Here is one of many cowboy articles written by our very own Gary Brown. If you would like to register for the on line magazine (no cost) you can go to www.highnoon.com and click Smoke Signals link to sign up.
REEL COWBOYS OF WESTERN CINEMA
A Century of Silver Screen Cowboys
Number 16 in the Series
“All the world’s a stage,
and all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances…..”
As You Like It, William Shakespeare,
Jaques Monologue, Act II.
People often wonder why their lives take a particular course resulting in their ultimate destiny. Some feel it is being at the right place at the right time; others by creating a vision and working hard to achieve it; and there are those who are of the opinion it is mainly luck, like a spin of the roulette wheel, either by fate or by divine appointment. Our featured player today was born in a small Midwest town. As a boy, he was thrilled to see photoplays of his hero Tom Mix. During his youth he participated in sports and assumed student body officer responsibilities. After not receiving acceptance at the US Naval Academy, the young man decided he wanted to become a lawyer. However, he was going to be much, much more than your run of the mill barrister. He was destined to become an American legend. His name, known throughout the world to this day:
Born Marion Robert Morrison (at 13 pounds!!) in Winterset, Iowa on May 26, 1907, to the local druggist Clyde Morrison and his wife, the former Mary “Molly” Brown, a telephone operator. Marion was very fond of his father who the town folks often called “Doc.” Molly, a petite, energetic redhead, had a fiery temper which she would demonstrate at times, often aimed at “Doc.” Marion was saddened with the angry outbursts at home between his parents. A younger brother was born in 1912. His mother wanted to name him Robert, so they legally changed Marion’s middle name to Mitchell. It was the first of many acts that indicated she favored the youngest son. Marion spent the rest of his life trying to please his mother. Doc’s father encouraged the family to follow him to California. Doc went first and brought the family to the Mojave Desert town of Lancaster in 1914. The original intent was for them to become farmers along with Marion’s grandfather. However, Mitchell Morrison died and in 1916, and being tired of the heat, jack rabbits and rattlesnakes, the family moved to Glendale, which offered a much milder environment.
Doc Morrison went back to pharmacy work and Marion entered the public school system. At about this time, he picked up the nickname “Duke”, the name of his large Airedale Terrier. Marion would frequent a Glendale fire station with his dog in tow, or vice versa. The local fire fighters began calling them both Duke. The name stuck for life as he was not too enamored with being called Marion.
Duke Morrison entered Glendale High School in 1921. He fit in very well and was quite popular. Duke became President of his Sr. Class (1925). He participated in school plays, was a sports writer for the school paper and was a star guard on the championship high school football team. Duke had a fellow teammate Bill Bradbury who had a smaller twin brother named Bob. Both Duke and Bill received academic and athletic scholarships to play football at USC. Bob Bradbury quit school in his junior year to follow his father out on film locations. Who would have thought, Bill and Bob’s father, R.N. Bradbury, later would direct many John Wayne B Westerns. His son, likewise, would become a leading man in B cowboy films – Bob Steele. Bill Bradbury would go on to medical school and become one of Los Angeles’s leading gynecologists, delivering babies for the likes of Shirley Temple and Esther Williams. Hollywood was a small community way back then!
Duke Morrison entered USC in 1925 as a pre-law major. He played football for the legendary coach Howard Jones and was shifted to a tackle position. Duke also became a fraternity member of Sigma Chi. A famous spectator who attended the Trojan football games when in town was the legendary, first King of the Cowboys – Tom Mix. Coach Jones had an arrangement with Tom Mix, whereby he would furnish Tom and his entourage football tickets if Tom would help find off season employment for his players at Fox Studios. In turn, Duke and another player received an invitation to meet Tom Mix at Fox Studios. The two young men were impressed with the luxury car with a TM brand on it parked out in front of his dressing room. They went to his room and there he was in his fancy, custom cowboy outfit. Duke was hoping they would be hired to spar with the famous actor who boxed daily to keep in shape. The cowboy actor, whom he admired as a boy, asked Duke to show him how to play football. Duke assumed a leverage position and the 5’10, 160lbs, 45 year old actor would try knocking over the 6’4, 180lb, 19 year old Duke. The cowboy actor told them that he was getting ready to make a film in Colorado and wanted them to join him and help him remain in top physical condition. In the interim, Tom said he would help them find work in the studio and introduced them to a man in charge of hiring the film crews. Duke was promptly hired as a prop man….moving furniture from one set to another. Duke, as recorded in his unfinished biography, noted the next time he saw Tom Mix drive into the studio lot in “his beautiful Locomobile, I quickly put the chair down and smiled at my benefactor, and said ‘Hello, Mr. Mix.’ ” However, the public’s number 1 cowboy star gave him “a blank look”…..“that told me my date with Colorado had just been broken. He didn’t remember.” It is regretful that the super cowboy film star at the time, for one reason or another would convey a who-are-you look at the young man. However, the initial introduction made by Tom Mix enabled young Duke Morrison to enter the studio gates and the rest is history. This was a pivotal moment in his life as he soon injured his shoulder while body surfing which ended his football career.
