Happy Birthday, John Wayne

100years-john-wayne-usc-football.jpgFrom Who the Hell’s in It: Conversations with Hollywood’s Legendary Actors, by Peter Bogdonavich:

His performances in these pictures [Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, The Searchers, The Wings of Eagles, Man Who Shot Liberty Valance] rate with the finest examples of movie acting, and his value to each film is immeasurable; yet none of them was recognized at the time as anything much more than “and John Wayne does his usual solid job,” if that — more often he was panned. The Academy nominated him only twice; first for Allan Dwan’s excellent Sands of Iwo Jima, an effective and archetypal John Wayne Marine picture of non-Ford/Hawks dimension. Yet I remember that Wayne’s sudden death from a sniper at the end of Sands was the first real shock — and one of the most lastingly potent — I ever had at the movies. The reason why this worked so powerfully for me at age ten, as well as for millions of all ages, was because of Wayne’s even then accepted indestrucability. In fact, Sands of Iwo Jima was the second of only five films in which Wayne dies. Still, it wasn’t until twenty years later, when he put on an eye patch, played drunk, and essentially parodied himself in True Grit, that anyone thought he was acting, and so with this over-the-top performance Duke Wayne got his second nomination and finally won his Oscar.

The particular quality in a star that makes audiences instantly suspend their disbelief — something men like Wayne or Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda naturally bring with them when they enter a scene — is an achievement which normally goes so unnoticed that most people don’t even think of it as acting at all. To a lot of people, acting means fake accents and false noses, and a lot of emoting … John Wayne was at his best precisely when he was simply being what came to be called “John Wayne”.


I have written at length about my issue with people saying “He/she is just playing himself” when talking about certain actors. That opinion represents a critical failure, especially when it comes from critics who spend their lives studying the film industry. They should know better. John Wayne is often painted with that brush and it actually pains me. I go into that at length here.

David Thomson, from his lengthy entry on Wayne in his The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Expanded and Updated:

As a child he moved West and, after a football scholarship at the University of Southern California, Tom Mix got him a job at Fox. There he met John Ford and worked as a set decorator on Mother Machree (28). Gradually he edged into acting, by the storybook means of being a bystander. His first big part was in The Big Trail (30, Raoul Walsh). Walsh had seen him carrying a big armchair above his head – carrying it witih flair and flourish.


Stanley Crouch on The Searchers:

When Wayne, as Ethan, comes upon the black smoke and the orange flame of the burning house left by the Comanches, his face is one of absolute terror, panic, and rage. At the top of a hill, Wayne flings out his right arm to free his rifle from the long, colorful buckskin sleeve in which it has been sheathed. The force of that flung arm is one of the most explosive gestures in all of cinema, and also among the most impotent: No one down there is alive, and Ethan knows it. He is, at that moment, like the man in Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death who so impressed Hemingway because his choice was to draw a sword when faced with the irreversible horror of encroaching doom.


Natalie Wood on that moment in The Searchers when he picks her up – a moment that still, to me, this day, having seen it 20 or so times, takes my breath away.

John Wayne was a giant to me, and when he picked me up in that scene near the end of the picture, he was able to lift me as though I were a doll. It was pretty frightening because he had this look of hatred and I thought that he could easily crush me. But then there would be an almost indefinable gentleness that would come over him as he cradled me and said, ‘Let’s go home.’ Everyone had always told me, ‘John Wayne’s no actor. He always plays the same part.’ I can tell you, Mr. Wayne was a very fine actor. He said to me, ‘When I pick you up, I may seem a little rough, but I’ll be as gentle as I can be.’ I said, ‘You must pick me up without worrying about that or you might not give the performance you need to portray.’ He smiled and said, ‘Well, little lady, you’re a real professional, that’s for sure.’


David Thomson:

Throughout the 1930s Wayne was a star of matinee Westerns, sometimes a singing cowboy, working his way round most of the smaller studios and making something like a hundred films. By 1939 he was with Republic when John Ford asked him to be the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach. The success of that film lifted Wayne from regular work to stardom. Republic pulled themselves together for a major vehicle for him – Dark Command (40, Walsh) – and Ford called on him again to play a seaman in The Long Voyage Home (40).


