John Wayne: An American Icon

John Wayne in True Grit (1969)

The towering physical presence and charisma of the man called “The Duke” fostered a screen persona that came to embody forthright and self-determined American masculinity for countless filmgoers and that has continued to endure in popularity for generations. Years later, when John Wayne was the toast of Hollywood and was asked how he came by the moniker, he surprised many with his candid comment, “There’s been a lot of stories about how I got to be called Duke. One was that I played the part of a duke in a school play–which I never did. Sometimes, they even said I was descended from royalty! It was all a lot of rubbish. Hell, the truth is that I was named after a dog!”

Born on May 26, 1907 in Winterset, Iowa, the son of a pharmacist who relocated to southern California for his health, young Marion Robert Morrison grew into a strapping kid who parlayed his excellence at high school football into a full scholarship at USC. Injury would ultimately curtail his athletic and academic presence at the college, but not before gaining entry into the film industry, beginning with a summer job as a prop man.

He made his first screen appearance, unbilled, as a Yale footballer in Brown of Harvard (1926), hit the gridiron again in another uncredited turn in The Drop Kick (1927), and got frequent walk-on work on the Fox lot over the course of the late ’20s, often from his developing friend and mentor, director John Ford.

In 1930, Raoul Walsh rechristened the unknown actor John Wayne, after Revolutionary War leader “Mad Anthony” Wayne, and rolled the dice that he could carry the director’s ambitious, expensive western The Big Trail. The project proved a notorious fizzle, but Wayne doggedly held onto his screen ambitions, spending the balance of the decade racking up some five dozen credits at studios major and minor. In Texas Cyclone (1932), he buddied with Tim McCoy; he came to the aid of a wild horse (named Duke!) accused of killing a man in Ride Him, Cowboy (1932); and John even tried his hand at crooning as Singin’ Sandy Saunders in Riders of Destiny (1933). As he continued anchoring B oaters, Wayne occasionally broke out of the Western pattern, playing a businessman in the 1933 romantic comedy His Private Secretary, and sometimes found supporting work in A projects. He also got starring roles in a trio of Saturday matinee serials: The Shadow of the Eagle and The Hurricane Express (both 1932), followed by the Foreign Legion saga The Three Musketeers (1933). Years had passed when, reflecting on his humble start in Hollywood, he said, “I read someplace that I used to make B-pictures. Hell, they were a lot farther down the alphabet than that!”

He worked his way up, throughout the 1930s, from the Lone Star and Monogram studios to Republic Pictures. It was at this juncture that Ford deemed him ready to play the Ringo Kid in his latest project for producer Walter Wanger:  the 1939 sagebrush drama Stagecoach.  Co-starring Thomas Mitchell, Andy Devine and a top-billed Claire Trevor, the seminal adult western changed the face of the genre and planted Wayne on the A-list to stay. Because Republic had Wayne’s contract at the time, they were the primary beneficiary of his newfound success, as he co-starred in the Three Mesquiteers series and re-teamed with Trevor, plus a young cowpoke named Roy Rogers, in Dark Command (1939). The following year found John donning a coonskin cap for RKO’s frontier actioner Allegheny Uprising , also with Trevor.

John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

As the 1940s rolled on, Wayne had success at Universal, with starring stints in Seven Sinners (1940) with Marlene Dietrich; The Shepherd of the Hills (1941) with fellow Ford favorite Harry Carey; Pittsburgh and The Spoilers (both 1942), again with Dietrich; and Reap the Wild Wind (1942) for Cecil B. DeMille. A 3-A draft deferment due to age and family status (plus, some say, the influence of Republic executives) kept Wayne from active military service during World War II,  but he nonethless became a prolific screen serviceman, taking on the Axis in such patriotic fare as Flying Tigers (1942), the somewhat true story The Fighting Seabees (1944), and Back to Bataan and They Were Expendable (both 1945).

His popularity continued unabated in the postwar period, most notably for his maturing efforts under director Ford in the highly underrated Technicolor gem, 3 Godfathers (1948) and Ford’s classic Cavalry trilogy: Fort Apache  (1948) with Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950), which paired him with Maureen O’Hara for the first of five times. His first collaboration with Howard Hawks was in 1948’s Red River with newcomer Montgomery Clift, and his first career Oscar nomination for Best Actor in 1949’s Sands of Iwo Jima helped the Duke ride out the decade’s end in true style.

Wayne entered the 1950s with more battle tales, such as 1951’s Operation Pacific with Patricia Neal and Flying Leathernecks, opposite Robert Ryan. The following year he and O’Hara re-teamed for Ford’s engaging Ireland opus The Quiet Man (1952). The story goes that Ford was holding onto the picture since 1936, waiting for the right time to do it. Herbert J. Yates, head honcho at Republic, was sure the film would be poison at the box office, but agreed to finance it if Ford would first make Rio Grande, figuring the studio would at least recoup a few dollars with a western. For the uninitiated, The Quiet Man was Republic’s one and only movie ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, and remains the studio’s most prestigious film.

After making Trouble Along the Way with Donna Reed for Warner Brothers in 1953, the actor got his own production company, Batjac, off the ground that same year with Island in the Sky and Hondo (which was originally shown in theaters in 3-D), and in 1954 scored a big box office hit as a commercial pilot who must try to land a damaged plane in the early “disaster movie” The High and the Mighty. Oddly enough, Wayne wasn’t director William Wellman’s first choice for pilot Dan Roman. Wellman lobbied for Spencer Tracy, who turned it down for political reasons. Tracy, a staunchly liberal Democrat, and upset by the Hollywood Blacklist at the time, wouldn’t work with arch-conservative Wayne or for a Batjac produced film.