The tall, lithe, handsome athlete, while moving objects from one set to another, came to the attention of many people including director John Ford. Jack, as he was called back then, had made several films by then including two critically acclaimed A westerns – The Iron Horse and 3 Bad Men. The director used Duke behind the scenes on Mother Machree (1928), where Duke met Ford stock player Victor McLaglen who would eventually costar with him in memorable films such as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and The Quiet Man (1952). Ford would talk to the young man about his playing days on the gridiron. Ford immediately liked Duke and would use him to assist in three more films.
From time to time, Duke would get an occasional part as an extra in films. He even drowned in the flood in the epic Noah’s Ark (1929) which starred George O’Brien, John Ford’s first protégée and the leading man in both The Iron Horse and 3 Bad Men. Like McLaglen, O’Brien would go on to costar with the Duke in Ford’s Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Duke’s first film credit was in the film Salute (1929), another Ford/O’Brien collaboration.
1930 was a significant year in the life of Duke Morrison. John Ford claimed later on that he learned that Director Raoul Walsh was looking for a leading man for a major “all talking” western about the Oregon Trail – The Big Trail (1930). He suggested Walsh consider Duke for the part. Walsh had wanted Gary Cooper for the role, but was not able to sign him. As such, he took a big gamble in hiring a virtually unknown actor (age 22) to play the lead role in a big budget, epic western. Walsh had been reading a biography on General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, a Revolutionary War hero and wanted to name his new leading man after this historical character. However, Anthony sounded too ethnic, so the name John Wayne was selected. Unfortunately, the film which depicted many of the hardships experienced by early pioneers was not a box office success. There were some pundits who felt that John Wayne was responsible for the poor showing, however, in this writer’s opinion, that was not the case. Duke carried his own in the role of Breck Coleman along with a stellar cast such as Marguerite Churchill (soon to be Mrs. George O’Brien), Tully Marshall, and an evil, downright ugly, Tyrone Power Sr. and former USC football player, Ward Bond. It was a grueling film for the cast and crew as they had to endure the same harsh elements of the pioneers, spending several months filming on the actual route of the Oregon Trail. The Big Trail was far superior to James Cruzes’ The Covered Wagon (1923), the first epic western, also about the Oregon Trail.
After The Big Trail, Duke was first cast in mostly unforgettable roles in non-westerns and then for several years was relegated to being a cowboy hero in B westerns. With Columbia, he was cast as a costar in a Buck Jones film and two with Tim McCoy. He then signed with Warner Brothers in a series of routine oaters. According to The Old Corral (www.B-westerns.com), The best of the six Warner westerns was the first film in the series Ride Him, Cowboy (1932) and Haunted Gold (1932). Duke then signed with the Lone Star Productions unit at Monogram for sixteen B westerns beginning with Riders of Destiny (1933). The recommended Lone Star films by The Old Corral are: Blue Steel (1934), Randy Rides Alone (1934), The Trail Beyond (1934) and The Dawn Rider (1935). Monogram eventually merged with Republic Studios and eight more John Wayne westerns were produced starting with Western Ho (1935) and concluding with Winds of the Wasteland (1936). These two films and the King of the Pecos (1936) are recommended. Duke was then loaned to Paramount for one western with Johnny Mack Brown – Born to the West aka Helltown (1937) which was favorably reviewed. Then Duke was asked to replace Bob Livingston as Stony Brooke in the popular Three Mesquiteers series. He made eight of the trio films which co-starred Ray Crash Corrigan and Max Alibi Terhune, beginning with Pals of the Saddle (1938). Two recommended films are: Overland Stage Raiders (1938) and Wyoming Outlaw (1939). Bob Livingston eventually returned to the series.
