John Wayne Cowboy Magic  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Brian Lebel.

“Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”  John Wayne

My father-in-law never missed a John Wayne movie.  He idolized the macho cowboy actor and coming from another generation, I had trouble understanding why sometimes.  He seemed wooden to me. 

When you come to see a picture of mine, I want you to know that I’m not going to do anything that will make you uncomfortable. I want you to know that you won’t be disappointed in me.
— John Wayne

When people think about older Western film it is Wayne who often tops the list.  For decades he was box-office gold.  Masculinity, power and patriotism were his forte and shooting blanks and crushing bad guys made him infamous. 

Because of his conservative politics Wayne was a hero to one generation and a bad guy to another. To his devoted fans, on and off the set, he represented ruggedness mixed with independence and courage, a symbol of frontier justice and America’s strength of character.

They were big shoes to fill and John (Duke) Wayne didn’t disappoint.

“I’ve played the kind of man, I’d like to have been,” he said.  He made many Americans believe in heroes, at least for a few hours.   

Wayne starred in over 165 films.

Even though he was a top box office draw Wayne only received two Oscar nominations as Best Actor during his career, one was for “Sands of Iwo Jima” (1949), and the other was for “True Grit” (1969).  He won for “True Grit”.   

Wayne was nervous about filming “True Grit”.  It was a stretch for the aging star to play a feisty fella who is past his prime but still able to get the job done.  The script also hadn’t been tailored by one of his in-house screenwriters to fit his usual character.  Even so, Wayne said it was his first good part in 20 years. 

The film was a huge commercial and critical success.  It was also his last huge commercial success.

“For my father, the studio and the producers were not the boss,” said son Mike Wayne.  “The fans were the boss.  He felt he worked for the fans.  He played bigoted, terrible guys, but bigoted, terrible guys with convictions.  Every man he played had a code and he never deviated from it during the film.”

There are at least four life-sized bronze statues of Wayne scattered around the American landscape.

“He wasn’t a cowboy or a rancher; he was a movie star.  He wasn’t a hero; he was a movie star.  But for many people, he was a symbol of America,” said Mike Wayne.  “He was a man that had conviction, that had integrity and so he was able to portray that and more (importantly) project it.” 

He wanted to keep his fans happy.  He also showed up on set ready to work, knowing his lines and doing the best job he could do.  His characters had what has been called “obstinate bravery.”  They won out in the end because they simply refused to fail and were always ready to confront injustice in some way.

Wayne sums up his acting the best, I think.

“When you come to see a picture of mine, I want you to know that I’m not going to do anything that will make you uncomfortable. I want you to know that you won’t be disappointed in me.” 

On June 22, 2019, Old West Events featured a number of Wayne items in its auction.

Here are some current values.

John Wayne

Movie Posters; 4; half-sheet; framed to 24 ½ by 30 ½ up to 30 ½ by 22 ½;  $354.

Lithograph; scare Italian poster; Rio Lobo; 55 inches by 40 inches;  $590.

Lithograph; Luxor Films, Brussels; 17 inches by 12 inhes overall;  $1,534.

Stetson Hat; made by Stetson for Wayne; 5 inch brim, 7 inch crown;  $8,260. 

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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