Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t always a classic movie aficionado or a western lover but you do not have to be either of those to know and love the Duke because he is more of an American icon than a simple movie star in the conventional sense. He’s so integral to the very cultural fabric of our country. For instance, by watching I Love Lucy or M*A*S*H (and Radar’s impressions) or having one of your dad’s favorite film beings True Grit, you can get to know him by simple osmosis. It’s just a fact. Even words like “Pilgrim” and “Baby Sister” begin to sneak into your everyday lexicon. You cannot help but hear them and by association use them (I’m not speaking from experience at all).
Even from an early age I had an awareness of John Wayne and I’m not quite sure where that began but I certainly do recall knowing who he was. However, I’m not sure if I had ever seen one of his films or at least not one of his famous ones. Watching the likes of Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, even True Grit came years later. However, from early on I think it was evident that in many ways I almost subconsciously grew up walking in the footsteps of John Wayne. It’s only now that I realize the undeniable facts.
To start, it must be noted that Wayne was a transplant to Southern California, my home for many years now. He actually was born Marion Morrison, larger than life even at birth in the town of Somerset, Iowa in 1907. It’s true that I got to visit his home, now a makeshift museum that memorializes his career in humble fashion (On a side note: I too have family from Iowa so that’s yet another small connection to the Duke’s beginnings).
But it’s from these roots that he ultimately moved out to sunny California, a noted member of the USC football team before a career-ending injury. This is a part of his life that I will mostly gloss over. Because it was the next part of his life that always resonated with me on a personal level. His very persona seems imprinted on the world that I grew up with from an early age. His name and likeness could seemingly be found everywhere. I grew up seeing his statue and even passing by his personal boat The Wild Goose and seafront home on family excursions (also featured in a Columbo episode).
Rumor has it that his son Ethan roamed the same hallways and the same classrooms as I did in high school. By association, I even hold a personal anecdote of the Duke that my father has often regaled me with. Once, in a local shop, he saw Rooster Cogburn himself in all his imposing glory, sans eyepatch, patronizing the local establishment. That was probably only a few years before he passed away in 1979 — only a single momentary occurrence.
Although that was still some years before I even became acquainted with him, there’s no doubt that John Wayne is a timeless figure and I will enjoy him on film for many years to come because there’s something personal about his persona both on screen and off. I truly feel like I do walk in his incomparable footsteps, looming large even now, so many years after his final film The Shootist in 1976.
Because he is far more than a movie star. He’s not simply John Wayne, Marion Morrison, or the Duke, he’s a multifaceted, colorful figure, polarizing but also so personable. In every role, you knew it was him and he never felt like he was faking one word or action. He’s authentic, straight-talking, and true. He held unswervingly to certain convictions and fought tirelessly for those who did not pack a shotgun as well as he did. And I admire that. Thus, John Wayne is not simply an actor who I enjoy seeing for his sheer timelessness but I’ve also had the enjoyment of walking some of the paths that he frequented and blazed. They certainly are big boots to fill but it’s fun to see their impact even today.
For the John Wayne Blogathon HERE…