Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable
moments in their lives: the time one climbed the
Parthenon at sunrise….What I remember is the time
John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was
falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach.
—Walker Percy (1962)
JOHN WAYNE LOOMS LARGE IN THE AMERICAN psyche, especially its male version. Striding down a western street in battered hat and dusty jeans, Winchester in hand with an engaging smile, he was the real thing. The Marlboro man pales in comparison. From Stagecoach (1939) to The Shootist (1976), John Wayne defined the American cowboy over a period of almost forty years of moviemaking, during which the Western became the dominant form of a distinctive American mythology.
Throughout the period of the classic movie Western, John Wayne was its leading star, appearing in the top ten box-office draws more frequently and consistently than any other actor. Wayne was not a character actor who experimented with different roles and developed a large range, as, for example, Robert DeNiro does today. Instead, throughout his more than one hundred films, Wayne retained the distinctive persona of the Duke, which was easily recognized, expected, and accepted by audiences. The very sameness of the persona was part of its attraction. Regardless of what else might change, John Wayne was John Wayne. The constant repetition also made the persona a great vehicle for myth because myth needs repetition. Ironically, the sameness of Wayne’s movie persona and its identification