By Alan Caruba
It was a fortunate generation or two that grew up watching John Wayne movies. We learned how to be men from his films because we intuitively understood he was the real thing. In a sense—and he would tell you as much—he never really played anyone but himself.
There’s a great little book out just in time as a perfect gift for the man in your life who took John Wayne as a role model or is just now discovering his films in television re-runs. It’s “The Quotable John Wayne: The Grit and Wisdom of an American Icon”, compiled and edited by Carol Lea Mueller.
There’s some irony in that a woman could capture his essence in his words so well, but even Wayne said, “I’m a demonstrative man, a baby picker-upper, a hugger, and a kisser—that’s my nature.”
Wayne was unique in the Hollywood of his day. He was politically conservative in a town that, like today, was filled with liberals and, indeed, with people who were Communists. In the 1950s, as the Cold War between American and Soviet Russia began to heat up, some of them got blacklisted. As we now know, even the highest levels of the U.S. government had been thoroughly infiltrated by American Communists who were often Soviet agents.
Wayne said, “If you’re in a fight, you must fight to win, and in those early years of the Cold War, I strongly believed that our country’s fundamental values were in jeopardy. I think that the Communists proved my point over the years.” A fellow actor, Ronald Reagan, discovered Communists in the union he headed and that no doubt set him on a path in politics with the purpose of defeating the Soviet Union. He succeeded.
“Success is not measured by your wealth,” said Wayne, “but in your worth…Honorable men and women have a right to stand up for the things they hold dear…It’s the American way.”
The book is just filled with wonderful quotes, including a number from the films in which he starred. One of my favorites was from The Shootist, his last film in which he plays an old gunfighter dying of cancer. In a scene with a very young Ron Howard, he is asked why he became a gunfighter. He replied, “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted, and 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 doesn’t get much better than that.