Friday, September 29, 2017

John Wayne: The Texas Hero





This is my entry in The Texas Blogathon, hosted by yours truly.




John Wayne was not born in Texas.  He was born in Winterset, Iowa just to clarify, a place I would like to visit just to see his birthplace, but otherwise a nondescript burg in southern Iowa. (An interesting  side note: Winterset was also the birthplace of Henry A. Wallace, who was vice-president under Franklin D. Roosevelt for most of WWII.)

John Wayne was not raised in Texas.  He was actually raised in southern California, where his mother and father moved in about 1914.  John Wayne did not attend university classes in Texas.  He actually went to USC (gak!), where he was a football player on scholarship.  He later had to drop out after he was cut from the team.

John Wayne never lived in Texas, at least not on a permanent basis.  He resided there briefly during the making of the movies he filmed in Texas, but his permanent residence was still in California.  In point of fact, only two of the many movies he made that were set in Texas were actually filmed in Texas.  Most of them were filmed on back lots of studios in California.

So why does Texas revere John Wayne (or more to the point, why do I revere him)?  Because Wayne was the quintessential Texan in ethos and demeanor. He is the ideal of many, a force that stood his ground despite opposition in Hollywood.  In 2015, Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas legislature officially declared Wayne an "honorary Texan" and designated May 26 of that year as "John Wayne Day". (By contrast, in 2016 a plan to name May 26 John Wayne Day was voted down in Democrat-dominated California)

The following represents an overview of some of the movies Wayne starred in that take place in the state of Texas (though not all, less this post become unmanageable in length...)



One cannot begin such an expansive overview without touching upon the epic tribute Wayne did for the history of The Alamo (1960)The Alamo was Wayne's dream project.  He spent years finagling with the studios and various inside personnel trying to get the movie financed. He famously even committed to making what is arguably his worst movie ever, The Conqueror, because he thought by doing so he could finagle some financial backing.  He eventually put up a large chunk of the financing from his own pocket to get the movie done.

Wayne is not a Texan in this movie.  He plays Davy Crockett who arrives with a band of Kentuckians to help defend the Alamo from the imminent attack by Generalissimo Santa Ana and his Mexican army.  The film is a rousing tribute to the ideas and values that the average Texan feels toward his or her state.  And, although the film is at times jingoistic, and does get a few things wrong (San Antonio is not "right here on the Rio Grande" as Sam Houston [Richard Boone] states early in the movie...the nearest point is about 150 miles away...)



The Alamo is probably the first Texas movie that comes to mind, when you think of John Wayne, but that's not the ONLY movie that has a Texas connection.  Wayne worked with Howard Hawks to film Rio Bravo (1959) and its subsequent remakes, El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970)In the first two Wayne plays a sober fellow who helps a notoriously drunk friend to defend a jail against an assault by a mob of bad guys trying to get a jailed friend out of the jail.  Wayne is typically the hero of these films, but shares that role with his newly sober friend, a gunslinger who sides with them and a crotchety old codger who fills the role of comic relief in some rather great scenes.




Although actually filmed in Arizona, John Ford's classic The Searchers (1956) involves Wayne, along with Jeffrey Hunter as a half-breed associate, searching for the kidnapped daughter of his best friend across parts of West Texas.  This one is the one that most people consider one of the best westerns ever made, and John Wayne's best performance.  To some Wayne enthusiasts, like myself, Wayne's character, Ethan Edwards, is hard to like because he is a hard-bitten cynic who has no love at all for the Native American. You might say he's "racist", and I would not disagree completely, but I'm pretty sure his racism only extends to the "Indian" and not to all non-white peoples.  Nevertheless, he puts an Academy Award worthy performance, which is all the more frustrating since the Academy did not nominate him for the role.




When Red River (1948)  came out, John Ford, the director most people associate with Wayne, famously quipped "I didn't know the big son of a bitch could act."  Red River features Wayne as Tom Dunson, a man who yearns to have a cattle ranch in Texas.  Wayne once again plays a hard-hearted man, and once again put in a virtuoso performance that was ignored by the Academy.  Dunson's interaction with his adopted son, played by Montgomery Clift in an early role, is the stuff of legend.  This movie, by the way, is the only other movie besides The Alamo which was actually filmed on location in Texas.




One of my favorite John Wayne movies is Big Jake (1971) .  Here Wayne is paired up with Maureen O'Hara in what was the fifth (and final) pairing of the two. O'Hara runs the McCandles ranch and her son, young "Little Jake" McCandles is kidnapped by a band of outlaws led by Richard Boone.  Rather than rely on the Texas Rangers, she sends for her estranged husband, the titular "Big Jake" to come home and lead a team to go after the outlaws.  Some of the greatest action sequences ever filmed in a Wayne movie appear here, and Wayne's character is the ideal I envision when I think of Wayne.   Outside of El Dorado, my absolute favorite Wayne movie, this is the one I would recommend for people who have never watched a John Wayne movie (are there really such people?)






