Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Happy Birthday Duke!

Yesterday was Memorial Day. Today is John Wayne's birthday. June 6th is the anniversary of D-Day. June 11th is the anniversary of Wayne's death. John Wayne and America go together like... well you know all the clich├ęs. Not only does he GO with America, he IS America.

Sure I wave the American flag. Do you know a better flag to wave? Sure I love my country with all her faults. I'm not ashamed of that, never have been, never will be.
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John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in Iowa in 1907. When his brother was born, she took Marion's middle name and made it his brother's first name, changing Marion's middle name to Mitchell. Marion, however, was usually called Duke, a nickname he acquired from the family dog, whose name was Duke.

Duke with his brother, Robert and his father, Clyde Morrison.
 
The family moved to Southern California, due to his father's health. There, Duke attended USC on a football scholarship. He got a summer job as a prop man, where he met the great director John Ford. He also got two more name changes. His middle name was mistakenly printed as Michael, which Duke liked better. Then, in 1930 after he had started in pictures, the studio came up with John Wayne.
 
 
Wayne's first on-screen role was that of a football player in Brown of Harvard (1926). This was followed by a string of uncredited roles until The Big Trail in 1930. He was in a string of B-Westerns, even playing a singing cowboy at one point (these are the ones always included in the John Wayne DVD sets). Wayne's breakout role did not come along until 1939, when John Ford asked him to play the part of the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach. We all know the entrance. It's a true moment of cinematic history.


Wayne appeared in several more unmemorable films over the next few years. Some of these films, which were vehicles for their leading ladies, are now remembered primarily as a John Wayne picture: The Spoilers (1942) starring Marlene Dietrich, Reunion in France (1942) starring Joan Crawford, A Lady Takes a Chance (1943) starring Jean Arthur, and Without Reservations (1946) starring Claudette Colbert. In They Were Expendable (1945), leading man Robert Montgomery was top-billed and in Fort Apache (1948) it was Henry Fonda.


Some of his better known films during this time in which Wayne was top-billed include The Flying Tigers (1942), The Fighting Seabees (1944), Back to Bataan (1945), and Angel and the Badman (1947). Out of these, only Angel and the Badman isn't a war film.

In 1948, Wayne had another breakthrough in his career when he played the aging Dunson in Red River. After this film, his career really took off: The Three Godfathers (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), Rio Grande (1950), Operation Pacific (1951), Flying Leathernecks (1951), The Quiet Man (1952), Hondo (1953), and several others. Then...

The Searchers

The Searchers (1956) is perhaps the greatest Western of all time. Set against the backdrop of Monument Valley, it tells the story of a man who is looking for his niece who was captured by the Comanche. It is based on a true story. It was also John Wayne's favorite role. He even named one of his sons after his character, Ethan Edwards.

 
The film has a beautiful score by Max Steiner. You can purchase (and listen to) the individual tracks here. My favorites are tracks 1,2, 35, & 36.

What makes a man to wander?
What makes a man to roam?
What makes a man leave bed and board
And turn his back on home?
Ride away, ride away, ride away
 
A man will search his heart and soul,
Go searchin' way out there
His peace of mind he knows he'll find,
But where, O Lord, Lord where?
Ride away, ride away.
 
 
The Searchers did not do well at the time of release and was surprisingly not nominated for any awards. It as since then though become a classic and holds a special place in the heart of every John Wayne fan.
The West - the very words go straight to that place of the heart where Americans feel the spirit of pride in their western heritage - the triumph of personal courage over any obstacle, whether nature or man.

After The Searchers, John Wayne appeared in many other films that are fondly remembered. Some of my favorites are Rio Bravo (1959), North To Alaska (1960), The Comancheros (1961), The Longest Day (1962), Donovan's Reef (1963), McLintock! (1963), and El Dorado (1966).

John Wayne won his first Oscar (he had been nominated previously for Sands of Iwo Jima and his picture The Alamo, which he directed and starred in, was nominated for Best Picture) for his portrayal of a U.S. Marshall in True Grit (1969). He repeated his role in Rooster Cogburn (1975), with Katharine Hepburn as his leading lady.


John Wayne's final film was The Shootist (1976) with Lauren Bacall and Ron Howard. It's about a gunfighter dying from cancer.

John Wayne would himself die to lung and stomach cancer due to years of smoking (nobody could make blowing out a match look sexier than the Duke could). He died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72. He was a true American hero.

The Man. The Myth. The Legend.

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