John Wayne felt as though he was going to spend the rest of his film career as a B cowboy star, however, he really wanted to be a film director. Looking back on the 30s, he had learned his craft well, literally from the bottom up. He also had the opportunity to work with the likes of Yakima Canutt, George Hayes (before his Gabby persona), and Paul Fix, who were usually cast as the villains. He also got to know Harry Carey, John Ford’s first major cowboy film star. John Wayne, in an interview with Kevin Brownlow in his outstanding BBC series regarding the Golden Era of Hollywood, said that he was like a father figure to him (Duke’s own father died in 1937) and he that loved him. John Wayne shared that Harry had a natural style of acting. Also, Harry always wanted a good pair of boots and a cowboy hat, and what he wore in between didn’t matter that much to him.
In 1933, Duke Morrison aka John Wayne, married Josephine Saenz, his longtime girlfriend, who he had met at the beach when she was a teen and he a college man. The wedding was in the Bel Air home of her friend Loretta Young. Josie was the daughter of the Consul General for Panama. She was very attractive with classic Latina features and a very devout Catholic. The couple had four children: Michael, Antonia (Toni), Patrick and Melinda. Duke and Josie appeared to have a happy home life, however his being away on film locations around the world, a difference of opinion as to how their children should be raised and her desire to socialize with people that were not in her husband’s circle of friends eventually led to a separation in 1943 and divorce in 1945.
John Ford had not forgotten Duke Morrison. When he decided to make Ernest Haycock’s short story The Stage to Lordsburg, published in Collier’s magazine (1937) into his first sound western, he wanted Duke for the main lead. Several potential producers turned him down as westerns were considered passé by them and Ford backing John Wayne to be the Ringo Kid did not go over well with them. Hollywood had not forgotten the dismal box office receipts for The Big Trail. Eventually, Walter Wanger agreed to produce the film; however, he wanted Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich in the lead roles. Ford stood firm for John Wayne, so a compromise was made whereby Wanger would put up slightly more than half the money he originally agreed to and that Claire Trevor, a well-established actress, would receive top billing. Ford agreed and an all-star supporting cast was assembled. The story was about nine people whose destinies were entwined on a perilous journey through Apache territory. The photoplay was strong on character development, similar to a Bret Harte, Damon Runyon or O. Henry novella, plus included panoramic vistas of the majestic Monument Valley. The film went on to receive rave reviews from critics, was a box office hit, and received six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, winning two Oscars: Thomas Mitchell for Best Supporting Actor as Doc Boone and Best Music Scoring. John Ford won New York’s Film Critics Award for Best Director. The brilliant film maker Orson Welles said that it was “the perfect textbook on film making.” Before filming Citizen Kane, Welles claimed “After dinner every night for a month, I’d run Stagecoach.” However, the biggest winner of all was 32 year old Marion Morrison from Winterset, Iowa, who had previously earned his stripes playing the hero in 44 B Horse Operas. The best review of his role as the Ringo Kid was given by a fellow cast member Louise Platt, who played the expectant mother Lucy Mallory: “He’ll be the biggest star ever because he is the perfect ‘everyman’. ” Quite prophetic!
The 1940s was a hectic, trying period for our country and for Duke Wayne. With the success of Stagecoach, the opportunities for varied roles opened up for filmdom’s emerging movie star. Duke would make eleven western films during the decade, beginning with The Dark Command (1940), directed by Raoul Walsh. It co-starred Claire Trevor, Walter Pigeon and fourth billing was given to the next King of the Cowboys – Roy Rogers. Also, John Wayne played other roles in the 40s, especially the stalwart WW II military hero, which next to his western roles, were the most popular among his adoring fans. The Duke was especially heroic in Flying Tigers (1942), then followed They Were Expendable (1945) and Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). In 1975, Emperor Hirohito visited the US and requested the State Department help arrange a meeting between him and then the world’s most popular movie actor. When the Duke heard the request, he supposedly said – why would he want to see me, after all I must have killed off the entire Japanese Army. Yours truly was 10 years old when Sands of Iwo Jima, directed by veteran director Alan Dwan, played in our local theater. I was so moved by the film that I wanted to be a “leatherneck” just like Sgt. Stryker and yell out, “Lock and load!” However, when Sgt. Stryker was shot by a sniper after the fighting appeared over, I got teary eyed. John Wayne may not have served in actual combat, however he did more to help the morale of our troops and the folks back home than any bureaucrat in Washington DC.
