The last couple of snows that buried streets and porches in the neighborhood allowed me to bury myself in a 600 page doorstop book. A year and half ago when the comprehensive bio of John Wayne by Scott Eyman hit the stores, I wanted it. But at $32.50 for a movie star bio, I backed off. I had read star stories before that disappointed. While I expected this one to be good, still I was wary. Finally I picked up a used hardcover for $3.50 a couple of weeks ago. I was not disappointed!
If you are of a certain age, movies, particularly westerns, patriotism, strong moral values, heroes, and humans of mythic proportions are things you can relate to. I was brought up in schools where Lincoln and Washington portraits hung in every classroom and Presidents’ Day was celebrated by cutting out silhouettes of the men, of great stories about their deeds, and even songs sung to remember their era. Cutting down a cherry tree became a lesson of Biblical stature.
I loved John Wayne and figured a read through his life would return me, on the page anyway, to a time when things like loyalty, generosity, integrity, and self-reliance were still in place. Oh, and it did! Eyman doesn’t make John Wayne appear as a giant; he lets readers see the man WAS a giant through his own deeds and character. Nor does Eyman closet the flaws and warts of Duke Morrison--the man who was John Wayne. My only criticism of the book is that the author was very heavy on each film’s budget, over-budget, financing, and profits. Important to some people I am sure, but I just wanted stories about John Wayne the man.
Duke Morrison was born in the Midwest and carried conservative political stands, but he was a kind, caring, forgiving man who was known as a Man’s Man. He appreciated women but was not successful at marriage. He repeatedly chose the wrong woman maybe because his own mother was a harsh, demanding and unloving woman. He was educated; read poetry; quoted Shakespeare, and yet his persona was one of tough old cowboy. He worked hard, crawled up the success ladder one rung at a time.
Eyman takes readers from his early Grade B westerns right through his last movie, The Shootist. It is a fun tour when you can remember many of those movies coming out in theaters and have watched some numerous times in John Wayne celebrations on HBO or late night old movie showings. DH and I got a load and watched during the snows. We found some we had never seen before like Reap the Wild Wind and Island in the Sun, but of course, we watched Rio Bravo again too!
John Wayne was a huge man. My paternal grandfather was built like him standing 6’4” himself. Gramps had the same full chest, long arms, and slender legs with a flat backside. He walked that same easy swagger of big men who tend to throw their limbs ahead of their bodies. Gramps, who always regretted being born at the end of the cowboy era, kept and rode horses, had a selection of great cowboy hats, and his best boots often peaked out of his nice suit pants. It wasn’t a far reach for a western loving child to see him as cut like John Wayne.
However, when I was in high school, my Gramps and Dad went to buy a bird dog pup from a friend’s dad. At school on Monday she greeted me with, “Why didn’t you tell me your grandpa looked like John Wayne?” I never thought about it much but then I saw that in youth and again in their mid-50’s there was a resemblance between the men. They died two years apart.
C. W. Westerfield John Wayne
There are so many sides to John Wayne that readers should pour over John Wayne: The Life and Legend themselves to get all the details. It is a great return to yesteryear where one can almost smell leather and hear the squeak of a stretching stirrup under a big man. For me, it felt really good back to a world I once knew. On the last pages, I felt big salty tears forming. Sure, I knew the ending of this story, but I was still sad to lose a great man once more.
Words on Duke Morrison/John Wayne gravestone captures the man’s outlook on life and gives the rest of us something to think about.
“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes to us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”
Not everyone liked or respected John Wayne though most did. How about you? A John Wayne fan?