Friday, May 11, 2007

John Wayne's Centennial

May 28, 2007 is the hundreth anniversary of John Wayne's birth. For people like me, this is a big deal.
Today's Globe.
In ‘‘John Wayne: A Love Song,’’ from her landmark collection, ‘‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem,’’ Joan Didion wrote that ‘‘when John Wayne rode through my childhood, and perhaps through yours, he determined forever the shape of certain of our dreams.’’
It says something about the spell Wayne cast that even Didion, that most clear-eyed of observers, fell under it. In 1996, in her hit song ‘‘Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?’’ Paula Cole asked: ‘‘Where is my John Wayne?’’ (A plaint hilariously reprised by Apu in a karaoke sequence on ‘‘The Simpsons’’.) Where is John Wayne? Everywhere. With the 100th anniversary of his birth arriving May 26, signs abound that he continues to exert a curious hold on the American imagination.
Just this past Sunday night, on HBO’s ‘‘The Sopranos,’’ as Tony Soprano was trying to talk to his troubled son, A.J., an image flickered on the TV screen and Tony cried: ‘‘John Wayne!’’ Turner Classic Movies has scheduled a 35-film tribute from May 21 to May 25 that will include ‘‘Red River,’’ ‘‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,’’ ‘‘They Were Expendable,’’ and ‘‘Back to Bataan.’’ Paramount Home Entertainment and Warner Home Video are launching a 48-film DVD release that will include ‘‘Rio Bravo,’’ ‘‘True Grit,’’ and ‘‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.’’ The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is hosting a ‘‘Centennial Salute to John Wayne’’ on May 24 that will premiere a newly restored version of ‘‘The High and the Mighty.’’
The best indicator of the continuing power of the Wayne mystique, though, is this: According to a Harris poll released in January, Wayne ranked third when moviegoers were asked to name their 10 favorite movie stars — even though he’s been dead since 1979 and appeared in his final movie in 1976! (The other nine on the list are very much alive: No. 1 Denzel Washington, No. 2 Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Will Smith among them.)
As Time magazine film critic Richard Corliss pointed out in a recent essay, Wayne has made the Harris list in each of the 13 years it has been taken, and has been in the top three eight times. ‘‘It’s as if the People’s Choice Awards kept picking Elvis as favorite singer,’’ Corliss marveled.
But then paradox is nothing new when it comes to John Wayne. The seeming picture of hulking authenticity, he wore a toupee and four-inch lifts in his shoes, and underwent plastic surgery around his eyes in the 1960s. His real name was Marion Michael Morrison, but he took the name John Wayne at the beginning of his movie career.
He played the hero in countless war films but never served in the military himself. (He got a deferment during World War II.) He epitomized old-fashioned cowboy masculinity in films from ‘‘Stagecoach’’ to ‘‘The Shootist,’’ but he also was willing to mock his own image, dressing up as the Easter Bunny in a 1972 episode of ‘‘Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.’’
The bottom line is that he remains as popular (and influential) as ever. You don’t have to watch Wayne’s own movies to see his onscreen legacy: His monosyllabic persona made the screen safe for tough-and-terse successors ranging from Clint Eastwood to Harrison Ford to Russell Crowe.
As important as all that may be, Pop! cherishes Wayne largely because in 1953 he played the title character in ‘‘Hondo,’’ a film that would provide a memorable nickname for another guy named John, one of the greatest Boston Celtics players ever to pull on the green jersey: John Havlicek.
I will, of course, be watching and/or recording some of these movies. Even now, when I flip through the channels and catch a glimpse of him, it's still a thrill.
One of the most sincere compliments I have ever given to someone was the day I told SB that they could never film his life story because John Wayne wasn't around to play the role. I meant it with all my heart.
Maggie is a high school nickname, but the reason SB likes it is because of Wayne's love interest in the movie "In Harm's Way".
I told him that I wasn't really of the stoic Patricia Neal/Maggie Haynes mold...............I was more the hysterical Vera Miles/Madelyn Buckman type in "Hell Fighters".
Of course, we should sit down and watch "Circus World", it wasn't all that great but it did costar Rita Hayworth.


DebbieKinIL said...

Oh, you got me. I was raised on Duke movies. (my mother is the all time fan) IMHO- the Quiet Man is one of the greatest movies ever made. (OK, it's right there after MY all time favorite- Raiders of the Lost Ark).

From True Grit, who can forget the Duke when he stood up in the saddle with the reigns in in mouth and rode with both guns blazing? A real Wayne moment..

BostonMaggie said...

Look on the bright side, being raised on John Wayne movies usually makes you smarter in history class than you would have been otherwise. that's been my experience!

Ron Simpson said...

When I was growing up, I wanted to be John Wayne. He was the man. One of my biggest heroes. I idolized him. I grew up and realized that he was an actor, but found his politics to be a perfect fit for me. Men like him and Ronald Reagan really shaped my political thinking.

jeanette bryer said...

"Red River" is the definitive western for any John Wayne fanatic, not to mention it is the debut role of Montgomery Clift. In a rather banal tale of a seeming endless cattle drive, Wayne decides to take not to pay overly-inflated carpetbagger prices so he leads the herd from Texas to a new railway in Missouri.Conflict occurs between him and his adopted son Clift, and he consequently takes the herd away from the older cowboy during their trek.

Directed by Howard Hawks, you can catch some pretty obvious close-ups on mock-up horses and a few scenes in front of a screen, but then remember that this movie was shot in 1948. There are some great panoramic shots, even if many of them arejust "circling the wagons."

There are plenty of bad guys and Native Americans, both good and evil, and the good guys include a plethora of character actors, including Walter Brennan, Noah Berry, Harry Carey Sr. and Jr., John Ireland, and a quick walk-through by a very young Shelly Winters, but it is primarily a Wayne vehicle nonetheless.

Considered a classic by many, "Red River" is worth another airing if you have not seen it lately. Also remember that western movie posters are a great way to remember the legacy of John Wayne. You can find these and other John Wayne and Monty posters at Discount Movie Posters.

BostonMaggie said...

I love all John Wayne movies, but I must vote for The Searchers for serious western and "Rio Bravo" for not so serious ......... Otherwise my absolute fav is "The Sea Chase"