John Wayne started out as a prop guy. He was a college student, and he picked up extra cash doing props for movies and occasional extra work. This was how he met John Ford. He almost got fired from a couple of Ford’s films for various snafus. It took Ford a while to start “using” Wayne. It wasn’t immediately apparent that this gangly raw kid had movie-star potential.

From Who the Hell’s In it, by Peter Bogdonavich:

There’s a moment in Rio Bravo — which features, I think, Wayne’s most genuinely endearing performance — when he walks down the street of the jail/sheriff’s office toward some men riding up to meet him. Hawks frames the shot from behind — Wayne striding slowly, casually away from camera in his slightly rocking, graceful way — and the image lingers a while to let us enjoy this classic, familiar figure, unmistakable from any angle, Americ’as twentieth-century Hercules moving across a world of illusion he had more than conquered.

Mark Rydell, director of “The Cowboys”, and his star, John Wayne

Mark Rydell was about 30 years old when he directed (and produced) The Cowboys. It was 1972. John Wayne had been making pictures since the 20s. He had been a star for decades. Not just a star, but an icon. Rydell was a Jewish kid from the Bronx who had directed a couple of episodes of Gunsmoke and, I think, 2 feature films. What would the experience be like? Would John Wayne run all over him? How on earth would he direct John Wayne? There are a couple of great stories about the filming of this marvelous movie (and I also love Rydell’s image of John Wayne sitting, on break, trying to eat his lunch, while all the kids who were in the movie climbed over him “as though he was a monkeybar …” They loved and trusted him that much.)

Here’s one of Mark Rydell’s many moving memories of what it was like to direct John Wayne in The Cowboys. This is an anecdote about the filming of the beginning of the cattle drive – obviously a complicated shot, with horses and herds of cattle and camera equipment, and extras and cowboys and stunt doubles … not to mention John Wayne.


Here’s Mark Rydell on what happened on that day.

And we had 1500 head of cattle. And there’s an interesting story of the first angry moment that I had with John Wayne. I was sitting up on the head of a crane. We had 9 cameras, and we were shooting this scene which had to do with starting the cattle drive. And in the background of this 1500 head of cattle, we had all the families of the kids, and all the kids are in position getting ready to start this cattle drive, and being said goodbye to by their parents. And John Wayne was seated on his horse about 50 feet in front of me and I was facing all these cattle on the top of the crane, and the scene begins with him riding over to Roscoe Lee Browne who was sitting on the top of this six-up that he had to drive, and the dialogue, if I remember correctly, is he says, “Are you ready, Mr. Nightlinger?” and he says, “Ready when you are”, or something like that. And you know, you don’t start 1500 head of cattle by saying, “Go”. What happens is, you have to push the cattle in the rear and they move and they push the cattle in front and sometimes it takes 5 minutes for them to be going. So I didn’t roll the cameras because I didn’t want to waste film until the cattle were moving. There was an enormous amount of cattle. This was really a remarkable production achievement, with Wayne riding past hundreds and hundreds of heads of cattle, all which had to be handled. It was quite a complicated procedure that required a lot of attention. So Wayne decided it was time to go – so he rode up – I hadn’t even started rolling the cameras yet – so he rode up to Roscoe and said, “Are you ready, Mr. Nightlinger?” Well, of course, I hadn’t even rolled the cameras yet. So I lost my temper. I stood up on the crane and said, “Don’t you ever do that. Go back to your spot. I’ll tell you when we’re going to roll our cameras, I’ll tell you when ‘Action’ is!” and as I was talking to him, I was thinking: what a stupid thing for me to do, to yell at John Wayne, in front of all these kids and all these people, it was humiliating. And I was really sorry, but I had stuck my neck out – and I was right, by the way. And he knew I was right. He went back to his place, did the scene, got in his car – it was the end of the day – and drove into town. All of the crew came over to me one by one to shake my hand, as if to say goodbye, because they thought I would be fired for having contested John Wayne in any way whatsoever. And the Ravetch’s were there, and they were horrified, and I got in the car with them to drive back to our production office in Santa Fe, and I was just mortified with guilt for having done this! And they kept saying, “Why did you do that?” And I kept saying, ‘I just lost my temper!” And we got back to the production office and there were four calls from John Wayne. And I thought, this is it. I’m fired. I’ll be on my way back to Los Angeles in a moment and one of John Wayne’s former directors will be down here to take over the picture. So I finally got up my courage and I called him. And he said, “Mark, let’s have dinner.” And I thought, ‘Okay, there’s the kiss of death.” So we met, and, by the way, there was nothing more remarkable than the experience of going to dinner in Santa Fe with John Wayne, who was 6’5″ and an icon. He walked into the restaurant and the place gasped! We sat down for dinner and I am waiting for the axe to fall, for him to say, ‘Son, you’re a nice guy, but I think we’re going to be better off with a better director.” You know, I was waiting for that horrifying moment! Which never came, by the way. And he proceeded to tell me that I treated him the way John Ford treated him. I had yelled at him, and he was very impressed that I had the courage to tell him off. He knew that I was right, and he was wrong. Even though it was something I certainly never should have done, he was impressed that I had the courage to do it. And he called me “Sir” from that day forward, and for the rest of the 102 days we shot this picture. And that’s the kind of guy he was.