Blood Alley, co-starring Lauren Bacall, and The Sea Chase with Lana Turner (both in 1955) continued Wayne’s unshakable popularity. There’d then be more fruitful reunions with John Ford over the rest of the decade, as evidenced by the combat aviation biopic The Wings of Eagles (1957),  co-starring Maureen O’Hara.  Wayne and O’Hara remained close through the years, and his true feelings about the famous redhead were apparent when he said, “There’s only one woman who has been my friend over the years and by that I mean a real friend, like a man would be. That woman is Maureen O’Hara. She’s big, lusty, and absolutely marvelous definitely my kind of woman. She’s a great guy. I’ve had many friends and I prefer the company of men… except for Maureen O’Hara.”

The Horse Soldiers, co-starring William Holden and helmed by Ford, pleased audiences in 1959 but could not come near the height of the previous Ford/Wayne western, 1956’s The Searchers, which has become a source of inspiration for many future filmmakers. It was around this time when method acting was the talk of Hollywood, sometimes ridiculing Duke’s supposedly “stilted” movements. It turned out that he had an acting method all his own when he admitted, “When I started, I knew I was no actor and I went to work on this Wayne thing. It was as deliberate a projection as you’ll ever see. I figured I needed a gimmick, so I dreamed up the drawl, the squint and a way of moving meant to suggest that I wasn’t looking for trouble but would just as soon throw a bottle at your head as not. I practiced in front of a mirror.”

Donovan’s Reef Movie Poster (1963)

 

Wayne opened the 1960s by tackling a long-contemplated and very personal project, recounting the 1836 battle at The Alamo. Beyond starring as Davy Crockett, he took the director’s reins and sunk a large part of his own cash into its funding. While garnering seven Academy Award nominations, including a Best Picture nod, the critical and popular response was decidedly mixed. The Duke would rebound over the next few years with such two-fisted tales as North to Alaska (1960), co-starring Stewart Granger and Ernie Kovacs; The Comancheros (1961) with Lee Marvin and Stuart Whitman; and with James Stewart and Marvin in Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).  Wayne and director Howard Hawks reunited for the African-based actioner Hatari! (1962) and the range war drama El Dorado (1966), while 1963’s frontier rouser McLintock!, directed by old pal Victor McLaglen’s son, Andrew, re-teamed John and Maureen O’Hara. Donovan’s Reef, his final film for director Ford was a huge success. By the middle of the decade, though, health issues were besetting the performer, as he lost a lung to cancer due to his longtime tobacco use.

Always unabashedly right-leaning in his personal politics, his advocacy of America’s presence in Vietnam spurred him to direct and star in The Green Berets (1968) and made his public profile more polarizing than ever before. The ’60s concluded with his finally capturing an Best Actor Oscar on the second try, as the profane, one-eyed marshal Rooster Cogburn of True Grit. At the Academy presentation, he got a good laugh when he quipped, “If I’d known this was all it would take, I’d have put that eye patch on 40 years ago.”

Wayne stayed busy into the 1970s, even as the roles became less age-appropriate; notable exceptions came with The Cowboys (1972) and his 1975 reprisal as Rooster Cogburn opposite unlikely co-star Katharine Hepburn. He had lots of offers and could have made many more movies in his later years but laid it out so honestly, saying, “I never want to play silly old men chasing young girls, as some of the stars are doing.”

His last screen role– that of an aging, terminally ill gunfighter in 1976’s The Shootist– would prove to be valedictory and sadly prophetic, as he thereafter disclosed the gastric cancer that would claim his life within three years… and directly from the source: “God, how I hate solemn funerals. When I die, take me into a room and burn me. Then my family and a few good friends should get together, have a few good belts, and talk about the crazy old time we all had together.”

Hear, hear, Duke — Happy Birthday!

And now, enjoy one of Duke’s finest dramatic performances in the theatrical trailer for The Searchers from 1956:

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How about weighing in on our John Wayne poll:

What’s Your Favorite John Wayne War Movie?

  • Tito Pannaggi

    The same way John Wayne is an American icon is Jean Gabin a French icon. There are not many actors that got that gifted personality. Many actors are typical; like Clint Eastwood is typical American, David Niven is a typical british, Max von Sydow is typical Swedish, Vittorio Gassman is typical Italian etc. But ONLY John Wayne and Jean Gabin are icons!

  • Ganderson

    I’ve always loved the Duke.  I remember watching one of his movies and looking up at that classic American visage on the big screen and thinking that his face is more familiar to me than my own family’s.  But Jerry missed one of the Duke’s best movies – one that clearly showed what an astoundlingly versatile actor he was.  Wayne played a family dentist in the under-rated (and almost unknown) film “On the Wings of Novacaine.”  It has one of the great scenes in cinematic history when the patient’s family is nervously pacing the waiting room, anxious for any news of the patient’s condition.  The Duke walks out, his dentist’s frock unbuttoned at the collar, and steps over to the wife and drawls the classic line: “well, little lady, it looks like we’re just gonna have to yank it outa there.”  (I am, of course, kidding — love that Duke!)  Seriously, I think my favorite scene in all movies is the classic shoot-out at the end of “True Grit.”  Though I’ve seen it many dozens of times, it never ceases to satisfy as great cinema, stirring musical score, and classic John Wayne — the capstone of an entire motion picture career covered in a mere 2 minutes.  And to really appreciate it, you had to have seen it for the first time on the big screen in 1969, not knowing what was going to happen.  It was an era when, like as not, the western hero was going to end up dead at the conclusion of the picture (Butch Cassidy, the Wild Bunch) and the viewer didn’t even know whether Rooster was going to run for it or going to stand and fight in a very one-sided battle.  At “Well, fill your hand” and the reins in his teeth, I found myself trying to cheer, laugh and cry all at the same time and rising to my feet (with most of the audience) without even realizing it. Pure cinema – pure John Wayne.

