An American Icon

 Last night, I watched The Searchers again. I have lost track of how often I have watched that movie. Yet, there is something about it that demands a reviewing on a consistent basis. I’ve written a few blogs about what a masterpiece this movie is, so I won’t go into that again. What led to this blog post, though, was a quote from The Duke on the door to my office.
That quote got me to thinking if I could find other quotes from John Wayne. A quick Google search revealed over 1.7 million hits within the search parameters of “John Wayne”. Apparently more than thirty years after his death from cancer, The Duke is still popular.
Here are some of my favorites that I found which can be attributed to John Wayne:
John Wayne was unapologetic in his patriotism and love of country, so it was no surprise to find that he said this: “Sure, I wave the American flag. Do you know a better one?” Nope, Duke, I sure don’t. And, while he was lambasted and lampooned for that staunch patriotism, Wayne never flinched. When he was invited to Harvard to attend the annual lampooning banquet and knowing he was the one who was going to be lampooned in that elitist environment, Wayne made the most of it. He arrived in a borrowed tank.
War movies and Westerns…those are what we remember John Wayne’s career for. He apparently had a few things to say about Westerns, things that still resonate today about what he saw as simple basic truths and values (especially with this Western historical romance author). Of the appeal of the Western, he said: “Put a man on a horse, and right off you’ve got the making of something magnificent. Physical strength, speed where you can feel it, plus heroism. And the hero, he’s big and strong. You pit another strong man against him, with both their lives at stake, and right there’s a simplicity of conflict you just can’t beat.”
Wayne was also a staunch defender of the genre. In defense of the Western he is quoted as saying “Don’t even for a minute make the mistake of looking down your nose at Westerns. They’re art—the good ones, I mean. Sure, they’re simple, but simplicity is art. They deal in life and sudden death and primitive struggle, and with the basic emotions—love, hate, and anger—thrown in.”
John Wayne played John Wayne playing John Wayne—or at least that was the criticism of his acting skills. When confronted on that shortly after losing the Oscar for True Grit, Wayne said, “I play John Wayne in every part regardless of the character and I’ve been doing okay, haven’t I?” Another time, when asked in an interview what set him apart from other Western movie idols, Wayne is reported to have thought about his answer for as long as it took to finish smoking the cigarette he’d just lit. As he ground the butt out, he said just two words: “John Ford.”
Wayne’s loyalty to those around him, to his friends and family was legendary. He had little tolerance for racism and bigotry. The anecdotes of his lack of racism and bigotry are many—told by former cast members, members of the filming crew, and members of the extras used on set. He was incredibly well-read and highly intellectual—something of a surprise to Lee Marvin, who was also rumored to have been a bumbling ignoramus. When the men began comparing notes on the set of a movie they were filming together on the next book to read as filming a movie involves a lot of down time Marvin said something to The Duke about not being anything like the stereotype he was depicted as. Wayne leaned in and said, “Let’s just keep this among ourselves, shall we?”
When criticized about some of the violence in his movies, Wayne admitted that he had been in movies where he was depicted as killing people, but those people were killed because they violated the code. That code was what he lived his life by: honesty, loyalty, being true to one’s word, and strength of character. Because of his iconic status, Wayne was once quoted as saying he never wanted to make a movie that he would be embarrassed to take his mother, his wife, or his daughters to go see. He understood that he had another role to play outside of the movies because of the respect that he had earned from the movie-going public.
God, I miss The Duke.

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