Maureen O’Hara in her autobiography ‘Tis Herself: A Memoir on the last moment in The Quiet Man:

There is only one fitting way to end our discussion of The Quiet Man, and that’s with a whisper. No matter what part of the world I’m in, the question I am always asked is: “What did you whisper into John Wayne’s ear at the end of The Quiet Man?” It was John Ford’s idea: it was the ending he wanted. I was told by Mr. Ford exactly what I was to say. At first I refused. I said, “No. I can’t. I can’t say that to Duke.” But Mr. Ford wanted a very shocked reaction from Duke, and he said, “I’m telling you, you are to say it.” I had no choice, and so I agreed, but with a catch: “I’ll say it on one condition – that it is never ever repeated or revealed to anyone.” So we made a deal. After the scene was over, we told Duke about our agreement and three of us made a pact. There are those who claim that they were told and know what I said. They don’t and are lying. John Ford took it to his grave – so did Duke – and the answer will die with me. Curiosity about the whisper has become a great part of the Quiet Man legend. I have no doubt that as long as the film endures, so will the speculation. The Quiet Man meant so much to John Ford, John Wayne, and myself. I know it was their favorite picture too. It bonded us as artists and friends in a way that happens but once in a career. That little piece of The Quiet Man belongs to just us, and so I hope you’ll understand as I answer:

I’ll never tell.


One of my favorite reaction shots from him is Wayne’s body language when O’Hara whispers whatever it is she whispers to him. You can feel him go from 0 to 1000 in one second, and it is all he can do to wait until they get back to their house and into their bed. It’s subtle evocative and totally clear physical acting. Last moment of the movie, I’m sure fans will remember it.

David Thomson:

Even at that stage [the late 30s, early 40s], Wayne had this virtue denied to Ford’s “stock company”: he did not ham. Universal put him opposite Dietrich in Seven Sinners (40, Tay Garnett) and Republic lowered its sights to more Westerns. For the next few years he made fodder at his home studio and more adventurous work outside, much of which only exposed his monotonous fierceness: Reap the Wild Wind (42, Cecil B. De Mille); The Spoilers (42, Ray Enright); Flying Tigers (42, David Miller); with Joan Crawford in Jules Dassin’s crazy Reunion in France (42); and The Fighting Seabees (44, Edward Ludwig). In 1945, he was in Back to Bataan (Edward Dmytryk), Flame of the Barbary Coast (Joseph Kane), and was overshadowed by Robert Montgomery in They Were Expendable (Ford). He was bizarrely paired with Claudette Colbert in a comedy, Without Reservations (46, Mervyn Le Roy), but Rebublic still pushed straight Westerns at him.

More from the transcript of the interview John Wayne gave with Peter Bogdonavich – I wish all action stars looked at their jobs in this way. We’d get some better movies.

Any time there was a chance for a reaction — which is the most important thing in a motion picture — he [John Ford] always took reactions of me, so I’d be a part of every scene. Because I had a great deal of time in the picture when other people were talking, and all my stuff was just reactions. They become very important throughout a picture, they build your part. They always say I’m in action movies, but it’s in reaction pictures that they remember me — pictures that are full of reactions, but have a background of action.