  • Wayne P.

    He had many great lines but one of my faves is from 1961’s “The Comancheros” when he said to Stuart Whitman:  ‘Monsieur, you’re a lulu…’ because it showed his dry wit and fine sense of humor.  Another was when he and Dean Martin are searching the saloon for Ward Bonds killer in “Rio Bravo” and one of the baddies denied having seen him, JW calmly slung is oft-present rifle and said:  “I’ll remember you said that…” His reprise of the battle with Maureen O’Hara in “McClintock”, borrowed from the original feistiness of “The Quiet Man” was another classic for the ages!  A truly fine remembrance and many thanks for the salutations to the one and only Duke.

    • dpharrington

      The best line in Rio Bravo has to be (quoting from memory):

      Bond:  An old cripple and a drunk, that’s all you got?
      Wayne:  That’s WHAT I got.

  • Bjodrie

    My Top Five John Wayne Films
    1Rio Bravo
    2Flying Tigers
    3Sands Of Iwo Jima
    4Dark Command
    5Blood Alley

  • Blair kramer

    Many if not most great movie stars were not great actors.  But there were exceptions.  Lon Chaney Sr.,  Charlie Chaplin,  Clark Gable,  and Spencer Tracy immediately come to mind.  To that list I would add Marion Morrison,  AKA,  John Wayne.  For some reason his acting ability completely went over the heads of most film critics.  As a result,  they hardly ever gave him his due.  They said that he never varied his characters.  He only ever played himself.  Really?  Is that so?  Do you agree with that assessment of one of the greatest movie stars who ever lived?  Just as I have long said that one cannot watch GONE WITH THE WIND and not be impressed with the acting ability of Clark Gable,  one cannot also watch THE SEARCHERS and not be impressed with the work of John Wayne.  In any case,  the notion that he only ever played himself on-screen was never true.  His character in SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON was nothing at all like the man he played in RED RIVER. And Wayne played them both to perfection.  On top of this,  he was also a top notch comedic actor who had perfect timing.  NORTH TO ALASKA and McCLINTOCK are truly great comedies.  In fact,  they’re downright hilarious!  So here’s the bottom line:  As far as I’m concerned,  absolutely no current movie star can entertain an audience nearly as well as John Wayne.  No one even comes close!

    Got that,  Pilgrim?! 

    • Jasonrfleming

      Wayne was definitely a MOVIE STAR but it was only when he had a truly great director like John Ford (mostly) or Howard Hawks that he could be a fine actor. My favorite has to be The Searchers in it Wayne gives an incredible performance as a man consumed with hate. In the end just as savage as his enemy. Stagecoach & The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are close behind. Red River is not far behind them even with that ending I could never buy.

  • Gemini09

    Particularly enjoyed the Dukes films with Maureen O’Hara – as they had great chemistry together and she was as feisty as him. My all time favourite film is The Searchers – as it showed that Wayne could really act and wasn’t merely a “movie star”. I think his career was similar to Cary Grant in the fact that they were so natural on the screen it didn’t appear as if they were acting. 

  • Psychoajr

    I have watched only four Wayne films more than once.  “The Quiet Man,” “Red River,” “The Searchers”
    and “Rio Bravo” are my favorites.  Great cinema.  Never a big Duke fan.  Having worked at a movie theater in my early years, I saw Wayne ride in much too often.  His large canon of flims created a burnout, nothing new.  For those that loved Wayne, nothing new was just fine as his boxoffice power proved.  Then there was “The Green Berets,” which I still consider the worst film ever made in the history of motion pictures. I can’t see an image of Wayne without thinking about that film.

    • Blair kramer

      Yea… Whether you agree with his politics or not,  artisitcally speaking, THE GREEN BERET was an unfortunate emotional outburst on the part of John Wayne. But too many film critics tended to attack Wayne merely because of his conservative viewpoints. In any case,  I don’t think THE GREEN BERET actually qualifies as the worst film ever made. After all,  it wasn’t directed by Cecil B. DeMille or Ed Wood!  And on that note, most critics and fans agree that Ed Wood’s PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE actually wins the worst film trophy, hands down!  I know Wood’s films were very low budget, but there’s a reason for that. His profound lack of talent made it very hard for him to find investors! You see, truly talented people could always create an interesting film no matter how meager the budget.  As film directors go,  Wood was very definitely flailing in the dark!  In terms of sheer awfulness, PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE is downright surreal!  

  • John George

    Having never been a great John Wayne fan, I agree with Psychoajr in general; however, I think Wayne’s best performances were in films where he did not play typical “Wayne-esque” characters; namely, THE QUIET MAN; THE SEARCHERS; THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY; and THE SHOOTIST. I’ve re-watched these films many times, and have always enjoyed his performances.

  • DeAnn

    I think, like many Americans, that John Wayne had a conservative point of view and a liberal point of view.  He believed in animal rights, women’s rights and so on.  Those are more liberal than conservative.  I do know, that he’d be outraged with the current GOP and their attempts to control everyone!  

