John Wayne: Americanby Randy Roberts, James S. Olson
"John Wayne remains a constant in American popular culture. Middle America grew up with him in the late 1920s and 1930s, went to war with him in the 1940s, matured with him in the 1950s, and kept the faith with him in the 1960s and 1970s. . . . In his person and in the persona he so carefully constructed, middle America saw itself, its past, and its future. John
"John Wayne remains a constant in American popular culture. Middle America grew up with him in the late 1920s and 1930s, went to war with him in the 1940s, matured with him in the 1950s, and kept the faith with him in the 1960s and 1970s. . . . In his person and in the persona he so carefully constructed, middle America saw itself, its past, and its future. John Wayne was his country’s alter ego."
Thus begins John Wayne: American, a biography bursting with vitality and revealing the changing scene in Hollywood and America from the Great Depression through the Vietnam War. During a long movie career, John Wayne defined the role of the cowboy and soldier, the gruff man of decency, the hero who prevailed when the chips were down. But who was he, really? Here is the first substantive, serious view of a contradictory private and public figure.
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...men in the world.
But in 1915 Molly was sick of the heat, the wind, the dust, and the smelly outhouse. She badgered Clyde to do something anything to get them away from what was fast becoming a domestic catastrophe. More than once she threatened divorce. John Wayne remembered a warning she gave to Clyde: "One of these days, mark my words, I'm just going to pack and go back to Des Moines." As usual Clyde saw a sliver of hope. In September 1915, he came up with what he thought was the answer to their problems. Another piece of land the 320-acre tract in Section 26, Township 11 North was available, and Clyde decided to lay claim to it. If he could get those 320 acres and then purchase or inherit from his father the 640 acres they were already living on, the family would own nearly one thousand acres of land.
Molly would have none of it. The marriage, already weak by the time they arrived in California, was approaching the breaking point. Their arguments increased in frequency and intensity. She shouted and screamed at him every night, demanding that Clyde relieve her of her misery. Clyde refused to shout back, tried to calm her down, and gave the children the distinct impression that their mother was unreasonable, that the problems in the marriage rested with her, not him. Eight-year-old Marion would lie in bed at night and cover his ears with a pillow to muffle the shrill sounds of his mother's complaints, wondering what was wrong, why she was so upset, and why she hated his dad. Early in 1916 Molly had had enough. She gave Clyde an ultimatum either move across the San Gabriel Mountains and get a job, or get a lawyer, because she was goingto file for divorce.
Her demands came as no surprise to Clyde. By the end of 1915 they were not only out of luck but out of money. Clyde did not have the funds to make the necessary improvements to the larger plot, and he could not sell the existing property because he had not lived on it long enough to satisfy the federal title requirements. Nor was his father in any position to help. Marion was fast becoming senile and suffering from tuberculosis, and early in 1915 he became so mentally incompetent and physically incontinent that his wife, Emma, could no longer take care of him. Clyde committed him to the Thornycraft Sanitarium in Glendale for three weeks, but they soon had him transferred across town to Patton Veterans Hospital.
Clyde, along with Molly and the boys, visited his father a few times at the sanitarium and the VA hospital. They took the railroad through the San Gabriel Mountains and then rode a taxi out to the hospital. The taxi took them through downtown Glendale and then north to the Verdugo foothills. The visits only intensified Molly's unhappiness with the farm. Compared to Lancaster, Glendale seemed like paradise. The city sat up against the foothills, where the temperature averaged about seventy degrees. Even in the summers, when the heat was most intense, the evening breezes from the Pacific Ocean cooled the late afternoons and nights. Many of the streets were paved, and automobiles were everywhere. It was a beautiful community full of Protestant churches, Masonic lodges, schools, houses, apartments, drugstores, parks, theaters, electricity, and, best of all, plumbing. It was like Des Moines, only with mountains and a better climate. The Morrisons had read about the beauties of Glendale in the Palmdale Post and Antelope Valley Press: "Good roads, prosperous appearance of the homes, the hospitable residents and the thriving towns." But it was the visits to Marion Morrison's hospital that convinced Molly that she wanted to relocate there. The old man's illness and death later that year removed one more barrier to moving out of the desert. John Wayne described the decision quite simply: "Mother convinced [Clyde] after many bitter discussions that almost broke up the marriage, that he was not fit for agriculture."
After his father's funeral, Clyde began taking the Southern Pacific train into Los Angeles to look for work. He stayed with the in-laws on Valencia Avenue and studied the classified ads in the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Evening Herald. But 1915 Los Angeles was a busy place, a city in the midst of an unprecedented boom. Clyde Morrison knew that they could not live any longer in Lancaster, but he was still a small-town person, and Los Angeles was just too big and chaotic. Molly had really liked Glendale when they came in for the hospital visits, and he was anxious to try to please her. So he looked there as well, searching the classifieds of the Glendale Evening News. The Glendale Pharmacy on West Broadway was looking for a registered pharmacist, and Clyde charmed them, as he always did, in the interview. They offered him the job, and he went to work early in 1916. Molly liked the small house at 421 South Isabel, and the Morrisons rented it. They abandoned the farm in Lancaster, sold off what little equipment they had, and came over the mountains on the Southern Pacific Railroad to start, once again, a new life together.
Copyright © 1995 by Randy Roberts and James S. Olson
Meet the Author
Randy Roberts, a professor of history at Purdue University, is the author of Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes. James S. Olson, a professor of history at Sam Houston State University, is the author of The Ethnic Dimension in American History.
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