Katharine Hepburn on John Wayne in her autobiography Me : Stories of My Life:

From head to toe he is all of a piece. Big head. Wide blue eyes. Sandy hair. Rugged skin – lined by living and fun and character. Not by just rotting away. A nose not too big, not too small. Good teeth. A face alive with humor. Good humor I should say, and a sharp wit. Dangerous when roused. His shoulders are broad – very. His chest massive – very. When I leaned against him (which I did as often as possible, I must confess – I am reduced to such innocent pleasures), thrilling. It was like leaning against a great tree. His hands are big. Mine, which are big too, seemed to disappear. Good legs. No seat. A real man’s body.

And the base of this incredible creation. A pair of small sensitive feet. Carrying his huge frame as though it were a feather. Light of tread. Springy. Dancing. Pretty feet.

Very observing. Very aware. Listens. Concentrates. Witty slant. Ready to laugh. To be laughed at. To answer. To stick his neck out. Funny. Outrageous. Spoiled. Self-indulgent. Tough. Full of charm. Knows it. Uses it. Disregards it. With an alarming accuracy. Not much gets past him.

He was always on time. Always knew the scene. Always full of notions about what should be done. Tough on a director who had not done his homework. Considerate to his fellow actors. Very impatient with anyone who was inefficient. And did not bother to cover it up.


David Thomson:

Then came two films that radically enlarged his image: Fort Apache (48, Ford), in which he played a cavalry captain, and Red River (48, Howard Hawks). Not least of his achievements as a guide to players is the way Hawks was the first to see the slit-eyed obdurate side to Wayne’s character. Tom Dunson is a fine character study: a man made hard by an early mistake and by the emphasis on achievement with which he tried to conceal that mistake. With Ford again, Wayne was one of Three Godfathers (48), a truly awful movie. But in 1949, he was Captain Nathan Brittles at the point of retirement in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (Ford), and in 1950 the trilogy was completed withthe leisurely Rio Grande (Ford). Asked to be older, a husband and a father, Wayne became human and touching.


More from Katharine Hepburn:

Life has dealt Wayne some severe blows. He can take them. He has shown it. He doesn’t lack self-discipline. He dares to walk by himself. Run. Dance. Skip. Walk. Crawl through life. He has done it all. Don’t pity me, please.

And with all this he has a most gentle and respectful gratitude toward people who he feels have contributed very firmly to his success. His admirers. He is meticulous in answering fan mail. Realistic in allowing the press to come to the set. Uncomplicated in his reaction to praise and admiration. Delighted to be the recipient of this or that award – reward. A simple man. None of that complicated Self-Self-Self which seems to torment myself and others who shall be nameless when they are confronted with the Prize for good performance. I often wonder whether we behave so ungraciously because we really think that we should have been given a prize for every performance. And are therefore sort of sore to begin with. Well, as I began – he is a simple and decent man. Considerate to the people who rush him in a sort of wild enthusiasm. Simple in his enjoyment of his own success. Like Bogie. He really appreciates the praise heaped upon him. A wonderful childlike, naive open spirit.


From Who The Hell’s In It, by Peter Bogdonavich:

In a lifetime of almost thirty years as a top-ten box-office attraction (plus twenty before that as a not unpopular star actor), Wayne’s accumulated persona had even before his death attained such mythic proportions that by then the most myopic of viewers and reviewers had finally noted it. He brought to each new movie (good or bad) a powerful resonance from the past — his own and ours — which filled the world with reverberations above and beyond its own perhaps undistinguished qualities. That was the true measure of a great movie star of the golden age.


David Thomson:

Next, however, came The Searchers (56, Ford), one of his finest films – once more a study of an unapproachable stubborn man, finally excluded from the family reunion as a romantic but lonely figure facing the landscape. He coasted with The Wings of Eagles (57, Ford), Legend of the Lost (57, Hathaway), and The Barbarian and the Geisha (58, John Huston), before making Rio Bravo (59, Hawks). Once more, Hawks enlarged Wayne by concentrating on an alcoholic Dean Martin and having Wayne watch him “like a friend”. It worked – as did the application of Angie Dickinson’s talkative emotional crises to Wayne’s solidity – so that Rio Bravo is not just Wayne’s most humane picture but the one that makes him most comic.