    • speedle

       DeAnn, what you are describing is a conservative with libertarian bent, which is exactly what John Wayne embodied.  He was the entertainment media standard bearer for the concept of individual freedom.  It is sad though that you seem to equate the “current GOP” with the philosophy of “controlling everyone”.  In fact, you have it exactly backward.  It is the modern GOP that is trying to save us from the current powers that seek to control everything in our lives.  You might want to rethink.

  • http://twitter.com/Bryankr Bryan Ruffin

    Personally, I have always been a huge Duke fan! I know he had his political statements to make and Green Berets was definitely one of those! I still loved the movies he made!! Whatever else may be true, many people believed he was the quintessential  American. He was big as life, his characters never backed down, always stood up for the small guy, all that! For me…I used his movies to go someplace I have never been before; Tucson Arizona, Guadalcanal, Places I have never been and will probably never go, his movies took me there. For 2 hours I got to go there and be as big as life, help the little guy…..

  • Susan

    I loved the Quiet Man, The Searchers, McClintock, and Wake of the Red Witch, as well as so many other of his films. We forget his versatility because he played himself. But he starred in varied genres from war/westerns, to Dramadies (Trouble Along the Way) to sea faring sagas (Reap the Wild Wind.). He was believable in many types of movies. But the thing for which I am grateful if the way he brought so much pleasure to my dad’s life. One afternoon, nearing the end of dad’s time, he and I were sitting on the family porch. He said that he didn’t have anything to complain about. Dad said, “I’ve had my dear wife, great kids, and a nice home…….and John Wayne”. I said, “Really Dad? You put him up there with Mom and the rest?” He grinned. He was grateful for all the moments that he had enjoyed. I have always wished that I could have thanked Mr. Wayne for all those moments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/snowwolfsden Vonnie Dillingham

    I have always loved John Wayne movies..but my favorites are..first..McClintock. Then Rooster Cogburn with my favorite actress Kathryn Hepburn. Then the rest follow close in the third on out. Thank you for sharing the movies here. 

  • Ellen Urie

    I have always loved John Wayne’s movies. There are so many good ones I could not name them all. “The Searchers” is one of the best movies ever made! It’s a gripping story that gets me every time I watch it. They sure picked a great cast for that one. I like “Red River”, “The Quiet Man”, “Donovan’s Reef”, “The High& The Mighty”, “Red Witch” & many others, too! He spoke his mind which I admire. Many years ago he actually influenced my feelings when he gave a TV appearance promoting Barry Goldwater for president. By the things he said I actually voted for Goldwater/. I like the things he said about his friendship with Maureen O’Hara – she was a great actress! Not many actors/actresses you can really respect & admire but John Wayne sure fits!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713983697 Gordon S. Jackson

    I came to being a John Wayne fan when I once belonged to the Toronto Film Society and we screened a very (awful) print of “The Horse soldiers.”  It’s hardly his greatest film but there was something there that I had all I had previously seen him in.  Once video came into being I started watching and/or re-watching his sizeable ouvre while at the same time also doing some reading about Wayne.  I don’t remember who it was, but either Ford or Hawks told him that the art of acting is re-acting.  And that, Wayne had down pat like very few others.  It’s what distinguishes him.  Just watch him during a scene.  He rarely misses recting to what is happening around him and that was his great strength.  Personal favourites?  Number one is definitely “Red River” and then, in no particular order, “”Rio Bravo”. “El Dorado” (pretty much a remake, really), “The Sands of Iwo Jima”, “True Grit”, “Rooster Cogburn” (his dance around-the-table when he prattles on about being retired is priceless) and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”  As for “The Searchers” and “The Quiet Man”, I think they are both excellent films with Wayne right on top of his game.  I just don’t personally like them.

  • Stonecold614

    Being a major Wayne fan, I saw “The Shootist” as soon as it came out.  As we left the theater, I said to my date: “He’ll never make another movie.  He was saying ‘Goodbye'”.  Sadly, I was right.

  • Stphifer

    I was in college in 1969 when JW won his oscar.  I was a young actor caught up in the Dustin Hoffman style of disappearing into the role (Midnight Cowby vs. The Graduate) so I did not appreciate the established stars as actors.
    I grew out of that. 
    Now I collect the classics on DVD (1400+ add still adding) and I now recognize the greatness of what those people did.  They managed to be bankable screen personalities and still create unique characters from film to film.
    When I think how displeased I was with JW’s actor oscar back then and how pleased I am now to have almost every film mentioned in this article, I think I am the one who has grown.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7P37EWZFBEPQFBKBNXVFNRKZYE yahoo-7P37EWZFBEPQFBKBNXVFNRKZYE

    A couple of unmentioned facts about John Wayne.
       Otto Preminger was notorious for his treatment of actors, but, while filming “In Harm’s Way” he had such great respect for John Wayne he called him Mr. Wayne. He said Wayne was the only actor he ever worked with that was always on time, knew his lines, knew exactly where to be during the shoot and how to react to the others.
       While filming “The Undefeated”, Wayne’s wife, Pilar, made a comment one night about Rock Hudson having male guest stay overnight on location. Wayne’s reply was “What to adults do in private is their own business.” How’s that for a “staunch” conservative.
       Wayne was like any other actor. He made some great films and he made lousy ones. He was just around longer than most so his count is higher on both sides of the list.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/4FLXJMC7JMF573JQ7RN7F7DSNY thomas

    I just finished reading Micheal Munn’s book about John Wayne.  It was a fascinating read and a great look into a great American.  True, he wasn’t perfect, but he was definitely someone to follow and believe in.  I never tire watching the Duke in so many of his movies.  We could use someone like him today to put some “guts and courage” into Hollywood and this country.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OC6SKJLQDZEY674X7VRYBWH6AI Tom

    My ex-wife, from years ago, said that I walked like John Wayne – It was the nicest thing she ever said to me.

