Thursday, June 14, 2012

I Still Miss John Wayne

The Duke, John Wayne, died 33 years ago this week. I miss him, still. And I still enjoy his movies, especially those World War II films where he and the good guys would always win. He was greatly popular with U.S. Marines, and there were at least two C-ration items named in his honor: the John Wayne can opener and the John Wayne cookie. Why? Beats me. We Marines didn’t question.

I read a biography about Duke several years ago and discovered the interesting tidbit that he really didn’t like horses. For an actor who arguably did more to popularize the Western film genre than anyone else, not liking horses came as a bit of a surprise. I suppose it would be akin to discovering Mario Andretti’s dislike of fast cars or Bruce Springsteen’s dislike of loud music. Or Bill Clinton’s dislike of a gorgeous, um, bacon cheeseburger. It just didn’t seem to fit.

John Wayne came along at the right time. He was an unabashed American patriot at a time when patriotism was widely understood in simpler terms than is apparent today. He smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey, and killed the bad guys in his films. He was gentle toward women (except Maureen O’Hara, with whom he had an extraordinary on-screen chemistry and off-screen friendship). Occasionally he would die a hero’s noble death at the end of a picture, which was never pleasant. And he would almost always provide a worthwhile life lesson somewhere between the opening and closing credits.

His friends in the entertainment industry spoke often of his loyalty and generosity as a friend. As big an international star as he became over a long career, he could poke as much fun at himself as he could others. Comedian Rich Little did a splendid impersonation of Wayne, from his voice to his gestures to his walk, and I can remember Duke roaring with laughter as he sat with Johnny Carson and watched Little’s hilarious routine. And the laughter was authentic, as was much else with Wayne.

That was then.

Now we’ve got the pretty-boy actors who spend a disproportionate amount of time doing little more in their films than eating. And their causes are rarely conservative anymore. Or often hardly even patriotic. Was John Wayne the greatest film actor ever? Nah, I won’t go that far. But he was darned good, and his screen presence was always infinitely more commanding than these contemporary lightweights.

Thanks, Duke, for all the great work you’ve left for us to enjoy.

Semper Fi, good sir.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog about an American icon. I still miss John Wayne, too. It is hard to believe he has been dead for thirty-three years.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on someone who deserves to be remembered!

    Bonnie Bartel Latino