David Thomson:

His death moved nearly everyone, as had his brave walk down the Academy staircase, two months before death, to give the best picture Oscar to … The Deer Hunter (that’ll be the day, indeed.)

He made too many pictures, of course; but only because for so long he was a guarantee of profit.


Wayne and Bogdanovich again:

PB: One of the most memorable moments of any picture I’ve seen you in is a silent moment in The Searchers. After you see what’s been done to the white women, there’s a close-up of you, camera moves in —

JW: I turn back. Terrific shot. Helluva shot. And everybody can put their own thoughts to it. You’re not forced to think one way or the other.

PB: Your gestures in pictures are often daring — large — and show the kind of freedom and lack of inhibition you have. Did you get that from Ford, or did you always have that?

JW: No, I think that’s the first lesson you learn in a high school play — that if you’re going to make a gesture, make it.

That has to be some of the best acting advice I’ve ever heard.

“If you’re going to make a gesture, make it.”

Sounds easy, yes?

Try it. Just try it.

So much of bad phony acting is because people make gestures half-heartedly, or they PRETEND to make gestures …. hoping the audience won’t pick up on the fact that they’re not REALLY making the gesture … that the gesture is sketched-in, empty, or cliched …

but audiences always know the difference between phony and real.


David Thomson:

But what a star, what a presence, and what a wealth of reserve he brought to that bold presence. (So you wonder if he couldn’t have played comedy.)

Nor has he dated. All one can say is that he filled the screen role of a necessarily difficult man as naturally as most actors wore clothes. There was an age when people could be stars without undue grandeur or self-mockery. Whether Wayne is looking at the land that may make a great ranch, or turning in a doorway to survey his true home, the desert, every gesture was authentic and a prized disclosure. He moved the way singers sing, with huge confidence and daring. You have to imagine how it all began in the way Raoul Walsh saw him carrying that armchair – as if it was a young girl in a red robe being lifted up in mercy and wonder.

John_Wayne - red river

John Wayne told Peter Bogdanovich:

A funny thing happened with Ford after The Big Trail. He was a strange character, you know. After I did that picture, I came back, and he was making Up the River. I went over and said, “Hi, coach.” Nothing. I thought he didn’t hear me. So I figured, Oh, well, he didn’t even see me. The next time I saw him I went, “Hi, coach, hi.” And again I didn’t get anything. So the next time I just went right up in front of him and went, “Hi, coach.” And he turned and talked to somebody else. I thought, That’s that — he won’t speak to me. I don’t know how the hell I can communicate.

About two years later, I was in Catalina with Ward, having a belt, and Barbara [Ford], his daughter — she was a little girl then — she ran in and said, ‘Daddy wants to see you.” I said, “Whoa, wait a minute, Barbara, you got the wrong boy — must be Ward.” She said, “No, it’s you, Duke.” So I said, “Yeah, honey, run along, you know this is a bar.” So his wife, Mary Ford, came to the door and she said, “Duke, come here. Jack is expecting you out there.” I said, “All right.” So I went out to the Araner, his boat, and I go aboard — I remember Jim Tully was there and four or five guys — and Jack was in the middle of a goddamn story, and he looked up at me and said, “Hi, Duke, sit down.” And to this goddamn day I don’t know why he didn’t speak to me for two years.


Excerpt from Michael Caine’s awesome book Acting in Film: An Actor’s Take on Movie Making:

I noticed that American actors always try to cut down their dialogue. They say, “I’m not going to say all this. You say that line.” At first I couldn’t figure out why; I came from theatre, where you covetously count your lines. But it’s a smart approach for an actor to give up lines in the movies because while you wind up talking about them, they wind up listening and reacting. It’s no accident that Rambo hardly speaks. Sylvester Stallone is not a fool.

I remember when I first went to America, right after I made Alfie. I met John Wayne in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel. He’d just got out of a helicopter, he was dressed as Hondo and he came over and introduced himself to me.

I said: “I do know who you are, Mr. Wayne.”

He said, “You just come over?”