After his divorce from Josie Morrison was final, the Duke married Esperanza “Chata” Ceballos, a Mexican actress he had met in Mexico City (1946). It was a rocky relationship between the two right from the start. She even shot at him once. Duke said, “Our marriage was like shaking two volatile chemicals in a jar.” Chata was upset about his dedication to his work and the attention he paid to his children, plus she was extremely jealous of his leading ladies. The marriage ended in 1952, however the divorce was not final until 1954. There were no children from the union. Sadly, Chata died from a heart attack at only 37.
The five John Wayne westerns filmed between 1947 and 1950 were the best of the eleven cowboy movies he made during the 40s. Angel and the Badman (1947), costarring Gail Russell and Harry Carey, Sr. is an often overlooked film. The first film produced by John Wayne is an excellent movie. Like Stagecoach, each character is fully developed to the point you actually care for them. Gail Russell was one of the most beautiful stars in Hollywood and the Duke was still the tall, handsome leading man. Duke’s wife, Chata, was of the opinion that her husband was having an affair with Miss Russell. That said, the two main stars definitely had the chemistry going between them. Fort Apache (1948), was the first of the trilogy of the US Calvary life in the West. It co-starred Henry Fonda and George O’Brien. The 3 Godfathers (1949), also directed by Ford, called Pappy or Coach by the Duke, was the fourth version of the Peter Kyne story. Ford had made a silent film of the same story Marked Men (1919) starring Harry Carey Sr. Interesting enough; the film co-starred his son Harry Carey Jr. and Pedro Armendariz. John Ford dedicated the film in the memory of Harry Carey who had recently crossed over Jordan. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) was the second in the series of the US Calvary by John Ford. John Wayne, age 42, played Captain Nathan Brittles, a man who was approaching retirement, probably in his early 60s. The Duke turned in another wonderful performance. It has been said that he felt it was his favorite role.
No, I did not forget a particular western film released in 1948. I held it to last as it is a classic, one of the best westerns ever filmed. I remember seeing it on the big screen. Red River was my first adult western. I was mesmerized by the transition of Tom Dunson, who went from the benevolent, strong father figure to Matt Garth, played by Montgomery Clift, to the hardened, vengeance seeking tyrant. In my opinion, the role helped prepare the Duke to transition into Ethan Edwards so powerfully a few years later in The Searchers. After seeing the Howard Hawks picture staring his former protégé, John Ford commented: “I didn’t know the big, son of a bitch could act!”
Rio Grande, the third and final chapter in the Calvary trilogy was released in 1950. It co-starred the lovely Maureen O’Hara along with Ford Stock players like Victor McLaglen, Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. As an aside, Ford had bought the rights to a short story written by Maurice Walsh, published in 1933 by the Saturday Evening Post. The legendary director wanted to bring the story to film, however Republic Studios said they would only do so if Ford agreed to first direct Rio Grande. The proposed film was The Quiet Man (1952), my wife Sherrill’s favorite movie. It was made on location in Ireland. It co-starred Maureen O’Hara and Victor McLaglen. It should be noted that the Wayne/O’Hara romantic screen couple rivals the most famous screen lovers of all time including Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, William Powell and Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The film garnered John Ford his fourth Best Director Oscar.
While looking for film locations in Peru, Duke met Pilar Pallette, a local singer and actress. She was the daughter of a Peruvian senator. They met again later in Los Angeles and the romance blossomed. The two were married in Hawaii on November 1, 1954. They lived in Encino for several years and then moved to Newport Beach in 1965 where he could be closer to his beloved yacht, the 136’ long Wild Goose, a former USN mine sweeper. The couple had three children: Aissa, Ethan and Marisa. Ethan played an important role in Big Jake (1971) and in several television series. Today, he heads up the John Wayne Enterprises. Duke and Pilar separated in 1973, however never divorced.
The westerns following Rio Grande included Hondo (1953), the Louis L’ Amour story filmed in 3D; Rio Bravo (1959) with Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson and directed once again by Howard Hawks and The Horse Soldiers (1959) costarring William Holden, with John Ford at the helm. However, in 1956, The Ford Stock Company once again returned to Monument Valley to film, in my opinion, and I’m not alone, the finest western ever made, if not any movie ever made, The Searchers. The storyline was based on a novel by Alan Le May. The film enabled John Wayne to demonstrate what a fine actor he truly was. Sadly, the Academy Awards overlooked the movie. However, the film received many critical reviews. The American Film Institute ranked it number 12 of the 100 Greatest American Films and the Greatest American Western of All Time. The British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound magazine, survey of film critics, listed The Searchers the 7th Best Film of All Time (2012). New York Magazine noted it was “the most influential movie in American History.” The late Roger Ebert commented: “John Ford’s ‘The Searchers’ contains scenes of magnificence, and one of John Wayne’s best performances. There are shots that are astonishingly beautiful.” The epic film director David Lean watched the movie repeatedly in order to get ideas on how to best film landscapes, in preparing to shoot Lawrence of Arabia. Famous directors of our time such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, John Milius, Peter Bogdanovich and Jean-Luc Goddard were influenced by Ford’s direction. Even though he was at times a tyrant and would dress down anyone from the leading man to a grip, he got the results he wanted. Henry Brandon, who played Ethan Edwards arch nemesis Scar in the film, is reported to have said John Ford was “The only man who could make John Wayne cry.”
