"If an artist paints a great picture, he may not get recognition while he lives, but his work lives on and inspires after he is gone...But an actor—he is soon forgotten. He does a good piece of work in one picture and if he doesn’t get a chance in another good part for six months, he is forgotten." -Ricardo Cortez

John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby Lzcutter » June 20th, 2009, 7:50 pm

Thirty years ago last week, I was fixing dinner in my small apartment in downtown Los Angeles, the news was on the television in the background.

They announced that John Wayne had died (I don't remember if I had heard the news earlier in the day) but this I remember. I stopped what I was doing and moved to the sofa. They came back from commercial and then ran an extended piece about Wayne's death, playing the scene from She Wore a Yellow Ribbon where he says good-bye to his troops before they go out without him. I, like many other people, cried.

I grew up in the 1960s, a decade full of dissent and turmoil. I was against the war in Vietnam and not what could be described by any stretch of the imagination, a fan of Richard Nixon's. Given my politics, liking John Wayne films back then was more than just unpopular, it was very unpopular.

But I had grown up with a dad who loved his movies (and his politics) and he taught me to love those movies. Back then (as Moira likes to say when dinosaurs roamed the land -who knew they liked television), classic movies on the big three networks were all we had.

Two of the television stations in Las Vegas each ran an afternoon movie. On Saturday and Sundays, their was the late afternoon movie. And almost any night of the week, one of the big three networks had a "________ at the Movies" almost every night in prime-time. Then there was the Late Movie and that was followed by the Late, Late Movie. There were no VCRs or DVDs back then , so if a movie you liked came on, you jumped at the chance to see it.

My dad and I would watch westerns together. Both my parents were western fans but my dad took the time to watch the movies.

We all know the story of how Wayne broke into movies. He started in the late 1920s in silent films. He was an incredibly handsome young man. The only man more handsome than him (in my opinion) was Joel McCrea. They both oozed charm and sexuality. Wayne worked as a prop man back then and caught John Ford's eye. Raoul Walsh cast him in The Big Trail.

Trail didn't score and Wayne toiled doing a number of 'Singing Sandy" b-westerns. By the late 1930s, John Ford wanted to make a western, his first since his silent days, he had a new location he wanted to try out in Monument Valley (thanks to the Gouldings being very persistent about him looking at their portfolio of location shots) and his son had found a short story, "The Stage to Lordsburg" that caught Ford's fancy.

There's been a great deal written about the zeitgeist of Ford and crew in Monument Valley for the shooting of Stagecoach. But that dolly in on Ringo's face as he stops the Lordsburg stage is still one of the best introductions of a character on film. Wayne's portrayal of Ringo is two-fold. He may be seeking vengeance but he is not a cold-hearted man. He treats Dallas, the saloon girl, the same as he treats Mrs. Mallory, with respect. It was the break-out role Wayne needed at a time when he needed that break.

Wayne became a beloved American icon but still gets short shrift when it comes to the one thing he was very good at, acting. People still say he was playing "John Wayne" but he wasn't. Nor was he just going through the motions. Howard Hawks saw something in Wayne that even Ford had missed. Hawks cast Wayne as Tom Dunson in Red River. Dunson ages over the course of the movie and Wayne put his heart into portraying the older Dunson. The story may not be everyone's cup of tea, but there's no denying that Wayne is good in the film. Ford saw an early cut of the film (which sat on the shelf for two years) and claimed, "Hell, I didn't the s.o.b. could act." (Which tells us a great deal about the relationship between Wayne and Ford, in light of Wayne's stellar performance in Ford's own They Were Expendable.)

But after seeing Red River, Ford cast Wayne as Nathan Brittles in the second of his cavalry trilogy, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, giving Wayne the opportunity to play a man in the twilight of his career. Wayne was his in early 40s by the time he etched the character of Brittles and played the Captain as a man in his late 50s. You feel Nathan's aches and stiffness of joints as well as his glance around when he has to use his bi-focals to read the sentiment on his shiny, new watch.

Together, Ford and Wayne would create one of the darkest characters to grace American film, Ethan Edwards in The Searchers. In this film, Wayne pulls no punches as a man on an obsessive journey to find his niece, taken by Indians. Edwards is a racist, having little good to say about anyone but more so, Indians, despite the fact that his adopted nephew and partner on the journey, Marty, is Indian.