He said, “Let me give you a piece of advice: talk low, talk slow, and don’t say much.”


Katharine Hepburn again:

As an actor, he has an extraordinary gift. A unique naturalness. Developed by movie actors who just happen to become actors. Gary Cooper had it. An unselfconsciousness. An ability to think and feel. Seeming to woo the camera. A very subtle capacity to think and express and caress the camera – the audience. With no apparent effort. A secret between them … Wayne has a wonderful gift of natural speed. Of arrested motion. Of going suddenly off on a new tack. Try something totally unrehearsed with him. He takes the ball and runs and throws with a freedom and wit and gaiety which is great fun. As powerful as is his personality, so too is his acting capacity powerful. He is a very very good actor in the most highbrow sense of the word. You don’t catch him at it.


From Who The Hell’s In it, by Peter Bogdonavich:

To me, Duke had always seemed slightly out of breath, as though he hadn’t yet caught up on the last twenty years, not to mention the last twenty minutes. Both [John] Ford and [Howard] Hawks truly loved him, of course, and even knowing him a little, as I did, it was pretty difficult not to like him. All this, and a lot more, obviously communicated itself to the public — still the top American star more than seventy years since his beginning. His visual legacy has defined him as the archetypal man of the American West — bold, innocent, profane, idealistic, wrongheaded, good-hearted, single-minded, quick to action, not given to pretension, essentially alone, ready for any adventure — no matter how grand or daring; larger, finally, than life or death.




I love how, in that first famous entrance in Stagecoach, Ford moves in quickly to his face, and there’s a slight moment where Wayne is out of focus. I love how Ford kept that imperfection.

A powerful actor, one I never get tired of studying: his walk, his line readings, his eyes, his reactions … He’s subtle, he’s physical, he’s funny, he’s in touch with his sex drive in a very grounded way, he’s fearless, he’s smart in his choices.

And then, of course, there’s the magic.

The movie magic.

You know it when you see it. It cannot be manufactured or created. You just have to have it.



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33 Responses to Happy Birthday, John Wayne

  1. DBW says:

    Well, thanks. Loved this, as you know. Wayne had such an incredibly interesting face–I never tire of looking at him. I thought of something reading this that it surprised me I hadn’t thought of before. As I have told you before, John Wayne always reminds me of my Grandfather. They were similar in size and looks, and were even born the same day(although my Grandfather was born in 1910). My Mother was born the same day and year as Natalie Wood, so my Mother and her Father were almost exactly the same ages as Wayne and Wood. I will always think of that every time I watch The Searchers in the future.

  2. Kent says:

    DUKE. Mike Frankovich, a tough, tough producer had known Wayne since the 1930s. His nickname was BIG MIKE. He was. At a screening of his production of “The Shootist” shortly after Wayne had passed on, Big Mike began to speak to the audience. He started to say “DUKE…” but his voice cracked. He stood suspended in air for a long moment, then sat down, and didn’t say another word the rest of the night.

  3. Tony Dayoub says:

    Sheila, what a great aggregation of quotes. It takes a certain skill to organize them in a way that builds a picture, as this post did. I think I’ll forward this to my dad, one of many who have a tendency to underrate the Duke. For me, he’ll always be a favorite.

  4. sheila says:

    Thanks, Tony! I got into a small argument with some dude on FB who said that “Cary Grant only played Cary Grant.” He was so certain of himself, he didn’t even realize his own ignorance so I gave up trying to convince him. That kind of comment is also used as a criticism of John Wayne – and it is equally as annoying (and inaccurate – that’s what really gets me).

    I’m sure you saw Farran’s quote she posted on Twitter – which I think is just so perfect.

    Clint Eastwood on John Wayne: “People have said he doesn’t really act. Just let them try to act like he does and they’ll find they can’t do it.”

  5. Judy says:

    Really enjoyed reading all these great quotes and looking at the pictures you have chosen. I’ve been watching a lot of John Wayne’s films in the last year – until then, he’s an actor I’d somehow got the wrong idea about, because I’d only seen a couple of his worst films (McQ was one of them), and I’d also heard a lot of the sort of dismissive comments you quote here about his acting.

