His real name was Marion Michael Morrison. He made a lot of movies and was a top box office draw for several decades. In 1969, he won the Academy Award® for Best Actor in the film True Grit.
I remember seeing his movies when I was a child, probably more than the movies of any other actor of the time.
What was so appealing about him? Well, I am sure there were many things that factored into it. Mainly though, he was the epitome of being an American male. Tall (6’4’), lean (at least when he was young), masculine, rugged, and handsome.
Here is a list of some of his more well-known films (he made 169 feature-length movies):
|The Shootist||John Bernard Books||1976|
|Rooster Cogburn||Rooster Cogburn||1975|
|The Cowboys||Wil Anderson||1972|
|Big Jake||Jacob McCandles||1971|
|Rio Lobo||Cord McNally||1970|
|True Grit||“Rooster Cogburn”||1969|
|Cast a Giant Shadow||Gen. Mike Randolph||1966|
|The Sons of Katie Elder||John Elder||1965|
|The Greatest Story Ever Told||The Centurion||1965|
|In Harm’s Way||Capt. Rockwell Torrey||1965|
|Donovan’s Reef||Michael “Guns” Donovan||1963|
|How the West Was Won||Gen. William Sherman||1962|
|The Longest Day||Lt. Col. Ben Vandervoort||1962|
|The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance||Tom Doniphon||1962|
|North to Alaska||Sam McCord||1960|
|Rio Bravo||Sheriff John T. Chance||1959|
|The Barbarian and the Geisha||Townsend Harris||1958|
|The Searchers||Ethan Edwards||1956|
|Hondo||Hondo Lane / Producer||1953|
|The High and the Mighty||Dan Roman / Producer||1954|
|She Wore a Yellow Ribbon||Capt. Nathan Brittles||1949|
|The Quiet Man||Sean Thornton||1952|
|Flying Leathernecks||Maj. Dan Kirby||1951|
|The Bullfighter and the Lady||Producer||1951|
|Rio Grande||Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke||1950|
|Sands of Iwo Jima||Sgt. John M. Stryker||1949|
|Red River||Tom Dunson||1948|
|Fort Apache||Capt. Kirby York||1948|
|Angel and the Badman||Quirt Evans / Producer||1947|
|They Were Expendable||Lt. J.G. “Rusty” Ryan||1945|
|The Flying Tigers||Jim Gordon||1942|
|Reap the Wild Wind||Capt. Jack Stuart||1942|
|The Long Voyage Home||Ole Olsen||1940|
|The Dark Command||Bob Setton||1940|
|Stagecoach||The Ringo Kid||1939|
|Hell Town||Dare Rudd||1937|
|Baby Face||Jimmy McCoy||1933|
|The Big Trail||Breck Coleman||1930|
|Bardelys the Magnificent||Guard||1926|
However, it is not all golden. There have been accusations that Wayne was a racist, a national supremacist, and a homophobe. Much of this is based on a 1971 interview in Playboy Magazine. Here are some links that support the accusations.
He said such things as, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” and, in reference to Native Americans, “I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that’s what you’re asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”
In April, 2016, a California assemblyman proposed that May 26 (Wayne’s birthday) be designated as John Wayne Day, but legislators mentioned the controversial remarks that Wayne had made. So, the proposal failed.
There was also a proposal to remove the label John Wayne from the Orange County, California airport with his name because of these resurfaced revelations from those old days. There has been no official move to actually do this, however.
Here is a link that discusses this proposal:
Of course, this was half a century ago when he was interviewed for the now infamous 1971 article in Playboy Magazine. In those days, racism and homophobia were standard issue for the majority of people. Words like nigger, kike, gook, spik, faggots, etc. did not make us uncomfortable to hear or see. Well, maybe a bit, but not much. Certainly not as much as they should have. Wayne did not use all of these words, but, well, read the notes on the interview in the links shown above for yourself.
Now, in the 21st century, if those words don’t make you uncomfortable, well perhaps you should just get the hell out of Dodge.
I remember in the 1950’s when my mother took me to stores in downtown Fort Worth, Texas (I was born there and lived there until I was 12). One store in particular sticks out in my mind. Going into the store, it had the shopping area on the right, while on the left was a wall with two drinking fountains. One fountain had a sign over it which read “White”. The other, which was about 20 feet away, had a sign which read “Colored”. I routinely drank from the Colored fountain because I thought that the water would be colored, and hopefully, be Kool-Aid, preferably cherry or grape. I never found it to be colored water or to be Kool-Aid, and could not understand, at that time, what the word “Colored” referred to.
There were also two restrooms near the drinking fountains. They were also named “White” and “Colored”. I used the Colored restroom, expecting that the walls would be colored, and therefore more interesting than the black & white tiles in the White restroom. There, again, I was not rewarded with anything other than the black & white tiles present in the White restroom.
The movie industry has made great changes since then. We not only have African Americans as headline movie actors playing the same types of roles that Caucasians do, but an African American having served as President of the United State, African Americans and a gay man running for President in 2020, and a very large number of African American women running for Congress in 2020. In a recent movie, Captain Marvel, the super-hero star is a woman, and she has been for the past six years. The original, from the 1940’s, was a boy who turned into Captain Marvel whenever he shouted, “Shazam”. There was a Ms Marvel in the 1970’s.
These are huge changes for America. It is interesting that movies reflect our culture as it grows and changes. I don’t think these changes are welcomed by everyone, but they are welcomed by the majority, and that is what rules our democracy.
I welcome them.
If for two generations (one generation is 25-30 years), we would not discriminate at all against anyone based on whether they are male, female, old, young, straight, gay, transgender, tall, short, fat, thin, white, black, brown, red, or any other color, we would be in pretty good shape. Better than at any other time in our history.
John Wayne was a good actor, and his films define the American Male in the 20th century, including our imperfections. I am sure that if he were alive today, he would apologize for his earlier remarks and be supportive of our more tolerant attitudes that are emerging with gusto now that we are 20% into the 21st century. In fact, if he had been born in the 21st century instead of the 20th, he probably would never have made any racist or homophobic comments because these things are learned. They are not something we are born with, and that is the point. Our movie star role models should be extremely careful because they can have an effect on the behavior of so many people. Our politicians can too. Our teachers, our religious leaders. All can shape our society.