  • GaryKoca

    My favorite movie star, John Wayne. 

    • J.T.

      I remember one time in San Pedro Ca. where he kept his boat (THE GOLDEN GOOSE) me and some friends were standing on the dock each of us touching it and we were all from Ca. and all grew up in Ca.so it wasn’t a big deal seeing stars all around Hollywood and at the air port (LAX) but there we were admiring the boat when out comes the DUKE we were in awe

      he talked with us and let us come on the boat for a few minutes and every-time I would go down to Ports of Call I would go see The Golden Goose. What a memory.

  • Sng52

    I liked the movie The Green Berat with you wayne

  • Sheepman

    I personally knew the “Duke”, a great American icon that we certainly could use in the USA during these times.  I liked all of his movies, but my most favorite was “Stagecoach” (1939).  I was in contact numerous times with the “Duke” until his unfortunate passing.  We need another John Wayne!

  • John Stanaway

    Marion Michael Morison was the worst actor ever to become a star.  I cringe everytime I suffer through his oafish rendition of Stevenson’s poem in the waterlogged melodrama of THEY WERE EXPENDABLE(that movie is not so dreadful in the colorized version that cuts out much of Wayne’s footage).  The only two movies that don’t show him as a scowling cigar store dummy are RED RIVER and SANDS OF IWO JIMA.  It was during this period that John Ford made the comment something like, “maybe the big lug can act.”

    By the way, how did Wayne ever become an icon for the country?  Ford was disgusted with him because he cowed to Republic studio head’s threat to curtail Wayne’s career if he joined the military.
    Wayne refused to join up because it would hurt his career.  Some loving American.

    • Blair Kramer

      The worst actor ever to become a movie star???!!!   Your statement is decidedly removed from reality!  John Wayne simply could not have made numerous great films,  over several decades, and actually have been a bad actor!  That opinion is obvious nonsense!  Besides, I don’t think there is much doubt about who is actually the absolute WORST actor to become a major movie star!  Ever heard of Errol Flynn (or maybe you think it was Victor Mature,  my second choice!)?

      • Wayne P.

        Surely, Elvis Presley was worse than Errol and Victor put together!?  At least Flynn didnt overact and he wasnt all just good swordplay with Basil Rathbone either…checking out Objective, Burma or The Dawn Patrol would prove that in the war genre and he even took a comedic turn or two, although the romantic swashbuckler was by far his best role…movies are, in the final analysis, simply entertainment, and he did at least a competent job for his cut of the box office.

        • Blair Kramer

          Ya know…  I may have been a bit harsh in my reply to John Stanaway.  For that,  I apologize.  I just feel that John Wayne’s lack of military service during WWII really has nothing to do with his ability as an an actor.  Besides… He certainly DID make a good number of truly great films.  About that obvious fact there really is no SERIOUS debate.  As for the army and WWII… Who are WE to judge anyone’s personal history?  Personally,  I would simply assume that there were legitimate reasons behind John Wayne’s lack of military service and let it go. Also, the fact that he was not a veteran doesn’t mean that he didn’t have the right to express his political opinions, does it?  A lot of people who never served in the military are expressing their views regarding the current conflicts in the Middle East. Are they not entitled to their opinions?  Women were never drafted in this country.  Should they have kept quiet about WWII,  Korea, Viet Nam…? How about this question…  Am I entitled to openly express my opinions about politics and/or the military merely because I’m an Air Force veteran? Personally,  I think EVERYONE is entitled to express their opinions for no reason other than the fact that they’re an American!  No other reason is required.

          As for Errol Flynn and Elvis Presley, Wayne P. makes a good point.  Errol was certainly a very popular movie star.  He had the looks and personality.  But was he really an actor?  I never thought so (although,  I must admit that he did a decent job in “Gentleman Jim.”). And of course, you’re right about Elvis. He certainly wasn’t an actor.  But then,  his films were never about any supposed “character” he played.  They were only ever about Elvis singing songs.  That was the foundation of all his films.  The best example of this would be “Paradise Hawaiian style.”  Its barest of bare bones story amounts to little more than a Hawaiian travelogue.  As you watch the scenery,  Elvis sings a pile of meaningless songs.  This formula was applied to just about every film he ever made.  It was never about acting.  It was only about releasing a soundtrack album!

          And so… What is your opinion of Victor Mature…? 

          • Wayne P.

            Backing up a bit first to the Duke…am in agreement with most of what you said, especially as to everyones right to their opinion.  I was simply attempting to inject some historical accuracy into the discussion between you and John there, Blair.  Theres really only a couple negative comments regarding JW in this whole blog post so that testifies well of his larger than life persona in the movies. 
             
            Speaking of which, I just threw Elvis in there because his line was singing and recordings, not film, but they put him in Love Me Tender to cash in on his popularity and the vehicles worked so on it went…but obviously, as you point out, he wasnt an actor in the same class as Errol Flynn or even, to a lesser extent, Victor Mature.  I could think of worse actors to star in gladiator roles than VM, thats for sure, if you like the genre!  VM more than showed his competence to me by playing Doc Holliday in Fords masterwork telling of the gunfight at the OK Corral:  “My Darling Clementine”.  He did have some other varied credits to his name as well, but overall, I would have to make a big class distinction between Victor Mature and Errol Flynn…almost like VM is a B actor to EF’s A for quality of work, and also type of pictures done; of which, a prime example might be that after Hathaways fine noir Kiss of Death in 1947, VF seemed only destined for sword & sandal pics, perhaps due to his Stallone-like and decidely typecast looks!
             
