Tough Guy: John Wayne

Few film actors, directors and writers can be described as genuine movie stars, legends or icons. All three describe John Wayne.

WaJohn Wayne The Legend and the Manyne (he changed his name from Marion Morrison) is an emblem of American values and rugged character, making his mark in films from the 1930s through the 1970s. Critics question his films and personal beliefs on a range of issues: Native Americans, women, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, communism, violence in movies and society, American exceptionalism. Not only critics; a regular library customer who was in the navy in World War II. told me he disliked Wayne and didn’t watch his movies because he didn’t serve—he stayed in Hollywood and played soldier (see below). Like everyone, Wayne was a product of his times. That said, people still watch and enjoy his films—serious to cheesy, laughable to poignant, cheap studio writeoffs to works of cinematic art and film history.

Follow this link for books about John Wayne and for John Wayne films the library carries on DVD and Blu-Ray.  A list of all 180 John Wayne films is available at Internet Movie Database.

This entry starts a series of movie “Tough Guy” blogs and deserves a note on subject matter: most of these cinematic Tough Guys’ films contain a significant amount of violence. In the past, tough and violent often went together. The library does not intend to promote violence or make light of it as campy, ironic or irrelevant. Equally in the library, we have resources on violence representing many points of view and we are always available to connect you with the information you need to make life’s important decisions.

A few things people ask about Wayne from The Man Behind the Myth by Michael Munn and John Wayne: American by Randy Roberts & James S. Olson:

Did John Wayne dodge the draft in World War II?
There are vets today that insist Wayne hid in Hollywood during the war. It’s a complicated picture, but people with knowledge of the situation and Wayne’s attitudes about serving agree he was not a draft-dodger. He was the sole support for a family with four young children. Studios and producers with financial interests exerted influence (without his input) to keep him in Hollywood. He was finally declared 2-A, a deferment “in support of national health, safety or interest”. His patriotism and support of the military and veterans for the rest of his life also says something.

Where did the nickname “Duke” come from?
The Morrison family had an Airedale dog named Duke and local Winterset, Iowa firefighters, seeing them together, began calling young Marion “Big Duke” and the dog “Little Duke”.

Was Wayne offered the parts of Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke and Detective Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry movies?
Accounts differ on whether Gunsmoke was actually offered, but anyone familiar with Wayne would have known he had no reason to even consider the part. He was a movie star with his own production company. TV was a gamble and a step down. The part went to longtime friend and colleague of Wayne’s: James Arness.

The original screenwriters envisioned Wayne as Dirty Harry Callahan but the part was first offered to Frank Sinatra, who declined. At the time, Wayne had several reasons for not taking the part: he was too busy, he did not like the original script’s characterization, and he wasn’t about to star in one of Frank Sinatra’s rejects. Others note both Wayne and Sinatra were too old for the part that eventually went to Clint Eastwood, who was 23 years younger than Wayne and 15 years younger than Sinatra.

Clint Eastwood will be the next Tough Guy.

Matt Pettit

Matt is a Public Service Specialist for the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library. His areas of responsibility include outreach library services to nursing homes, senior, retirement and congregate living centers; service to homebound library users; the Kansas Talking Books service; Book Group in a Bag program and the history and sports neighborhoods of the library’s nonfiction collection. With a background in public administration, conflict resolution and aging, Matt works on civic engagement and civil discourse issues for the library and serves on the advisory board of the Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging.