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Saturday, 11 September 2010

JOHN WAYNE TRIBUTE WEEKEND: Hanging with the Duke: Dave Lewis

Part four of Dave Lewis's look at the early Duke.

Two Fisted Law (1932) was based on a William Colt MacDonald story. In this one McCoy is a rancher who gets cheated out his ranch and prospects for silver until he can settle accounts with the villains (one of whom is crooked sheriff Walter Brennan). Wayne plays one of McCoy’s ranch hands (that's him on the lobby card above, looking wistfully on as McCoy gets the girl). The most interesting thing about Wayne’s role is that he plays a character named Duke. In Wayne’s next western it’s the horse who’s called Duke. How the name came back to Wayne is another story.

Most discussions of this film (and Texas Cyclone) tell us that Wayne disliked Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn. But they don’t say why. The book The Young Duke by Howard Kazanjian and Chriss Enss offers an explanation. Cohn had signed Wayne to an exclusive five-picture contract, apparently intending to use him as the lead. One of the films was a romantic comedy called Men Are Like That with silent star Lara La Plante (The film is better known as Arizona). Unfortunately for Wayne, Cohn was in love with Miss La Plante. When rumors flew that Wayne was having an affair with his co-star, Cohn called him on the carpet. Wayne was in love with another woman (a young socialite) and denied the affair, but Cohn didn’t believe him. Cohn got his revenge by sticking Wayne with small supporting roles (including those in Texas Cyclone and Two Fisted Law) for the remainder of the contract.

According to The Young Duke, Wayne’s final film for Cohn was The Drop Kick, playing a college football player who sells out his team (an insult to Wayne’s legacy as a USC football star). Great story, if true, but I can’t verify it. The Drop Kick was actually produced by Fox and released back in 1927, with Wayne as an unbilled extra. His only football drama for Columbia was Maker of Men, and I’ve found no other description of Wayne’s role.

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