    Then I watched ‘The High and the Mighty’, as I’ve been trying to watch as many of the films directed by William Wellman as possible. In the very first scene, where Wayne’s character is almost crying, I had to quickly rethink my preconceptions. Really I was astonished by the whole way he dominates that film while hardly seeming to do anything – many of the other actors ham it up, while he just walks round quietly, and yet it is his film all the way. Since seeing that I’ve caught up with a number of his other films, with ‘Red River’ probably being my favourite of those I’ve seen so far, though as a romantic I also like ‘Angel and the Badman’. The thing that amazes me most about him is his eyes, something you mention in your posting – he seems to be able to express an incredible amount through them without words.

  6. Brian Downes says:

    Thought you’d like to know about the most lavish salute to John Ford’s “The Quiet Man” ever presented. John Wayne Birthplace, Winterset, Iowa, May 25 & 26.
    With appreciation,
    Brian Downes, Director

  7. Thanks for re-posting Sheila…a lovely piece I had somehow missed. Brought to mind my favorite line of movie criticism, from George MacDonald Fraser (of “Flashman” fame):

    “Having seen True Grit my one one regret is that John Wayne never had a shot at Falstaff.”

    I’ve never watched True Grit since then (and I watch it at least once a year) without thinking of that line and sharing that regret at least a little.

  8. mutecypher says:

    I sat my daughter down last night and had her watch “The Searchers” with me. I didn’t know today was his birthday. I told her we were going to watch a great movie with one of America’s great actors. When the opening began she said, “Oh it’s a Western. ” I agreed. Then John Wayne rode up and I asked her if she knew who that was. She said “Clint Eastwood?” I felt like I’d failed in her education.

    She knew who John Wayne was by the end of the movie. She was completely struck by the scene where Ethan reacts to what had been done to that broken, crazed woman cooing over the rag doll.

    I have to get her to watch “Rio Bravo” soon. And “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

    John Wayne as Falstaff. That boggles. In a good way.

  9. sheila says:

    Wow, NJ – Wayne would have been an incredible Falstaff!!

  10. sheila says:

    Mutecypher –

    // She was completely struck by the scene where Ethan reacts to what had been done to that broken, crazed woman cooing over the rag doll. //

    Goosebumps. That scene. My God.

  11. Orson…call Duke…I bet he can get that thing made! (seriously, though, all this is made more poignant if I’m reading those Eyman reviews right and Wayne was a huge Shakespeare fan who could quote lengthy passages from memory. He was probably just hoping someone would ask!)

  12. Mr. Lion says:

    Superb. Nothing quite cheeses me off more in the acting world than those who pull the ‘just playing themselves’ nonsense. Watch and learn, damnit. Such talent is not to be dismissed.

    Wayne created an image that will be remembered hundreds of years from now. What more needs be said about the quality of his work?

    • sheila says:

      I know. It’s infuriating. He’s just about the best there is. I love Hepburn’s words on him acting: “You don’t catch him at it.”

  13. Jim Beaver says:

    I hadn’t heard that George Macdonald Fraser remark about Wayne playing Falstaff, but I’ve heard Sir Ralph Richardson say the same thing. Richardson apparently was originally scheduled for the Richard Attenborough role in Brannigan. In an interview, he said, “Wayne would make a marvelous Falstaff. He has such a sense of mystery about him, and mystery is invaluable in Shakespeare.”

    • Sheila says:

      Jim- wonderful quote from Ralph Richardson! Mystery! Yes!!

      And authenticity, in spades.

      Makes me mournful we never got to see Wayne as Falstaff. I have goosebumps just imagining it.

      His work is always fresh, always surprising.

      • Sheila says:

        And I think people somehow still miss that there’s a mystery to Wayne. He seems so present, so all-there.

        And yet one thinks of that famous closeup in The Searchers when he sees the women….

        I will never get to the bottom of that moment, no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

  14. sheila says:

    Rather pleased and surprised to see that John Wayne’s grandson Brendan Tweeted my posts in honor of his grandfather. Heart-warming!!


  15. Paula says:

    Sheila – The pics you chose for this are amazing. Haven’t seen some of these from when he was younger. I especially love the passage from Maureen O’Hara (also a huge favorite of mine) and the secret. For someone as well known and beloved as John Wayne, it’s another glimpse of mystery. My elderly aunt loves, loves, loves John Wayne so a friend is showing her your piece today, so you will make her day with these pics and quotes. Thanks!