In The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)Wayne has to share the stage with his "brothers" (Dean Martin, Earl Holliman and Michael Anderson, Jr), the titular sons of a woman who really loved her sons and wanted only the best for them.  Fate saw their fortunes go a bit differently as three of them grew up to be less than the saintly sons their mother expected, and with the fourth, despite the opposition of the three older brothers, seemingly on his way to follow in their footsteps., all around disappoints to their mother.  The four have arrived to see to the burial of their mother (who passed away prior to the beginning of this movie).  The sons go after a rancher who, through chicanery,  has taken over the family ranch in Texas, and you know how that will all turn out.  No one ever upstaged Wayne, in my opinion, but Martin and Holliman come damn close in this one.




The Comancheros (1961)  features Wayne as a Texas Ranger who takes a custody of a Louisiana man who has run from te law after a duel in New Orleans and endeavors to return him to justice back in Louisiana.  The outlaw (Stuart Whitman) escapes, but later teams up with Wayne to help battle the titular Comancheros, a band of renegades, led by Lee Marvin, who have been helping the Comanches out by supplying them  with liquor and guns.Another rousing story that gives Wayne one of his best roles.




Other movies include several of Wayne's earliest work in the movies when he was cranking out westerns at, like two or three a month in the B- movie world.  Such titles as Texas Cyclone (1932), THe Lucky Texan (1934), Texas Terror (1935), King of the Pecos (1936) and The Lonely Trail (1936) all came out prior to his breakthrough role in Stagecoach,  all with cookie cutter story lines.  These roles gave Wayne his first acting chops and, although they were all really filmed on a backlot at Hollywood studios, essentially put him in the state of Texas for purposes of the story.  These early Wayne pictures are really only good for either true Wayne aficionados, or lovers of classic western potboilers, but they do entertain on their own level.

This has only been a smattering of the many movies John Wayne made, and some of the Texas themed movie I left out in the interest of brevity, but suffice to say Wayne became the icon in the heart of many Texans based on his ethos and appearance in many epic Texas themed movies.  I hope you enjoyed this brief foray.

Quiggy



15 comments:

  1. Wonderful overview of the career of the actor who best symbolizes the spirit of Texas. If it were not for his epic 1960 film, we would not "remember the Alamo" quite as vividly. You have covered my personal favorites here nicely - Searchers and Red River are brilliant (Wayne and John Ford were at their best together).

    John Wayne still holds the record as Top Box Office Star of all time according to the annual Quigley Poll. He appeared on the top 10 list more than any other actor (Tom Cruise is his nearest competitor).

    Your salute to The Duke perfect way to start the Texas blogathon!
    -Chris

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    1. My favorites are the ones he made towards the end of his life. (I even liked Branningan, although it wasn't a popular movie even for Wayne fans.) Thanks for reading.

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  2. Very nice write up I have not seen many of his movies sadly I fell in love with cowboys through TV shows. I have tho been to his birth house in Iowa a few years back for a big fan like yourself it is worth the trip down the long dusty back roads.

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    1. Have to go someday to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton. I guess a side trip wouldn't be out of the question. :-) (Hell of a side trip... 700+ miles. Thanks for reading.

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  3. First off, boo California! Why would you NOT have a John Wayne Day? Second, I love almost all the films you listed. I would have given the Duke so many Oscars...

    This was a fun Blogathon! Thanks for hosting!!

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    1. Liberal California and hardline conservative John Wayne just don't mix. Plus there's that whole anti-Communist thing. But you would think they'd let bygones be bygones after 35 years, wouldn't you? Thanks for reading.

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  4. Lovely overview of some of his most wonderful films! Including my favorites, The Sons of Katie Elder and Rio Bravo. Anyone who wants to try out some of his films for the first time could not go wrong picking from those you listed :-)

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    1. There are a few others equally as good, but didn't qualify since they didn't take place in Texas. I love "North to (that poser state that thinks thousands of miles of uninhabitable ice qualifies to make it a bigger state...)"

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    2. I love "North to (One of Only Two US States I Haven't Set Foot In Yet)" -- it was the movie that made me decide I liked John Wayne :-) It's so quirky and fun.

      But like, I said, this list would be a pretty good place to start!

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  5. Ha ha...the moment I saw the one pic I knew it was Big Jake..."you can call me father...but if you ever call me daddy again..."
    Big Jake is one of my favourites too. In fact, I'd say that is probably my favourite. I always smile when I see a can of peaches...brings back "cold camp" memories.

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    1. One of the best lines of the movie, but don't forget "you can even call me a dirty son of a bitch..."

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    2. Of course not (I won't forget)...I know that entire "speech" by heart (just didn't want to write it all out). Absolutely love that scene. In fact, I just love the whole movie.

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  6. This is a very fine article. It is an excellent tribute to John Wayne, who acted brilliantly for a long time, as your article mentioned. He has an interesting appearance in "Footlight Parade" from 1933. When Chester Kent, James Cagney's character, goes into a movie theatre, John Wayne is on the screen as a cowboy named John. You don't see much of him, but it is an interesting bit of trivia.

    Thank you for letting me participate in this blogathon. I really enjoyed it. I hope you will consider participating in my blogatho, "The Great Breening Blogathon:" https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/extra-the-great-breening-blogathon/. We could really use your talent!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

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  7. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading. I'm going to have to decline the invitation however, I'm booked solid for a while on blogathons.

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  8. Dear Quiggy,

    I understand how busy you are. Good luck in your blogathons!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

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