Magazine article The Spectator

'John Wayne: The Life and Legend', by Scott Eyman - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'John Wayne: The Life and Legend', by Scott Eyman - Review

Article excerpt

John Wayne: The Life and Legend Scott Eyman

Simon & Schuster, pp.512, £25, ISBN: 978439199589

I'm not making a picture [The Green Berets ] about Vietnam, I'm making a picture about good against bad. I happen to think that's true about Vietnam, but even if it isn't as clear as all that, that's what you have to do to make a picture. It's all right, because we're in the business of selling tickets. It's the same thing as the Indians. Maybe we shouldn't have destroyed all those Indians, I don't know, but when you're making a picture, the Indians are the bad guys.

-- Mike Wayne, producer of The Green Berets, starring his father, John Wayne

The words above appeared in a 1968 issue of Esquire magazine above a colour drawing of Wayne's father in blue cavalry uniform and green beret, astride a stagecoach. A tiny Ho Chi Minh is shooting arrows at him from horseback. Michael Wayne signed it for me: 'Charlie, It wasn't said quite like this! Michael.' To which his father appended, 'Oh, yes it was, Charlie! With a son like him you don't need an enemy. John Wayne.'

One of the few errors in Scott Eyman's fascinating biography of John Wayne attributes 'the Indians are the bad guys quote' to pater Wayne. Otherwise, Eyman has dug deep, trawling records including the 1907 Iowa birth certificate of Marion Robert Morrison, and interviewing most of the people who knew him and are still alive. It borders on hagiography, but for Wayne fans like myself, and probably you -- that's no flaw.

I was a fan before I worked as his driver, first in 1967-68 as an after-school job and again full-time in the summer when I finished university four years later. It may be that no man is a hero to his valet, but Wayne was one to this driver.

Wayne's mother dropped his middle name, Robert, when her second and favoured son, Robert Emmett, was born in 1911. Marion Morrison grew up in a succession of Iowa towns, a path determined by his father Clyde's business failures, until the family moved to California in 1914. Former drug-store clerk Clyde bought 80 acres near Palmdale, about 60 miles north of Los Angeles, for $3,000 and set himself up as a farmer.

Young Morrison rode a mare named Jenny to school, until the farm went under. The family moved to the LA suburb of Glendale and acquired an airedale called Duke, prompting the local firemen to call the boy Little Duke. The name Duke stayed long after Marion Morrison became John Wayne. Prowess at American football led to a scholarship at the University of Southern California in 1925. Coach Howard Jones sent some of his players, including tackle Duke Morrison, to work as grips at Fox Studios. Morrison also appeared as an extra in various films. One, fortuitously, was directed by an up-and-coming director who had Americanised his name from Irish Jack Feeney to John Ford. Duke Morrison injured his shoulder body-surfing, costing him his football scholarship and sending him to Hollywood as scene-shifter, prop man and occasional extra.

What should have been his breakthrough role, as a frontiersman in Raoul Walsh's 1930 The Big Trail , was a critical triumph but a financial catastrophe. By then, Morrison had become John Wayne, a name that both Walsh and Ford claimed to have invented. Wayne descended to low-budget B-westerns. He said that 'the best advice I ever got' came from cowboy comic actor Will Rogers: 'You're working, aren't you? Just keep working.'

He married a patrician from Panama, Josephine Saenz, in 1933 and had five children. …

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