    • sheila says:

      Paula – you’re welcome! He’s such an icon!

      That secret in Quiet Man is so great, isn’t it? I love watching his reaction. For as strong and manly and all that he was – one of his main characteristics is vulnerability and openness. It’s there in almost every moment of his best roles!!

      And your comment about your elderly aunt reminds me of this rant I wrote (pretty strong language) about the whole “John Wayne just played himself” thing. http://www.sheilaomalley.com/?p=53880 But also in that post I talk about how when people show up on my site (or elsewhere) to talk about John Wayne, there is usually a personal story attached. “My dad loved him, ” “My aunt loved him …” I write about all kinds of actors and only John Wayne and Elvis Presley get that kind of personal response. It really speaks so strongly of how much they mean to people, how deeply embedded they are in the cultural imagination. It’s really quite extraordinary!

      I hope your aunt enjoys the post!

      I re-watched Angel and the Badman this past weekend (total coincidence – I didn’t realize Wayne’s birthday was coming up) – and it’s SO awesome. I had already been planning to write up a post on one of his gestures in that film and then figured: Hey, perfect timing!

  16. Paula says:

    Didion and Wayne. You just made my morning. Why some actors have personal impact is such an interesting discussion which is why I love your commentaries. So many excellent actors today but I would struggle to name the one with that impact.

    To add to my aunt’s story, I took over as guardian for her three years ago. She made me laugh because all of her passwords and security questions were JOHN WAYNE (all caps). When I changed them all, she was so mad.

  17. Fraser’s quote regarding Wayne and Falstaff is in his Hollywood History of the World and he doesn’t indicate any familiarity with Richardson’s quote…fascinating if two such accomplished Brits not only came to the same conclusion independently but honed in on the same character.

    Don’t know if you caught the extras on recent The Uninvited DVD, Sheila, but there was a touching anecdote regarding Gail Russell. Evidently she was madly in love with Wayne and he could never see her as more than a sister/friend. That probably didn’t help her famously fragile emotional state any, but someone who knew them both well said she did “the best John Wayne imitation in town.” I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch Angel and the Badman without a lump in my throat after that.

    Great stuff as always!

    • sheila says:

      NJ – Thanks for the Fraser quote background. Yes, fascinating that Wayne as Falstaff would come up twice with two different people. The more I think about it, the more I wish it had happened.

      // but someone who knew them both well said she did “the best John Wayne imitation in town.” //

      That’s so sweet! She was terrific in Angel/Badman. Sad woman, with many demons, but I thought she had a wonderfully natural presence.

  18. mutecypher says:

    I always look forward to the rabbit suit picture when I read this. Thanks for reposting.

  19. carolyn clarke says:

    Fantastic as always, Sheila. I so regret that I came to John Wayne so late because I was one of those people who mixed his politics with his acting ability. Stupid me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the John Ford trilogy. I know some of the lines by heart. I have to share a story about “The Sons of Katie Elder” just because. When that movie came out, I was a passionate Beatles fan and I had seen the movie “Help” so many times that my mother forbade me from seeing it again – silly woman. So I went to see “Help” get again at the local movie theatre but I told my mother that I went to see “The Sons of Katie Elder” because a John Wayne movie was always acceptable! To this day, I don’t know if she knew whether or not I was lying, but it was the first movie that came to mind. I finally saw “Katie Elder” on TV years later and enjoyed it. I’ve always been grateful for John Wayne for that.

    • sheila says:

      // So I went to see “Help” get again at the local movie theatre but I told my mother that I went to see “The Sons of Katie Elder” because a John Wayne movie was always acceptable! //

      HA!! That is so hilarious and great.

      I came to John Wayne pretty late too. Westerns were not my thing as a kid although I’d seen many of them on afternoon TV – and, of course, The Quiet Man was required viewing in my family for obvious reasons – but once I started getting serious about acting, I started to really study him – and realize just how good he really was, how authentic.

      It’s still a bit of a mystery to me – as any big talent is – but it’s so apparent – you know it when you see it!

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