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John Wayne on Wikipedia

Official John Wayne site

JWayne.com (an unofficial site)

Turner Classic Movies

Selected Movie clips from TCM

Shirley Temple's IMDb page

 

 

The "winning" of the American West, which in reality involved stealing land from indigenous peoples and in some cases eradicating them, is actually a pretty sour period in U.S. history. This era was completely idealized in American culture, however, and the truth of the history was "altered" by popular literature and later in the cinema, by the "western", which idealized the concept of the "western hero." In the early decades of the 20th century, any wrongs the country might have perpetrated during the latter part of the 19th were "erased" by the image of the lone American Western Hero, cast alongside his horse, standing tall for the ideals of American patriotism. No Western Hero in pop culture was bigger than John Wayne, an imposing actor who grew to iconic status during his lifetime, and a figure that even today stirs some discontent among liberal thinkers who won't forgive him for the ills he represented, especially because of his ultra conservative stance in the later years of his life, when the U.S. was embroiled in the Vietnam conflict.

The "western" has all but disappeared from American lore. First popularized by "dime novels", supposedly recounting the lives and actions of real people, like Buffalo Bill, the stories of western expansion through the "wide open spaces" of the American West were prime fodder for the budding film industry. The film companies built standing film sets in the area around Los Angeles, and hundreds of "oaters" were produced on shoestring budgets, igniting the imaginations of a generation of young filmgoers in the 20s and 30s. John Wayne rose from the ranks of these low budget westerns to become one of the most respected western stars in the Hollywood galaxy.

John Wayne, born Marion Morrison on May 26, 1907 grew up in Southern California and attended USC on a scholarship. He was a strapping and almost impossibly good looking alpha male. While in college, "Duke" Wayne became a prop man on the Fox lot. Impressed with his looks, film director John Ford cast him in "The Big Trail", a big budget story of western expansion shot in 70mm widescreen. Although the film was a commercial failure, Wayne became typecast as a western hero, and by the time Ford again cast him in his breakthrough film, "Stagecoach", in 1939, the "Duke" had made over 70 low budget westerns.

The archetypal western hero that John Wayne evoked was a loner, hardhearted, decisive, quick to act, inflexible but righteous. His characters might not always be "right" but they were always heroic and larger than life. The mantle of western hero was shed for a series of war films Wayne made during the U.S. involvement in World War II during the 40s, and in between the westerns and the war films, there were some other roles in different genres, but by the end of the decade of the 40s. Wayne's "cowboy", epitomized by Tom Dunson in Howard Hawk's "Red River" in 1948, became an iconic figure for most of the country.

He never really was able to shake the image he had established, and the directors who worked with him, specifically John Ford, crafted and refined his iconic image in film after film as he aged. Today, he is almost forgotten among youth obsessed with video games and big budget concept films. He's been dead for almost 30 years. He still commands attention with a devoted following, however, even though his status as icon was somewhat tarnished because of his politics during the latter part of his life.

The image grew larger than life while he was still making films, and with each succeeding role, he made sure that the ideals he represented were never compromised. An ardent Republican, Wayne used his celebrity to further his political causes and anti communist stance. His production company made movies, such as "The Green Berets", the only movie about Vietnam made during the war, which was unpopularly pro war. His greatest role was in Ford's "The Searchers" in 1956, where his character's idealistic obsession nearly borders on insanity while "searching" for a girl who was kidnapped by "indians". Ford's films increasingly dealt with the plight of the Native American, and in "The Searchers" the truth vs. the legend of the American West was finally being exposed on film. That didn't stop the legend from growing, however. It is in another Ford movie starring Wayne, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" where the line "Print the legend" was coined. The legend of Duke Wayne continued to grow througout the 50s and 60s.

John Wayne is always considered a "movie star" rather than an actor. Movie Stars developed personas which they played off in film after film. Wayne's output does match this definition, but he did turn in some powerful performances, and though not a "trained actor", his screen work can be quite varied when investigated. His roles in "The Searchers" and "From Here to Eternity" deserved acting accolades, but it wasn't until 1969, late in his career, that he was awarded the Oscar for portraying one eyed Rooster Cogburn in the film "True Grit." He spent another decade on the nation's movie screens, but during the 70s a differnt kind of movie became popular, and though Wayne's star never really faded, it did sink lower into the sunset of American film. Wayne died of lung cancer in 1979. In his last role, in 1976's "The Shootist", he plays a gunfighter dying of cancer who perishes onscreen. It was a fitting end to a long and illustrious career.

He has had airports and schools named after him. During WWII, items as various as paper towels and C-ration crackers were christened with his name. A lot of veterans claim their entry into service is because of his movies. In March 2007, the first "official" John Wayne website will go online. He will not soon be forgotten in the cultural blender of time.

 

 

 

WHY JOHN WAYNE? Although the Western film propelled many acting careers into the stratosphere, Wayne's career superseded those of nearly all who came before or after. In modern film history, the "western" is almost dead, but during Wayne's heyday, it was the most popular genre of feature. From the oaters of the 30s, through the iconic 50s John Ford films, on through to the rubberstamped period films of the 60s, the tall, commanding image of John Wayne became ingrained in American cultural history. He embodies the cowboy, or "western hero", and personifies a complete culture that virtually ignored the actual history of the founding of the American West. But even aside from the jingoism and lies perpetrated by the "myth", the figure of John Wayne is larger than not only life, but larger than the misconceptions some of the genre in which he participated perpetrated during the 40s through the 60s. There will never be another John Wayne.

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Photos obtained from various websites using a Yahoo image search. The movie footage has been embedded from a user at the YouTube site.

John's first success was in John Ford's "Stagecoach" in 1939 as gunfighter the "Ringo Kid".

The iconic still from the movie "Hondo". Wayne's particular ambling walk is one of his trademarks.

John specialized in western roles and in service pictures. During World War II, Wayne fought for every branch of the service in his films.

Stoic, no nonsense. Ready for a fight. Upstanding. Immovable. The great American Cowboy Hero. Wayne's persona never mellowed as he aged.

A young John Wayne

John Wayne collector plate.

John embodied the fifties ideal of manhood.

A set of U.S. Post Office stamps commemorating The Duke

Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, from the film "True Grit", for which he finally won an Oscar in 1969

The statue of Wayne outside Orange County's John Wayne Airport.

 

John played Ethan Edwards, an unlikable but still idealistic character in "The Searchers" (1956) Here is the trailer for that film.

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