            As to EF again, my only thought is to refer you to Captain Blood…he was so well cast and played the part to perfection, along with Olivia De Havilland, that its hard for me to quarrel with his latent ability.  Although I’m not sure he got better than he started; at least he evolved to play a variety of characters and did most of them well.   His western turns in Dodge City and then the follow-up to it with Virginia City were both well done.  In fact, Dodge City, made the list of greatest pictures of 1939…which a consensus of film historians referenced as the best year in film history for quality purposes (and also which Jason and yours truly proceeded to debate vigorously over at MU’s “Do They Make Em Like They Used To?” site).  In conclusion, I would have to say that EF and ODH were the ‘young guns’ of their day ala perhaps Leo de Caprio and Kate Winslet today, and so, yes…they would be considered (IMHO) as more than competent actors AND movie stars.  Stars only have to sell tickets for the Studio or film company/independent producer, depending on whether were talking Golden Age or Modern Era.  Actors must act and do it productively, as he did quite well until near the end of an almost 25 year period.  Is it perhaps because he was rushed to the A screen for Captain Blood and/or made a star in the studio system because that movie was a hit and he looked good in the swashbuckler roles they insisted he play, that you downgrade his acting talent/ability?  Or, Studio Age practices of controlling actors under contract aside, do you simply not like his performances for the most part?  Good chat though! :)

    • Wayne P.

      Just to set the record straight on the Dukes lack of participation in WW2.  According to a documentary feature accompanying one of his movie collections, it wasnt because of an old football injury as Wade above stated nor due to a studio-head threat as John said…it was at his own request, since hed have to go in the Army, and couldnt be made an officer like Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable had been in the USAF (my Dad met CG training in Florida).  So, as the Duke said he didnt want to be a distraction to the front-line troops by fighting alongside them, then he preferred to simply continue to boost their morale by making pictures for them to see on leave as well as support the home fronts war efforts.  Not an altogether poor contribution, as evidenced…Fords comments notwithstanding!

  • roger lynn

    He was my favorite of all time,,,Why the AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE didn’t give him the life achievement award is a blight on that honor….he was the best

  • Wadeca18

    Why do you think John Wayne is such an American icon, I only liked 4 of his movies , Stagecoach, Red River, The Quiet Man and The Searchers. He is considered a hero yet he didn’t fight in any war ( apparently due to a football injury) as James Stewart and many others did, All he did was play heros in movies and yet he became almost like a war hero to many Americans.
     

  • Wadeca18

    The article said he was deferred from war because of age and family and the Republic studio heads,.and not injury as I have always heard , This certainly changes things  a bit  as he always seemed to be quite willing to send young Ameriacns off to Vietnam but didn’t volunteer when he could have gone  I know Clark Gable did and he was 6 years  older than Wayne. Wayne was only about 35 at the time. Thats certainly would be a let down for me when it comes to being an American icon or hero.Its always puzzled me why he was considered such an icon and not Gable or James Stewart who certainly deserved to be one

  • Cadesgrams

     I loved him and his movies even the old ones. I grew up with him my Dad rarely watched TV but if Wayne was on he would. Was he a great actor maybe not but some of his movies were terrific,The Shootist, The Cowboys to mention a couple.

    • Cadesgrams

       Besides he was an actor. Do you have to be a drug addict to portray one? There are actors now that are in war movies that have never been in the service themselves. How about the actors who portray historical figures,military and others,and have never met or been involved with that. Some research the part well and portray what they’ve learned others do what they’re told to do. Either way it is acting. This article brought out that even John Wayne himself didn’t consider himself to be a great actor but personally I thought he was pretty good. I liked the kind of person he portrayed.

  • Rlc4elks

    You never mentioned one of his greats ” In Harms Way” why not????

    • Cadesgrams

      I loved that movie too. I just mentioned a few at the time.

  • Karen_n_schaffer

    One of a Kind.

  • Jparana

    Growing up I had three idols: My Father, John Wayne and Captain America.  They could be one person having so much in common.  I am 43, my father and I still get together to watch the Duke.  I wonder how many oscars would he have won if he was a Democrat instead of a Republican?  He is my all-time favorite actor ( also like Errol Flynn, James Stewart, Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen and Robert Taylor).  I think the actors and actresses of that time had more class and the majority of the movies made today can’t compare to their films.  I wished he would have done a film with Olivia DeHaviland (my favorite actress).  I can’t pick my favorite John Wayne film because I love them all and when one is on TCM, I watch it!  Thank you Mr. Wayne!

    • Keno Nash

      Dude, how many Oscars did Henry Fonda win? He was a Democrat. Come on, the “Duke” nearly always played himself. A great actor he wasn’t. That’s okay, either was Fonda. I like John Wayne. I have a bunch of his films in my collection. I liked the way he handled the kids from Harvard when he rode into town on the tank. But he’s lucky he won the Oscar he did. At least he got to enjoy his longer than Fonda did. I don’t think it had a damn thing to do with his politics.

  • BadGnx2

    I for one, DEFINITELY believes that John Wayne is an american icon, a true movie star and a very good actor.
    Only a small amount of actors of previous generations and even smaller amount of this generation can play the over the top, hero role. Just like many people CANNOT pull off the role of a James Bond character. Sean Connery was so seamless in that role, that EVERY actor who has played it since has used his performances as a template. And the SAME holds true with Wayne. Cary Grant is acknowledged as a very good actor but could one imagine him playing a farmer?? A gunslinger?? A cashier?? A notorious killer?? Many actors or actresses played to their strengths and not their weaknesses. Wayne’s TRUE strength was being in the lead or command role. If one had to go through a door or look for a killer, would one feel safer with John Wayne in charge or Claude Rains??