Duke Wayne, in his unfinished autobiography, remarked when he was working behind the scenes at Fox Studios: “I decided to become a director, and if need be, I would take a brief detour into acting or whatever else was necessary to accomplish my goal.” Well that brief detour was about 30 years in duration, however in 1960, he finally achieved his ultimate goal. Beginning in 1945, Duke decided he wanted to make a film about the battle of the Alamo. He began the script process and discussed the project with Republic Studio executives. However, they balked at the $3M estimated budget. Eventually, he was able to secure financing with United Artists. He originally only wanted to be the producer/director and do a cameo role as Sam Houston. However, UA agreed to the deal only if he invested 2.5M and they would put up a like amount. In addition, they required he play one of the three principal roles based upon his box office draw.
Which was often the case, Duke would involve his family as much as possible, especially on long location shoots. Son Patrick played a significant role in The Alamo and his older sister Toni LaCava and her daughter Anita, wife Pilar and the Duke’s young daughter Aissa were also in the picture. Later on, Aissa remarked: “I think making The Alamo became my father’s own form of combat. More than an obsession, it was the most intensely personal project in his career.” The four month location shoot in Texas and overseeing a cast of thousands was a monumental task. However, John Wayne pulled it off. The film did well at the box office, though it was not enough for the Duke to recoup his investment as UA took their money first. Later, when the film was ready for TV distribution, Duke sold his rights to UA, and he was made financially whole again. The film received six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and won for Best Sound. Reviews were mixed with the New York Herald-Tribune giving it 4 Stars and noting “A magnificent job…..visually and dramatically The Alamo is top-flight”; while Time Magazine referred to it as being “flat as Texas.” Regardless, it is truly an entertaining, epic movie and a living testament to the man who made it happen.
John Wayne made ten additional western films in the 60s in addition to other genres including The Green Berets (1968). They were North to Alaska (1960), The Comancheros (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), How the West Was Won (1962), The Sons of Katy Elder (1965), El Dorado (1966), The War Wagon (1967) and The Undefeated (1969). Also, in 1969, Duke Wayne portrayed Rooster Cogburn in True Grit based on Charles Portis’ novel, published in 1968. Marguerite Roberts adapted the story for the film. When Duke Wayne reviewed the screen play, he claimed it was the best script he had ever read. The movie was directed by Henry Hathaway and costarred Kim Darby and popular singer Glen Campbell. Over the years, Duke would cast popular, young male singers in his films, perhaps to draw the younger set, especially young women. There was Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Vinton and Glen Campbell. None were known for their acting chops. The film did well at the box office and John Wayne won both the Academy Award (long overdue) and the Golden Globe for Best Actor. During his moving Oscar acceptance speech, Duke said “Wow! If I’d known that, I’d have put that eye patch on 35 years ago!” The house was pulling for the aging megastar that had beaten cancer. Duke had been a chain smoker all his adult life and had developed lung cancer which was found in 1964. He had one lung removed and contrary to the wishes of the publicists, he went public and encouraged people to quit smoking which he had done and to get a lung x-ray.
