive walk and voice Wayne oozed sex appeal. But more importantly the characters he played respected women and knew how to treat them-you get the impression that this was how John Wayne was off screen. He walked tall, (he was six feet four inches), and proud and embodied the ideals of decency and honesty. He was big and tough, but he could also be tender.
In his on screen roles he didn’t go looking for trouble, but when it came he met it like a man.
This is what his character ‘John Bernard Books’ says in what was Wayne’s last film ‘The Shootist,’ ( 1976). I think it neatly sums up all Wayne stood for;
‘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. I require the same from them’
John Wayne attended the University of Southern California on a football scholarship. He worked in the film industry there, as a prop man to help pay his college fees. He was spotted by the director Raoul Walsh who gave him one of his first starring roles in ‘The Big Trail’ in 1930. It was Walsh who also gave Wayne his stage name of ‘John Wayne’. His real name was Marion Robert Morrison, but from an early age he was given the nickname ‘Duke’; apparently because he had an Airedale dog with this name.
The Big Trail was not a box office success, however and Wayne went back to bit parts. The director John Ford ‘rediscovered’ him and cast him as the Ringo kid in the Oscar winning film ‘Stagecoach’, ( 1939).
Wayne and Ford became life long friends and they made many spectacular westerns together. One of these was ‘The Searchers,’ (1956) in which Wayne plays Ethan Edwards a bitter middle aged loner who spends years looking for his abducted niece. It is a role that is regarded as Wayne’s finest performance and many felt that he should have won an Oscar. He named his youngest son Ethan after his character.
But it was as a hard drinking one eyed fat old Federal Marshall called ‘Rooster Cogburn’ that Wayne won his first and only Oscar in the film ‘True Grit’. (1969). This is my favourite film.
Although he features mainly in westerns and World War Two films Wayne also appears in police films and romantic comedies like ‘The Quiet Man,’ (1952). Starring alongside Maureen O’ Hara he plays an Irish American professional boxer Sean Thornton who moves to Ireland to reclaim his family’s farm. Wayne himself described it as the favourite of all his films. It received seven academy nominations, including best picture. John Ford won his fourth best director Oscar.
The Quiet Man was filmed in ‘Cong’ in ‘County Mayo’ in Ireland and the photography of the lush countryside is breathtaking.
Wayne was married three times. All of his wives were of Hispanic descent.
When asked why this was Wayne said he didn’t plan it that way ‘it was just by happenstance’.
Wayne had seven children and more than fifteen grand children. Several of whom are also actors and they have appeared in his films.
In 1964 Wayne had a cancerous lung removed and then in 1978 he had heart valve replacement surgery. He died on June 11th 1979 after battling cancer again, this time of the stomach. Shortly before his death Wayne converted to Catholicism.
Jimmy Carter was President at the time of Wayne’s death. He said of him;
‘He was bigger than life and in an age of few heroes he was the genuine article.’
Wayne personified the American values and ideals of his era.
He made more than two hundred films and from 1949-1974 Wayne was one of the top ten box office attractions.
His films continue to figure highly in the ratings today and so does he. In the Harris poll of 2007, (Time magazine), he came third beating the likes of Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise and George Clooney. He is the only deceased star on the list and the only one to have appeared on it every year.
Without a doubt John Wayne is the greatest Hollywood actor of all time.
I suspect that had Wayne been asked if he ever thought that one day he would be considered a legend he would have replied in his usual laconic manner. “That’ll be the day!”
No other actor will ever be able to fill his big boots.
He may have ridden off this ‘mortal coil’ but he will never be forgotten!
The hell he will!
Happy birthday to John today, May 26th.