John Wayne

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John Wayne

"A day without blood is like a day without sunshine."

John Wayne (born Marion Michael Morrison, nicknamed Duke) is considered by many to be the closest thing to the epitome of manliness in his movies. For the most part, Wayne had two roles: he was either a cowboy or a soldier. It didn't matter which he was, though: he was John Wayne.

A former college football star (a leg injury led to his well-known gait), Wayne got his start as a bit actor before John Ford cast him as a major player in the movie Stagecoach. From there, he went on to appear in dozens of Westerns, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, True Grit, The Searchers, and McLintock!. Occasionally, he switched to being a soldier (assuming, as was the case in Ribbon, he wasn't both at the same time), and his wartime roles include a paratrooper in The Longest Day.

However, as said earlier, just about all of his movie roles were the same. He was a gruff man, world-weary and realistic, but definitely not one to take no for an answer. He was probably harder on himself than anyone else was. He wasn't a fan of violence, but when the chips were down, turned out to be a spectacular fighter. He was at best confused about women and at worst saw them as a hindrance, but eventually would warm up to one and get over his prejudices.

At this point, John Wayne is more an invocation of the Cowboy Cop or the manly man than he ever was in films. His most famous scenes were always the fight scenes, which ranged from dramatic (Searchers) to comical (McLintock!). In addition, his stilted delivery and loud, commanding voice have made him the subject of imitation by just about anyone worth their imitating salt. None of it matters: he is seen as the man's man, so much so that one beer company spliced his movie footage into a series of their ads (after all, what's more manly than John Wayne and beer?).

If there is a trope in The Western, odds are Wayne used it (or, almost just as likely, invented it). He also did lots of things that are covered by the Rule of Cool. But above all, he just made great movies that men love to watch, full of suspense, silliness, fistfights, and down-home American values. No wonder his style is often the caricature of America overseas, although nowadays his roles would likely be filled by a Boisterous Bruiser.

When he is invoked in politics, it is usually as a call for honor and fair play, as he said of President Kennedy:

I didn't vote for him, but he's my president and I hope he does a good job.

Orange County, California's airport is named after him.

John Wayne has performed in the following roles:
  • Stagecoach (1939): The one that put Wayne on the map, in which he plays the Ringo Kid, a criminal who turns himself in to a sheriff protecting a wagon party moving westward so that he can avenge the murders of his father and brother.
  • Fort Apache (1948): Wayne co-stars with Henry Fonda as Kirby Yorke, an officer long-experienced in dealing with the Apaches chafing under the martinetish ways of his new commander.
  • Red River (1948): Wayne plays Tom Dunson, a rancher whose adopted son (Montgomery Clift) turns against him in the middle of a cattle drive, mainly because Dunson has become unhinged. It's like Mutiny on the Bounty, but set in the post-Civil War Old West.
  • She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949): Wayne is Nathan Brittles, an aging cavalry commander with one last duty before retirement: stop an Indian tribe from attacking a fort. Notable because he was playing a 65 year old man at the age of 35, and yet he's so convincing, many people born since Wayne died have a hard time placing it at the start of his career.
  • Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949) Wayne plays a grizzled Sergeant, a Guadalcanal and Tarawa vet who leads a squad through Iwo Jima.
  • The Quiet Man (1952): Transport the scene to Ireland, as Wayne plays Sean Thornton, a retired boxer who wants to live a simple life until a burly big brother prevents him from pursuing his romantic interest.
  • The Conqueror (1956): Wayne plays Genghis Khan. Widely regarded as the worst movie he ever made, though little actual blame was directed at Wayne for this. The New York Times observed: "John Wayne as Gengis Khan -- history's most improbable piece of casting unless Mickey Rooney were to play Jesus in King of Kings." Unfortunately, Wayne among others in the production paid a heavy price considering they shot this film in Nevada when the US military was conducting open air nuclear weapon tests and they were downwind of the fallout, resulting in fatal cancers.
  • The Searchers (1956): Widely considered Wayne's finest role, as well as one of the greatest movies ever made, he is Ethan Edwards, out to avenge the apparent death (or worse) of his niece at the hands of savage Indians while combating his own internal bigotry (and not too successfully for the latter).
  • Rio Bravo (1959): Teaming up with Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Walter "Old Codger Voice" Brennan, Wayne as "Sheriff John Chance" has to keep a criminal in jail despite the efforts of his rich, unscrupulous brother.
  • North to Alaska (1960): Wayne is an Alaskan goldminer who has to bring his partners' wife-to-be up from Seattle, only she's already married someone else! Now Wanye tries to find his friend a substitute to help his pal.
  • The Longest Day (1962): Wayne is a Colonel in the 101st Airborne who breaks his leg landing in Normandy.
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962): Wayne plays Tom Doniphon, a tragic rancher/gunfighter who may or may not have performed the title action. This is the film that codified "pilgrim" in the minds of John Wayne impressionists everywhere.
  • Hatari! (1962): Wayne as "Sean Mercer" teams with Red Buttons as big game hunters in Africa forced to carry around a zoo photographer per orders in this character study.
  • McLintock! (1963): Wayne is the eponymous richest man in town, but has to put up with a nagging ex-wife and strange townsfolk; the movie is famous for a fistfight on the edge of (and in) a muddy quarry.
  • The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965): Wayne appears as the Roman soldier who, upon witnessing the death of Jesus Christ, proclaims "Truly, this man was the son of God."
  • True Grit (1969): Wayne's only Oscar win came about as the one-eyed hero Rooster Cogburn, hired by a young girl to capture her father's killer.
  • Big Jake (1971). Wayne plays a Retired Badass named Jake McCandles whose grandson is kidnapped by a group of violent thugs who demand a ransom. Jake, along with two of his sons, goes to get his grandson back. One of the Duke's later films, and set in the year 1909, it dealt with themes such as the closing of the American West and the end of the day of cowboy heroes like the ones Wayne had always played. Notable also for featuring two of Wayne's real-life sons, as well as the son of Robert Mitchum, in prominent roles.
  • Mc Q (1974): Wayne plays the eponymous Seattle detective. This film is notable for introducing the MAC-10 submachine gun to the public and for its climactic car chase which features the first cannon rollover in film history.
  • The Shootist (1976): Wayne's final role, in which he plays J.B. Books, a gunman dying of cancer who wants to end his life in peace (not coincidentally, Wayne too was dying of cancer at the time).