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Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Hero - John Wayne

John Wayne's final bout with cancer in the summer of 1979, unleashed a wave of genuine emotion across America and the world beyond. Wayne was a man with true grit and never was this displayed so clearly than at the 1979 Academy Awards Ceremony when the gravely ill actor took the podium and stared in defiance into the TV cameras.

'Oscar and I have a lot in common,' he said. 'We both came to Hollywood in 1928 and we're both a little weather beaten but we're still here. And plan to be around a whole lot longer.'

Two months later The Duke was dead. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour, the highest tribute that can be paid to an American and it was well deserved.

For all of Wayne' s controversial aspects and his often ultra right wing politics, to many people  he was America, and to people all over the world John Wayne represented all that was great about the country.

Wayne was the one American actor who symbolized strength, bravery, patriotism and manliness.

Wayne's image as the ultimate American fighting for right was cultivated in the world war II movies, The Flying Tigers (1942) and The Fighting Seebees (1941). And in the aftermath of Hiroshima, when the American military might was most in need of justification in Back to Bataan and They Were Expendable. Later Wayne would portray America as glorious and righteous in the gung ho, The Sands of Iwo Jima. The simplistic nature of these movies has been criticized and with them Wayne himself - but Wayne firmly believed in the values he preached and even if his right wing politics were often hard to stomach there is no denying his importance as an actor.

This can not be denied and Wayne still stands as the ultimate action star. There are perhaps only two entertainers who truly represent the American Dream and John Wayne is one of them with Elvis Presley being the other. For both men were complex and often troubled personalities but in terms of stardom no stars ever burned brighter.

Though not all of Wayne's characters were idealised Americans  - Ethan Edwards in the western masterpiece, The Searchers is portrayed by Wayne as a psychopath trapped in the darkness of his own mind and Tom Dunston in Red River is a spiteful, repulsive man. These men more represent the American Nightmare than the American Dream.

'I hope you die,' Marty Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) screams at Wayne's Ethan Edwards in The Searchers to which Wayne replies, 'That'll be the day.'

Wayne though did die but his image has endured and even the uncovering of the darker side of his personality has only increased his legendary image. Will we ever forget him?

That'll be the day!


Cullen Gallagher said...

I still like rewatching The Duke's movies. Bought a couple dvd box sets over the summer which I need to finish.

wayne d. dundee said...

You're absolutely right, Duke Wayne is the ultimate American Hero. And he was a lot better actor than most people gave him credit for. There's some degree of John Wayne --- sometimes a little, sometimes a lot --- in every central protagonist I've ever written.

Tom Roberts said...

To anyone who wants to debate Duke's acting ability, simply watch THE QUIET MAN. An incredibly strong cast of veteran character actors all around him, in every scene, and not one has the screen presence, including bulldozer Victor McLaglen, to upstage him.

Much more subtly by Duke in this role and most give him credit for.

Nuff said.

Thanks for the post, Gary.

Tom Roberts
Black Dog Books

Oscar said...

Great post, thanks!

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Anonymous said...

Greatest movie cowboy of all time and one of the best movie stars overall.