    And now with the passage of time, one can watch Wayne’s movies with a critical eye and see how good a performer he was. Although he could not pull off the lead in “A Streetcar Named Desire”, could one EVEN PICTURE Marlon Brando playing the lead in “The Searchers”??

    Wayne is one of MANY performers who never got their full due when they were around but now with the passage of time and close analylization, one can look at them in a different light. Hitchcock didn’t win any Oscars. Henry Fonda only got one for his VERY LAST ROLE. The list is full of great performers and craftsmen who never got their due.

    Whatever his politics were during his lifetime SHOULD NOT ADD OR DETRACT FROM HIS LEGACY. Marilyn Monroe was a BIMBO (to say the least) and yet she is revered today as if she DIED FOR OUR SINS!!!

    I was in HOG HEAVEN during this past TCM Film Festival when they played my two favorite John Wayne films – “The Searchers” and “Rio Bravo”. To see them on the BIG screen was FANTASTIC. One need not see anything but these two films and see the RANGE of John Wayne. One film shows a flawed, brutal, relentless character and the other a low key, thoughtful person with quiet dignity and determination.  Add in “The Quiet Man” and I DEFY ANYONE to tell me that John Wayne could not act!!

  • Larry Coffman

    I like John Wayne’s westerns, but have a hard time with his war films because of his draft dodging. He must have been a pleasant man to work with as his many co-stars testify, but I find his bullying of people who didn’t share his idea of patriotism reprehensible. His labeling of people of different persuasions as “cowards” if they did not believe in going to war in Vietnam was hypocritical to say the least. This is typical of many “war wimps” in today’s politics.

    His behavior during the post war red-baiting was nothing to brag about either.

  • Tom

    John Wayne never served a day in the Armed Forces.
    He was a “tool” that was used by the Hollywood/Washington, D.C.propaganda
    machine to promote the war.
    By his own admission, he was drunk just about every day while his movies were being filmed.
    He was a lousy actor besides.  Even the “great” John Ford stated that he didn’t think
    Wayne was very bright.

    • Blair Kramer

      @ Tom:  I’ll say this politely as possible. (A)  Hollywood and the federal government didn’t have to “promote” American involvement in WWII.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor,  it wasn’t just essential.  It was plainly unavoidable. John Wayne certainly made a good number of great war movies during the early 40’s.  But building morale is hardly the same thing as concocting “propaganda.”   (B)  You don’t seriously believe John Wayne was most often drunk when he was working,  do you?  That’s just silly. If he actually said that he was drunk on the set most of the time,  you may be sure that he was simply telling a tall tale.  (C)  By no stretch was John Wayne a “lousy” actor.  His numerous great films puts that nonsense permanently to rest.  (D) Despite what John Ford may have said,  John Wayne’s personal history does not reveal a man who wasn’t very bright. I suspect Ford may have simply been kidding.  It doesn’t make sense to offer that kind of remark about John Wayne.  It clearly wasn’t true.  You may be sure that John Wayne was at least as intelligent as most people, and in fact,  I suspect that he was actually smarter than average.  

      • Tom

        To each their own.

      • Tom

        Gee, thanks for “saying this politely as possible”.

    • GoFaster58

      Who stuck a burr under your saddle, pilgrim?

      • Tom

        Guess it’s easier for ya to live in a dream.  Much easier to do than dealing with reality.

    • VolFan25

      Nothing like a troll to keep things lively. John Wayne liked to drink, but he was NEVER drunk on set, and you never heard him admit that he was. By ALL accounts, he was the most professional person on the set all the time.

      John Ford castigated ALL of his actors, make and female, and at one time or another, called all of them stupid.

      Start giving sources so your lies can be verified. Of course, you can’t, so we won’t hold our collective breath.

  • Dave Nichols

    John Wayne in my opinion was America’s greatest actor.  I know for a fact he was not a draft dodger he blew out his knee in collage playing football. He did more for the war effort with his movies than any other actor.

  • Rw knowles

    best western ever!

  • Jack Little

    I talked to Hugh O’Brien many times. He told me that everyone wanted to work with the Duke in the Shootist because they knew that was going to be his last movie. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative, people just love John Wayne. YOu could disagree with hm, you could say he was  coward, but be ready for a punch in the nose, and you could say he was a bad actor, but he would be the first one to defend your right to say those things. It is given right  to say what you want thanks to this country. God Bless America and thank you John Wayne for reminding us.

  • nick

    While I may not have liked his politics, I do love and have three films by him all directed by Ford. Stagecoach, The Searchers, and my favorite The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In the 70’s I do think he mellowed a little bit. Mark Rydell, who was a liberal, directed Wayne in a film I didn’t find so great, ‘The Cowboys’. He said of all the people he had worked with, Wayne was the most polite and cooperative that he had worked with. On the special editions of the DVD, George Sanford Brown, and African American actor, also said the he and Wayne got along very well when they were not shooting a scene, and recited some poetry together.  In his later years, after Carters election to president, Wayne and Carter had a friendship in which Wayne supported Carter’s giving the Panama Canal back to Panama, against Ronald Reagan. During his career, he was not as right wing as Ginger Rodgers or Ward Bond, and did go on tours of the armed forces during WWII. I also think that he had some feeling of guilt that he did not serve, as John Ford used to really get on him about that. Also he did not have a problem working with people who did not have his political persuasion.