Edwards could have been easily become a caricature but Wayne's wonderful acting keeps that from happening. The look between Ethan and Martha before he leaves is so subtle it was 20 years before viewers understood that in that scene was the entire backstory of Ethan and Martha and how they loved, and still loved, each other. When he returns from the canyon and tries to tell Brad and Marty something of what he saw, he digs at the ground with his knife and yells, "What do you want me to do? Draw you a picture? Spell it out? Don't ever ask me! Long as you live, don't ever ask me more." In the end, he returns Debbie to the Jorgensen's but as the family, rejoicing in the return of Debbie and Marty, enters the house, Edwards cannot follow. He is too much of an outsider, doomed to wander, like the dead Indian whose eyes he had shot out, between two lands never to be a part of either.

His last film with Ford was the elegiac Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and he etched a character who loses everything while the man who everyone thought had done the shooting gets the glory and the girl.

But as the 1960s roiled on, the directors he liked working with were either dying, retiring or having a hard time getting studios to back them. He worked with Hawks and Henry Hathaway found a studio to back True Grit (Though Hathaway wanted George C. Scott originally). While some see Rooster Cogburn as the ultimate caricature of Wayne's persona, those of us who have studied his career see another finely etched character.

He finished out his career with Mark Rydell and Don Siegel. Rydell directed him in the The Cowboys one of only three films in long filmography where Wayne was killed on screen. Co-star Bruce Dern was talking to Wayne just before the shooting of that scene and told Wayne "Do you know how much they are going to love me in Berkeley?" to which Wayne replied, "You have no idea how much America is going to hate you." They were both right.

He ended his career with The Shootist, another elegiac western about a man who has out-lived the era he loved. Wayne was not in the best of health while making the film and shortly after filming was completed discovered that the "Big C" had returned.

He took the stage in the winter of 1979 at the annual Oscar ceremony and it was apparent that this battle would not be won. He got a rousing standing ovation and was moved to tears by the response.

He was a top box-office draw for almost his entire career after Stagecoach and somewhere along that career he became an American icon and we invested in him those ideals that we needed him to be.

But he loved being an actor and while I could never agree with his politics, I loved him for all those wonderful characters he brought to life. He made it look so easy that many people never realized how finely tuned those characters really were.

But for some of us. We knew, we always have. If there is any doubt, I would suggest renting Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance with an open mind.

You'll be surprised. I promise.

"Lest We Forget" (Happy Father's Day to my daddy)
Lynn in Lake Balboa

"Film is history. With every foot of film lost, we lose a link to our culture, to the world around us, to each other and to ourselves."

"For me, John Wayne has only become more impressive over time." Marty Scorsese

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klondike

Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby klondike » June 20th, 2009, 9:13 pm

Lzcutter wrote:But I had grown up with a dad who loved his movies and he taught me to love those movies. Back then (as Moira likes to say when dinosaurs roamed the land -who knew they liked television), classic movies on the big three networks were all we had.

There were no VCRs or DVDs back then , so if a movie you liked came on, you jumped at the chance to see it.

My dad and I would watch westerns together. Both my parents were western fans but my dad took the time to watch the movies.

"Lest We Forget"


This overgrown Scotch Yankee boy hasn't forgotten, and with the help of fine, warm-hearted folk like yourself, I never will.
So make room on that big old couch for me & my Dad, too, Lynn, 'cause that was one of the few common grounds he & I actually managed to share back in the late '60's . . watching John Wayne "westruns" on TV.
:wink:

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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby mrsl » June 21st, 2009, 12:39 am

Thanks Lynn:

I was in the mood for a good cry after the past week and you gave me a good one. I have one of those horrible '20 John Wayne movies' in a box set and even with the awful copy, I still love to watch them.

It's funny, today I was thinking how all of my movie idols of my early (up to 15 years old), are pretty much gone with the exception of a few living in the actors home, or other rest homes, because they're all in their 90's or more. Then suddenly after seeing Paul Newman's salad dressing in my kitchen cabinet, I realized that soon my next group of idols will be leaving. Like all the TV cowboys I loved, the Warner Bros. detectives, and Redford, Pacino, DeNiro, Liz Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, and finally the last group, like Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, etc. all now entering their 40's and 50's. Now their kids and nieces and nephews are taking over with Kate Hutson, and others. So although I hate to admit it, time does go on. I am starting to tell one newbie from another, but there just are no Cary's, or Clark's, or Duke's out there at all, but as the standards are lowered, nobody will notice except old geezers like me who still have my home library of black and whites to revel in.

Anne
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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby charliechaplinfan » June 21st, 2009, 8:06 am

I'm of the generation of Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise but the do nothing for me and never have. I wasn't born when most of the movies I love to watch were made. I wish they would find the next Cary, Clark, Duke etc but I'm not holding my breathe, to me those men and for me the era they come from has a touch of magic and nostalgia about them, that I don't think could ever be recaptured.

