A Centennial Tribute to John Wayne
In the John Wayne biography from her Cinema of the Fifties site, Alex Podgorny put it best: “John Wayne, one of the cinema’s greatest stars, is also one of the cinema’s greatest problems. His image as an icon of American individualism and the frontier spirit has overshadowed his career to such an extent that it is almost impossible for viewers and writers to separate Wayne the legend from Wayne the actor and Wayne the man.”
Many of the John Wayne tribute sites do, in fact, seem more patriotic than cinematic. American flags are invariably part of the decor. So it’s entirely appropriate that we celebrate Memorial Day (and the Duke’s centennial birthday on May 26, 2007) by offering a tribute to the ultimate American cowboy. Of course, his tough guy image was mostly a gimmick that he created to compensate for what he felt was a lack of serious acting talent, but over the years he pretty much grew into it.
He was born in Iowa as Marion Morrison, an unlikely name for a macho hero. His family moved to California when he was very young, because of his father’s health, and he spent much of his childhood ranching and riding horses near the Mojave Desert, before his family moved to Glendale.
He wanted to attend the US Naval Academy, but didn’t quite make it, and instead accepted a football scholarship to USC in 1925. Tom Mix got him his first movie job was as a prop man, and his first leading role was in The Big Trail (1929). It wasn’t until John Ford cast him in Stagecoach(1939) that he finally achieved stardom.
After that, he worked steadily for four decades, almost always in Westerns or war films. He appeared in over 200 films, including many early Westerns that are no longer available. Though not considered one of the finest actors in Hollywood, he finally won an Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit (1969). He was also nominated for Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and The Alamo (1960). After his death in 1979, a Congressional medal was created in his honor. (It’s interesting to note that major events in his acting career seemed to occur in years ending with the numeral “9.”)
Part II of this four-part article contains links to many of the Web sites I’ve found which are devoted to Wayne’s life, movies, and patriotic activities (in alphabetical order), so I’ll let you visit those sites for further details. Parts III and IV have more information, including movie reviews, photos, and posters.
Part I: Introduction
Part II: John Wayne Tributes and Other Pages
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find His Movies