It’s not a national holiday but, for some, it should be. On May 26, 1907 Marion Robert Morrison came into the world in Winterset, Iowa. When he left on June 11, 1979 he was John Wayne, an American icon.
Men of a certain generation or two, fortunate to grow up going to the many movies he made in a long career owe him a great debt.
By his very presence on the silver screen he taught us all what it meant to be a man. Wayne was masculine without having to prove it. He literally embodied the virtues we want in our heroes. As an actor he shared those attributes with the boys who grew up wishing to be like him and the women who no doubt found him attractive.
Though he played many heroic characters, a Marine in World War Two, a Navy Commander, and later a Green Beret in Vietnam, it was his many roles as a cowboy that made many of us yearn to ride a horse and learn to shoot a six-gun and a rifle.
In his last film, “The Shootist”, he played a man who made his living with a gun, now old and dying of cancer. In the film, John Bernard Brooks, a legend in his own time, was asked how it was he got into so many gun fights. He replied, “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people and I require the same from them.” It was as classic a recasting of the Golden Rule as one could ask for and words to live by.
Wayne was one of a handful of Hollywood actors who made no secret of his patriotism and conservative political views. When one considers the endless rewriting of history, past and present, by Hollywood, Wayne was a refreshing alternative.
In a wonderful little book, “The Quotable John Wayne”, author Carol Lea Mueller gathered together many of the things Wayne had to say over the years on a range of topics. Here are a few quotes:
On liberal ideology and its affects on America’s youth, “They work against the natural loyalties and ideals of our kids, filling them with fear and doubt and hate and downgrading patriotism and all our heroes of the past.”
“This new thing of genuflecting to the downtrodden, I don’t go along with that. We ought to go back to praising the kids who get good grades, instead of making excuses for the ones who shoot the neighborhood groceryman.”
“I became a confirmed reader when I was growing up in Glendale and could read before going to school. I’ve loved reading all my life.”
“I’ve had three wives, six children, and six grandchildren, and I still don’t understand women.”
Wayne respected the epoch of the American West being opened for farming and ranching. “The West—the very words go straight to that place of the heart where Americans feel the spirit of pride in their Western heritage—the triumph of personal courage over any obstacle, whether nature or man.”
“Courage is being scared to death—and saddling up anyway.”
He was an exceptionally good actor who said, “I’ve played the kinda man I’d like to have been.” Later he said, “Nobody liked my acting but the public.”
In a long life, a long career in films, John Wayne embodied values that are being eroded on all fronts in today’s America. Whenever we need a reminder of those values, we can watch a John Wayne film.