I like your thread Anne. I remember John Wayne dying, it was news here too, I remember my Grandmother's sadness about it. I've seen very few of the films you mention although I have made a promise to myself to watch some of the bigger ones. As I know very little about him, I'll look forward to what others have to say.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby moira finnie » June 21st, 2009, 1:49 pm

I don't recall where I was when hearing of John Wayne's death thirty years ago. My vague memory was of relief and hope that he was no longer in pain, since he'd clearly been suffering quite a bit whenever I'd glimpsed him in public appearances in the media in the time leading up to this inevitable event. The country was quite bitterly divided socially and politically back then, (believe me, it makes the internal strife today look pretty mild). My other memory of the time was that as soon as he had passed, appreciation for his film legacy began to come forward from every phase of the over-stretched social fabric, right and left, young and old.

I was unaware of this anniversary that Lynn so eloquently noted here, but did feel compelled to write about Wayne for a Father's Day piece found below, related to a memory of watching a small-scale, relatively little known movie of the Duke's with my own Dad, who had nothing in common politically with Wayne, but apparently liked this particular movie. Thank you for writing about this event and this filmmaker.
http://moviemorlocks.com/2009/06/17/all-too-human-a-father/
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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby charliechaplinfan » June 21st, 2009, 2:08 pm

That's a lovely review, Moira.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby movieman1957 » June 21st, 2009, 3:19 pm

I have the obituary from my local paper from that day. What I didn't realize was they did a three part memorial and I only have one. I don't remember so much about him dying as I do seeing him at the Oscars and how shocked I was at how he looked. I knew it wouldn't be long.

I had watched many of his films. My dad loves westerns and we often watched them together. He took me to the theater to see "The Cowboys." I had no idea who Bruce Dern was but all I could think was this actor was going to have a few hard years with the public because he not only beat him he killed him. You just don't kill John Wayne. (I can think of 4 films where he died. "The Shootist" and "The Cowboys". "The Sands Of Iwo Jima" and "Wake of The Red Witch" but I may be wrong.)

He was bigger than life. Too many people thought he couldn't act but I don't think they were paying attention.
Chris

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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby mrsl » June 21st, 2009, 5:00 pm

Iwo Jima was definitely one in which the Duke died on camera, and it held the record for a long time until The Shootist and The Cowboys were made late in his career. However I think the 'on the seas' film you're thinking of is Reap the Wild Wind, where he lost to Ray Milland (ha-ha). That really stretches the imagination.

Anne
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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby MissGoddess » June 22nd, 2009, 8:46 am

mrsl wrote:Iwo Jima was definitely one in which the Duke died on camera, and it held the record for a long time until The Shootist and The Cowboys were made late in his career. However I think the [color=#FF4000]'on the seas' film you're thinking of is Reap the Wild Wind, where he lost to Ray Milland (ha-ha). That really stretches the imagination.

Anne


Ha! Anne is right---I remember watching Reap the Wild Wind as a kid and even then, before I was really that big a John Wayne fan, I was upset at how it ended. It just didnt' make sense to me! And I've always liked Ray Milland---it's no slam on him but the movie didn't even seem to be going that direction at all.
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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby klondike » June 22nd, 2009, 9:06 am

mrsl wrote:However I think the 'on the seas' film you're thinking of is Reap the Wild Wind, where he lost to Ray Milland (ha-ha). That really stretches the imagination.

Anne


Dead on, Anne! :lol:
The only bigger stretch would have been losing the girl to Ralph Bellamy!
(Did that guy ever get the girl, when the leading didn't give her away first?!)

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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby mrsl » June 22nd, 2009, 7:50 pm

Hey Miss Goddess:

. . . "it's no slam on him but the movie didn't even seem to be going that direction at all."


I have always been a pretty big Milland fan, but not in Reap the Wild Wind, and Miss G is soooo right in the direction of the movie. Until the moment on the ship where they lowered both men into the water Loxie hated Ray, so ending with them together was nuts. If they had proposed a slight attraction between them, it might work , or her struggling to decide which man she preferred, but it was pure hate so hard to swallow.

Anne
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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby charliechaplinfan » June 23rd, 2009, 12:14 pm

Was Reap The Wild Wind given to Paulette Goddard to make up for losing Scarlett?

I managed to get hold of some I Love Lucy programmes and amongst them was the one with John Wayne in. It put the man in an entirely different light for me. He wasn't the only one to send himself up but heck, he's the biggest toughest star of them all and he's on I Love Lucy and he was very good. What a man.
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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby moira finnie » May 26th, 2010, 4:37 pm

Image
I came across a moving (and quite funny) piece by Roger Ebert on his Journal recently about today's birthday boy. Like him or not, sometimes when we face some challenges in our own lives, the presence of a John Wayne in the corner of our consciousness just might give some of us some kind of solace. (Wait till you read the passage about the actor's observation of a meadow shot in True Grit by Henry Hathaway describing it as if "It's a real meadow, but it looks almost dreamlike. Henry made it a fantasy and yet he kept it an honest Western.")

