Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne

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Overview

Almost two decades after his death, John Wayne is still America?s favorite movie star. More than an actor, Wayne is a cultural icon whose stature seems to grow with the passage of time. In this illuminating biography, Ronald L. Davis focuses on Wayne?s human side, portraying a complex personality defined by frailty and insecurity as well as by courage and strength.

Davis traces Wayne?s story from its beginnings in Winterset, Iowa, to his death in 1979. This is not a story of ...

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Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne

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Overview

Almost two decades after his death, John Wayne is still America’s favorite movie star. More than an actor, Wayne is a cultural icon whose stature seems to grow with the passage of time. In this illuminating biography, Ronald L. Davis focuses on Wayne’s human side, portraying a complex personality defined by frailty and insecurity as well as by courage and strength.

Davis traces Wayne’s story from its beginnings in Winterset, Iowa, to his death in 1979. This is not a story of instant fame: only after a decade in budget westerns did Wayne receive serious consideration, for his performance in John Ford’s 1939 film Stagecoach. From that point on, his skills and popularity grew as he appeared in such classics as Fort Apache, Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man, The Searches, The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, and True Grit. A man’s ideal more than a woman’s, Wayne earned his popularity without becoming either a great actor or a sex symbol. In all his films, whatever the character, John Wayne portrayed John Wayne, a persona he created for himself: the tough, gritty loner whose mission was to uphold the frontier’s--and the nation’s--traditional values.

To depict the different facets of Wayne’s life and career, Davis draws on a range of primary and secondary sources, most notably exclusive interviews with the people who knew Wayne well, including the actor’s costar Maureen O’Hara and his widow, Pilar Wayne. The result is a well-balanced, highly engaging portrait of a man whose private identity was eventually overshadowed by his screen persona--until he came to represent America itself.

 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Anyone seeking the true "heartland" might well veer toward Winterset, Iowait is not only the setting for Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County but also the 1907 birthplace of John Wayne. An SMU history professor and the author of several books on film, including a 1995 bio of Wayne's longtime buddy John Ford, Davis follows Wayne's trek to Hollywood from high school in Glendale, Calif., to USC on a football scholarship, and then on to his initial film studio jobs and on through his appearances in more than 150 films between 1928 and 1976. In the 1930s, Wayne made scores of grade-B "horse operas" before Ford cast him in Stagecoach (1939), the film that made him a star and "elevated the screen persona that Wayne had developed over the past decade to the level of popular art." During the past three decades, some two dozen books on Wayne have been published. What moves this entertaining biography to a higher plain is that Davis, as the director of SMU's oral history program on the performing arts for 25 years, was in a singular position to document the memories of Wayne's family, friends and associates. He combined more than 65 interviews with extensive research through books, clipping files, printed interviews, film reviews and magazine articles, in addition to major studio production files, Indiana University's John Ford Collection and the papers of Wayne's agent, Charles K. Feldman. The exhaustive yet readable and entertaining result might explain why the back of this book carries rave blurbs by Janet Leigh and other actors and directors who worked with the Duke. Twenty-seven b&w photos. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Since his death from cancer nearly 20 years ago, John Wayne continues to be both praised for embodying traditional American ideals and reviled for archconservative bigotry. Davis (history, Southern Methodist Univ.; John Ford: Hollywood's Old Master, Univ. of Oklahoma, 1995) draws heavily on memoirs and oral histories by relatives, friends, and key filmmakers to explore the man behind the legend. What emerges is a sympathetic portrait of a rather ordinary man who was able to parlay his macho, no-baloney acting style into a screen image beloved by legions of fans who could identify with those very qualities of simple honesty and unpretentiousness. Davis's entertaining narrative primarily covers Wayne's personal life and the day-to-day production of his films, and the extensive use of personal recollections and anecdotes adds considerable dimension to his human side. This nicely complements the standard study, Maurice Zolotow's Shooting Star: A Biography of John Wayne (LJ 3/15/74). Recommended for public and academic libraries.Richard Grefrath, Univ. of Nevada Lib., Reno
Kirkus Reviews
Historian Davis (Southern Methodist Univ.) weighs in with another contribution to the recent spate of biographies of America's larger-than-life cowboy hero. It's hard to imagine someone adding much to the thorough job done by Randy Roberts and James Olson in John Wayne: American (1995), which Davis himself calls "exhaustive." Davis draws on extensive interviews with Wayne's third wife, Pilar, and his favorite leading lady, Maureen O'Hara, as well as on research he did for his biography of John Ford (1995), the director who contributed the most to the creation of the actor's screen persona, but the result is not a lot of new material. Davis offers a competent but clich‚-riddled recounting of Wayne's career ("In 1946 Hollywood's studios were a beehive of activity. The Golden Age of moviemaking had reached its zenith; every soundstage in town was bustling. . . .")—from his rather unhappy childhood (starved for affection from his chilly mother, deeply attached to his hard-drinking father, a warm presence but a failure as a provider) through his stumbling into the motion pictures by chance and his discovery that he really liked the process of making movies, his lengthy apprenticeship in B westerns, his sudden rise to stardom with Stagecoach, and so on. Although Davis promises at the book's outset that he will examine the nature of Wayne's image (without engaging in extensive analysis of the films, a remarkable feat, indeed), the resulting volume adds little to our understanding of Wayne as an actor, a political activist, or an icon. On the positive side, one does get a sense of the complexities and contradictions in the man, but even those are reduced to a handful of commonplaces.Despite thorough research, a book that adds little to our picture of Wayne. (27 b&w photos, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806133294
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 377
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronald L. Davis is Professor of History at Southern Methodist University, where he is Director of both the Oral History Program on the Performing Arts and the De Golyer Institute for American Studies. He has written many books in the performing arts in America, including the best-seller Hollywood Anecdotes.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix
Preface xi
American Icon 3
The Trek West 15
College Student to Trailblazer 30
The Hollywood Gristmill 47
Long Trail to Major Stardom 70
Fighting the War on Film 97
Screen Favorite 120
His Own Company 154
Launching Batjac 201
Metaphor for America 220
Regaining Financial Stability 236
Licking the Big C 256
Reactionary Patriarch 272
Return of the Big C 305
Filmography 329
Bibliographic Essay 353
Index 363
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