Who was the real persona behind the John Wayne, super star image? Most often, it’s not wise to take the opinion of an estranged wife, however Pilar in her memoirs seemed to provide a balance report. According to her, “his work was his life.” Duke was at times “stubborn, domineering and insensitive.” However, “He could be the sweetest, most caring man. He could be so tender.” His daughter Marisa shared that, “He was a great father. He loved having kids around all the time. He wanted us to be with him on the set, at home, on vacation or on our boat. Anita LaCava Swift, Toni’s daughter and his first grandchild, in a recent interview echoed Marisa’s remarks: “He loved kids!. He gave you his complete attention and would ask you what you enjoyed doing and what your hobbies were. I had the role of Fagin in Oliver Twist when I was in the 8th grade. Unknown to me, he shows up for the performance. Then after each following show I would get a telegram and a bouquet of flowers. A typical telegram would read “Great show Anita…..would like to talk to you about a contract. Signed Louie B. Mayer. The next night it would be a telegram and flowers from someone like Lou Wasserman and so on. He was a great granddad!” Ethan regarding the subject of his father’s political views commented: “There’s a misconception about my dad’s political views. He was not a rubber-stamp conservative. He was an independent thinker. He had an enormous love for America, because it offered so much in terms of opportunities, if you knew how to work for them and take advantage of them.” Michael and Patrick were with him most often. Patrick once shared “I loved him. He was a great father. He never gave advice. And yes, I have to admit, even though I felt at ease with him, he could still be intimidating. He was John Wayne, after all.” Anita shared a particular story that relates to Patrick’s observation. Her closest friend in school was Pat, the daughter of the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock. As such, she would often have supper with the Hitchcock’s. “One evening Mr. Hitchcock inquired about my grandfather. I told him he just made cowboy movies. The director in his unique manner of speaking, told me that my grandfather was very famous. Frankly, I was surprised he knew of my granddad. I told my mother the story and she laughed. I also shared it with my granddad when I saw him and he chuckled and said, ‘Yes, I’ve met Hitch a few times.’” He was John Wayne after all!
During the 70s, Duke for the most part, maintained his busy schedule, making one or two films per year. In 1970, he made Chisum and Rio Lobo, then Big Jake (1971), The Cowboys (1972), The Train Robbers (1973), Cahill U.S. Marshall (1973), Roster Cogburn with Kathryn Hepburn (1975) and his final film The Shootist (1976). The two films, in my opinion, that warrant some discussion are The Cowboys and The Shootist. The Cowboys was based on a novel by William Dale Jennings. The former television actor and a relatively new director Mark Rydell supposedly wanted George C. Scott to play the aging cow boss as he opposed some of the well-known, conservative views of John Wayne. However, the Duke lobbied for the part. The end result turned out to be an entertaining film, thanks to both the director and actor. Bruce Dern who had to shoot down rancher Wil Andersen in cold blood in front of the young boys was cautioned beforehand by the Duke that the audience would hate him for it. Dern’s reply: “Yea, but they’ll sure love me in Berkeley.”
The Shootist was destined to be John Wayne’s last film. It portrays an aging pistolero who is dying from cancer. Contrary to rumors, John Wayne was cancer free at the time. It was almost three years later that he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. That said, it was a fitting final screen appearance due to his reflecting on his own life and knowing the end was near. The opening montage which used film clips from John Wayne’s early westerns was a genius move. The producers M.J. Frankovich and William Self wanted George C. Scott to play J.B. Books. However, once again Duke lobbied for the part. He and the director Don Siegel had a relationship where they could be open about their differences, yet it was never personal and both made contributions to the film. However, Duke told the screen writer Miles Swarthout, who adapted the novel written by his father Glendon Swarthout, that he had to change the script. Duke said, “Mister, I’ve made over 250 pictures and have never shot a guy in the back. Change it!” And change it he did. Duke was also able to influence the casting by bringing in James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Richard Boone and John Carradine who had costarred with him in Stagecoach. He also used his favorite movie horse Dollar, who he had rode in many other films including True Grit. The National Board of Review selected The Shootist as one of the Top 10 Films of 1976.
The Duke was eventually hospitalized for stomach cancer. He told the medical staff that in order to help find a cure for cancer they could experiment on him in any way they chose. John Wayne died of stomach cancer on June 11, 1979. He was buried at Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach. Before he died, he challenged his family to find a cure for cancer. They accepted the challenge. Upon his death, President Jimmy Carter eulogized his passing for our nation and the whole world, over the loss of someone we seemed to know as well as a family member. The President said, “John Wayne was bigger than life. In an age of few heroes he was the genuine article. But he was more than a hero. He was a symbol of so many qualities that made America great. The ruggedness, the tough independence, the sense of personal courage – on an off the screen – reflected the best of our national character.”
Resource material included: JOHN WAYNE The Genuine Article, Michael Goldman, Insight Editions; JOHN WAYNE The Legend and the Man, Patricia Bosworth, Powerhouse Books; The Old Corral b-westerns.com, Chuck Anderson; and special thanks to Anita LaCava Swift aka Fagin.