Here's a sample of the heart of this affectionate remembrance:

"John Wayne was asked one time what his contribution to American movies was. He said, "Vitality." He had that in such abundance that he brought life to his bad movies and greatness to his good ones. He stood in a doorway once, in a movie called "The Searchers," and he rested his weight on one foot and put his right hand on his left elbow and looked out into the desert, and brought such a poignancy to that physical movement that the French film critics stood up and cheered..."please go to Roger Ebert's Journal for the complete article

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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby mongoII » May 26th, 2010, 6:36 pm

Good stuff from you guys regarding the duke whom I admired since I was a kid. I enjoyed reading all the messages which were appropriate on his birthday. The big guy still rules.
Joseph Goodheart

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Re: John Wayne, Lest We Forget

Postby JackFavell » May 26th, 2010, 7:39 pm

I absolutely love John Wayne. If you had told me in high school or college that he would someday be high on my list of favorite actors, I would have hit you. I thought I disliked Wayne intensely. He was a macho jerk who came on strong and never apologized. Sheesh! Like I needed more of those kind of people in my life! There was one exception - I liked him as Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Like many people, It was the one western I liked, and the one Wayne performance I could appreciate. I will admit now, that it was one of the few I had actually seen.

Over the course of the last 2 or 3 years, I have come to appreciate Wayne and his vitality. He moves beautifully most of the time, except for momentary aberrations every once in while when you wonder that the man can stand up at all. His movement is always deeply meaningful, and his timing is fantastic. Watch him grab ahold of Gail Russell in The Angel and the Bad Man sometime if you want to see one of the most romantic clinches of all time.

Several years ago, I watched The Big Trail on AMC. I had never seen it before, but it completely caught my attention. I thought Wayne was in it, but I wasn't sure. He appeared on the screen and was young and gorgeous looking, and he moved gracefully through the landscape and had longish, curly hair. I was physically struck by him.... WOW. Now I knew what had made him a star. It was literally like a blow to my solar plexus watching him walk through that movie. I decided to watch some other earlier Wayne films.

I saw Stagecoach. Then I saw The Searchers. I didn't get it. I watched it again, after friends on the message boards started discussing the film. I discovered an entirely new Wayne quite suddenly, one who could take his own image and stand it on it's ear, and not in a flattering way. Who was that guy? I watched The Quiet Man with new eyes. I finally got it! ( It was my mother's favorite film and I could never figure out why). I saw They Were Expendable. I didn't get it, but pretended I did while discussing the film. In going back to take screen caps from it, I realized that the film was unbelievably subtle, even Wayne's performance. Wayne was nothing like his usual macho persona - the one I had kept in my head all these years. He was quieter, different. I immediately decided that Wayne was best in John Ford films, and that Ford was a Svengali to Wayne. It must be! Because I only liked him in John Ford films!

Then I saw Hondo, Angel and the Bad Man, Three Godfathers, Fort Apache, Rio Grande, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (I still don't get it), Reap the Wild Wind and The Shootist. Wayne was good to excellent in all of those films. He could be subtle, or commanding, but always different. He had a nice sense of humor, but mostly he was tender. Yes, I said tender - a big man, who finds that he has nothing to prove. Who the heck was this guy?

Recently, I saw The Shepherd of the Hills, with Wayne starring opposite his idol, and the man whom John Ford told him to watch and mimic when he couldn't get a scene right - the great Harry Carey. Carey is wonderful in it. Wayne is wonderful in it. It is only 1941, but Wayne gives a great performance. He looks like Carey, acts like him, stands like him, sits like him, talks like him. It's amazing. He looks at Carey like a proud puppy dog, asking for his guidance in trying to figure out the landscape of his own heart but knowing that he has to make his own decisions. He was thoughtful. He was sensitive. He had been sensitive all along only I was too stupid to realize it. Sensitive to his leading ladies, gently playing off of their every gesture and registering each thought or look, internalizing it. He can express deep hurt better than just about any actor who ever lived. Wayne was suddenly a lot more to me than just a big macho jerk. In fact, he was as far from that characterization as I am from eighteen. Wayne is a terrific actor, an emotional one, and a very moving one, to me.

Now, today, I watched Wayne play in a bunch of cheap programmers, and I had a blast! I simply love him. He was all the things I have mentioned and more. I won't miss another Wayne film. His underlying sensitivity won me over at last. All he has to do is look out a window, and swallow hard, and I know what he is thinking.


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