John Wayne in Stagecoach

John Wayne died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72.

I was late in coming to understand how great he really was. Back then his acting style seemed corny to me and I didn’t care for his politics. I still don’t care for his politics, but they’re a lot better than what Conservatism has morphed into in the last 30 years. As for the acting, I get it now. He was a personality and an icon as much as an actor. That’s how it was done back then and there aren’t many who did it better than Wayne.

In a terrific remembrance of the actor culled from assorted interviews and encounters over the years, Roger Ebert describes him as follows:

“Why did he become, and remain, not only a star but an icon? He was uncommonly attractive in face and presence. He was utterly without affectation. He was at home. He could talk to anyone. You couldn’t catch him acting. He was lucky to start early, in the mid-1920s, and become at ease on camera even before his first speaking role. He sounded how he looked. He was a small-town Iowa boy, a college football player. He worked with great directors. He listened to them. He wasn’t a sex symbol. He didn’t perform, he embodied. You liked him.”

Read Ebert’s excellent piece.  I defy you not to like the man too.

Here’s a great quote of Wayne talking in 1976 about the way it used to be (if only he’d lived to see how right he was):

“All the real motion picture people have always made family pictures. But the downbeats and the so-called intelligentsia got in when the government stupidly split up the production companies and the theaters. The old giants–Mayer, Thalberg, even Harry Cohn, despite the fact that personally I couldn’t stand him–were good for this industry. Now the goddamned stock manipulators have taken over. They don’t know a goddamned thing about making movies. They make something dirty, and it makes money, and they say, ‘Jesus, let’s make one a little dirtier, maybe it’ll make more money.’ And now even the bankers are getting their noses into it.”

Marion Michael Morrison,
AKA John Wayne,
AKA The Duke:

May 25, 1907 – June 11, 1979

14 Responses to “30 Years Ago: John Wayne”

  1. The Seachers, in pristine technicolor blu-ray, is on sale at Amazon.com for $7.99 this week. You can readjust to post-modern mode afterward with The Wild Bunch blu-ray for $12.99.

  2. Searchers was one of the first blu-rays I ever watched. Not exactly the movie you want to show off your equipment on, but it looked great.

  3. My Wayne tribute next week includes an invite to his beloved yacht he let Otto Preminger use in SKIDOO….Hippies on the Duke’s craft!

  4. Thanks for this, my precious little crabcake.

    I loved the man. Didn’t care for his politics. But he was a GREAT STAR in the truest, purest sense of those words.

    Don’t see much of that in Hollywood these days.

    I look back at old interviews with him and you can tell that he was a real softy despite all the hardasses that he played. And for having a reputation as a real man’s man, it was obvious to me that he genuinely liked women.

    After all, he WAS life long friends with Maureen O’Hara…and fiery Maureen took no crap from ANYONE.

    And may I say…in his youth he was pretty goddamned dreamy. Somehow I don’t think he’d mind.

    To the Duke…

    Long may he reign.

  5. Always loved the Duke, and too many of his 150 plus films are always worth watching again.

    I remember the paper reporting on his death 30 years ago. The front page story of his passing shared space with the story of the first person, an American, to achieve man-powered flight. Perhaps a small achievement, but it suggested that the American values of independence, self-reliance, and the drive to succeed, all of which were extolled by the Duke, would live on and that John Wayne’s exposition of these values, both on film and in life, provided inspiration then and would continue to do so after his death. Thirty years on, Wayne still shines as a beacon of Americanism.

    Even so, one of his universally acknowledged greatest films extolled not Americanism so much as something else. That is “The Quiet Man”, which was an homage to the culture of ordinary people in Ireland and in which Wayne plays Sean Thornton, an Irish emigrant raised in America who decides to return home to Ireland to make his life. One cannot understate the impact on and importance of this movie to both Irish Americans and the Irish. Perhaps the march of time will dim the appeal of westerns and WWII flicks, but this movie will always stand as one of the great movies about Irish life, fictitious as it is.

    “The Quiet Man” was certainly important for me. My Irish immigrant parents saw the movie first run in Times Square while on their honeymoon in NYC in September 1952. Nine months later, I was born. I must always consider the movie as an inspiration for my very existence, and the coincidence of Wayne’s date of death with my birthday has always since sealed it for me.

  6. Thanks for sharing, John. That’s a great story and I appreciate your thoughts. I remember when Wayne passed, but I wasn’t able to fully appreciate his legacy.

  7. Thanks for that John. I think one of the appeals of Wayne is that he represents a time when it was a little more clear what the Americanism you speak of was.

  8. I get a laugh out of the losers who claim to have loved John Wayne , but they “didn’t like his politics.” John Wayne would have laughed at you!
    HE was an American.

  9. Robert, I’ll bet John Wayne would’ve thought some guy sitting up at all hours on the internet in his boxers firing off comments at strangers on random movie blogs whose politics he disagreed with was pretty funny too.

    I know I do.

  10. I have to thank Robert for this comment. Not for its idiotic content but for drawing my attention to a thread I originally missed and that features a lovely reflection on Wayne’s significance for the commenter John.

  11. Pinko

  12. Commie stooge.

  13. Awesome. I love when some random jackass shows up to remind me that it is a rare thing indeed to actually have people on a web site treat each other with respect. Thanks Robert! You’re a real American hero.

    John Wayne would have punched out a jerk like you. HE respected others and had these things called manners and dignity.

  14. Ever notice how those that squeal the loudest about American patriotism are the first to try and shout down anyone with an alternative opinion? Kinda ironic since that’s, you know, sort of one of the founding principles of this country.

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