  • Nyquil2espress

    I will Raise a Glass in His Honor!

  • Jimbo

    Forget the Duke —- that’ll be the day!

  • GoFaster58

    Rio Bravo, one of his best and my personal favorites.  I had the pleasure of meeting John Wayne on the set of McLintock at Old Tucson.

  • Jshowen

    You”never be forgotten & always remembered fondly !
                                                       Brenda & Jim

  • don

    I had the Honor to work with “The Duke, Eddie Albert and Clu Guller in “McQ” in Se
    asttle, Washington

  • Publius

    I always thought that John Wayne gave his best preformance in the Ford film SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON because he didn’t really ACT like his persona; it was like he was playing a unique character in that film, and I guess that’s why I enjoyed it.  Unfortunately I never saw STAGECOACH or any of his war pictures. (Are they released on DVD?)  Although Westerns are not my favorite movie, I did enjoy The Duke in the film he made with Oliver Hardy (THE FIGHTING KENTUCKIAN) and I was pleased to learn that he asked Hardy to do it.  At first, hardy refused, but Stan was enthusiatic about the idea and gave Hardy permission to do it.

  • SHARON MCCULLOUGH

    THIS IS EXCELLENT! I LOVE JOHN WAYNE. I WATCH HIS MOVIES ON TV EVERY TIME THEIR ON.  I WISH THEY WERE ON THE TIME.  I HAVE NEARLY ALL OF HIS MOVIES AND WATCH THEM WHEN I HE IS NOT ON TV.  I’M JUST A FAN OF THE DUKE!
    MY FAVORITE MOVIES ARE  “THE QUIET MAN”  AND “THE SEARCHERS” OH! JUST ABOUT THAT HE IS IN IS A FAVORITE OF MINE.

  • Dan Cook

    Check at Movies Unlimited for the best list of his movies that I have found to date.  My favorite of his movies was probably McClintock, followed closely by Big Jake. The man could truely be great at combining drama and humor in the same film.  Loved all his work, and miss him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ralph.smithsr.1 Ralph Smith Sr.

    AHH, John Wayne, Some Great Work. Some, to me, unwatchable.
    My favorite film, “Angel and The Badman”
    Of course,
    True Grit
    The Searchers
    Rio Bravo.
    Stage Coach
    Rest in Peace.

  • James

    The Duke is has been and will always be my movie hero.  I hold him as the equal of my sports hero, Micky Mantle, and my political hero, John F. Kennedy.   I wish young America could and would see him as my generation has.

  • MrMovieClassics

    My favorite John Wayne movies are:

    The Searchers
    Rio Bravo
    The Quiet Man
    Red River
    Stagecoach
    True Grit

    in that order.

  • Patrice Craig

    I believe that Mr. Jerry Frebowitz needs to get his facts straight before writing an article about the “Great John Wayne”.  His given name was Marion Michael Morrison, not Marion Robert Morrison.  Although, John Wayne had a brother named, Bob, or Robert, as it were, his given name was just as stipulated in this statement.

    • VolFan25

      Patrice…His ORIGINAL given name WAS Michael Robert Morrison, but when his younger brother was born, his mother took away his middle name, and gave it to the new baby as a first name. This is a FACT, and it was verified by John Wayne himself many times. BTW, it’s also on his birth certificate as Michael Robert, so…just check your own facts.

  • GGAN

    Wow!  John Wayne – What a guy!!  I grew up watching him – and all I can say is there’s something (a lesson) to learn from every movie.  My Favs are in this order:

    Hell Fighters
    McLintock
    Donovan’s Reef
    The Green Berets
    The Son’s of Katie Elder
    Rio Bravo
    The Alamo
    Big Jake
    The Cowboys
    True Grit
    Rooster Cogburn
    The Shootist
    They Were Expendable
    El Dorado
    Sands of Iwo Jima
    The Comancheros
    Three Godfathers
    Hondo
    Hartari

  • Fgk_vpe

    While this biography of John Wayne’s movie career seem complete
    I can testify that it is NOT !

    You forgot 3 of my 4 favorites;

    1.  ” In Harm’s Way “, ( w Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal & Henry Fonda in a minor role
    as Adm Chester Nimitz, Director Otto Preminger, Paramount 1965 ),
    A WW II film

    2. ”  The Sons of Katie Elder “, ( w Dean Martin & Earl Holliman ), a Western.

    3.  ” The War Wagon “, ( w Kirk Douglas & Keenan Wynn ).

    4.  Finally , ” McLintock! ? ( which you did mention ), which is a clever re-telling of
    Shakespaere’s ” The Taming of the Shrew “.

  • Mahricik

    No one can EVER replace him!!!

  • Tpolutnik

    dear Duke i have been a fan of u as long as i can remember im only 21 but u have been my greatest hero of my life u can never be replaced.

  • LaurenAva

    John Wayne is an all-time favorite, and should never be forgotten! He’s of heroic proportions, and I love that he always stood for what he believed was right. And, how many actors lasted for so many decades?? I think he was a great actor… not because of following The Method, but because he made his own method. He was himself, and that’s what we love about him. The Duke enjoyed immense popularity from the time he his A-pictures right up to his last movie. Three cheers for John Wayne!!

  • Big Tuna

    You were the best,R.I.P.

  • will

    i grew up with him ,i was just thinking about him the other day and how its been 35 yrs. time flies. nobody greater as a cowboy or soldier. ive been watching his movies this week,been in a john wayne mood seeing his america was alot better than this one now. thanks for the memories Duke