Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne
Ronald L. Davis
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Almost two decades after his death, John Wayne is still America’s favorite movie star. More than an actor, Wayne is a cultural icon whose stature seems to grow with the passage of time. In this illuminating biography, Ronald L. Davis focuses on Wayne’s human side, portraying a complex personality defined by frailty and insecurity as well as by courage and strength.
Davis traces Wayne’s story from its beginnings in Winterset, Iowa, to his death in 1979. This is not a story of instant fame: only after a decade in budget westerns did Wayne receive serious consideration, for his performance in John Ford’s 1939 film Stagecoach. From that point on, his skills and popularity grew as he appeared in such classics as Fort Apache, Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man, The Searches, The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, and True Grit. A man’s ideal more than a woman’s, Wayne earned his popularity without becoming either a great actor or a sex symbol. In all his films, whatever the character, John Wayne portrayed John Wayne, a persona he created for himself: the tough, gritty loner whose mission was to uphold the frontier’s--and the nation’s--traditional values.
To depict the different facets of Wayne’s life and career, Davis draws on a range of primary and secondary sources, most notably exclusive interviews with the people who knew Wayne well, including the actor’s costar Maureen O’Hara and his widow, Pilar Wayne. The result is a well-balanced, highly engaging portrait of a man whose private identity was eventually overshadowed by his screen persona--until he came to represent America itself.
two families, but tensions inevitably surfaced. Melinda, like Toni, had made a point of not inviting Pilar to her wedding. The bride "went on to explain her personal belief that Duke and I weren't married in the eyes of God," Pilar wrote. "My dad told me to love the older kids as brothers and sisters," Pilar's daughter Aissa wrote. ''I tried to, but I never knew if their warmth was real or merely a show to placate my dad. It was all very cordial between us, and superficial." Part of the
Naval Academy at Annapolis. "He was a good scholar," recalled classmate Helen Pierce Latta. "He worked next to me in the chemistry lab. It was very frustrating because he was good and I wasn't." Park Turrell, the chemistry teacher, remembered Duke as an A student. During his junior year at Glendale High, Marion was vice president of his class, worked on the student newspaper, and was a propboy for school plays. But it was on the football field that he earned his greatest celebrity. Coached
friends with Barbara Ford, the director's daughter, and insisted that Barbara accompany her to Monument Valley. The two young women spent a great deal of their time together laughing. "I really didn't like Duke very much," said Dru, "and I was terrified of horses." But one day the actress and Barbara Ford were watching Wayne shoot a scene on horseback. Suddenly Barbara said, "Joanne, why are we out here watching him ride a horse?" Dru replied, "Because he turns us on, Barbara." The director's
reason back of the rift," Louella Parsons wrote in her Page 166 column. "Mrs. Wayne is desperately jealous of John's devotion to his four children by a previous marriage." Respectful of Josephine and hesitant to reveal Duke's second marriage for what it was, the duennas of Hollywood gossip attempted to sanitize a shabby situation. Wayne's despair deepened when Big Jim McLain was not well received. At the movie's preview at the Warner Theater in Huntington Park, California, the
complained that the production was moving slowly because of the all-media camera. "For instance, this morning for a two-shot, because we're being so careful of this first picture with your new camera, it took us an hour and a half," he reported to Warner. ''It would probably save us three hours a day to have two cameras here.... At this rate our picture will take us forty-five days, at least a third longer. I feel that this is very unfair to us, particularly when this camera was not completely