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JOHN WAYNE: AMERICAN Hardcover – September 11, 1995
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From Library Journal
Despite its rather defiant title and a prolog that asks why "critics and historians [have] refused to grant Wayne his deserved spot in the pantheon of Hollywood greats," this is a remarkably nonpartisan biography. The authors, both professors, are neither adept analyzers of the Wayne canon nor stylish writers, but their work's importance lies in its thorough research. Many personal papers and oral histories not available to, or used by, previous Wayne biographers were consulted. Especially revealing are the stories detailing how a man who was a top box-office attraction for nearly a quarter century let several fortunes slip through his fingers by trusting unscrupulous or incompetent managers. This thorough look at one of this country's enduring stars is recommended for all film collections.?Thomas Wiener, editor, "Satelite
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Although John Wayne is arguably the most popular actor in history--he ranked among the top 10 box-office attractions for 25 consecutive years--he's been relatively neglected by film scholars. Prefatorily, Roberts and Olson grind the ax that Wayne has been marginalized by pop-culture elitists because of his political conservatism, which, as they point out, was always "outspoken but nonideological." Yet they provide a balanced, thoroughly researched portrait that traces his career from a lengthy apprenticeship in countless western potboilers through the wartime films that established his character as an American ideal to the later ones that played upon his real-life status as a proud but anachronistic icon. They're particularly insightful about the development of Wayne's distinctive acting style--the halting cadence of his speech, his distinctive walk, and other studied mannerisms. Wayne's movies remain hugely popular 15 years after his death, and indeed, he starred in some of Hollywood's finest films, as those pop-culture elitists will attest; still, this is the first substantive, serious biography of him and, as such, fills a big gap. Gordon Flagg
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Top Customer Reviews
1. He portrayed macho cowboys and military leaders in the movies but never served in World War II (which caused him a good deal of guilt in later years.)
2. He was an advocate for strong family life (including strong
male bonding with his friends) but was wed three times and
had several affairs.
3. He enjoyed drink, good food and profane activities with his buddies Ward Bond and director John Ford but was noted for his
strong he-man appearance (he was 6'4' tall and at one time weighed over 260 pounds.)
4. He was at one time a member of the John Birch Society and
supported the right wing during the McCarthy era but could also
express individuality in politics (he supported LBJ and was a
friend of Jimmy Carter). He resigned from the Birchers and was
a man who valued America freedom. He was constantly having money troubles with the IRS and disdained (loathed!) big government.
5. He believed in God but did not become a member of an organized religion until converting to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed),
6. He was a good but often absent father to his seven children.
7. He was well read and memorized his lines quickly.
8. He was an excellent actor who finally won his Best Actor Oscar for "True Grit."
Randy Roberts and James Olson have told "Duke's story from
his life in middle class Iowa and Glendale (his parents despised one another and later divorced)to football player at USC to work
in the movies.
Wayne's first film was a flop and for almost ten years he labored in the B Western factory in such minor studios as Republic and Monogram. Only with 1939's turn as the Ringo Kid
in John Ford's classic film did the Wayne star begin to rise.
Wayne will live forever in such classics as "Red River" directed by Howard Hawks in 1948; "The Quiet Man with his best
screen lady Maureen O'Hara" the immortal Cavalry trilogy of John
Ford: "Fort Apache" ; "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" and "Rio Grande:
His best movie was "The Searchers" in which he portrays Ethan
Edward's in the Ford film set in Monument Valley!
Roberts and Olson's book is long; well documented; well written and their hard work has paid off. I found a tear in my eye as I read of Duke's last few months battling cancer which he called "The Red Witch."
Wayne had many faults as a man. He was a chauvinist; did not
understand women and could be rough and rowdy. His positive
traits were many: a generous and loving heart; kindness to others
a respect for his fans and a love for his country the United
States of American. Take him all in all whether you be a liberal or conservative or indifferent to politics we will never see another John Wayne!
I loved this book and recommend it highly. If you do not understand John Wayne you will not understand the America he
loved so deeply, so long and with so much honor through a lengthy and lustrous career in the movies!
In fact to me it seems only the gung-ho preface really makes a case for conservatism. You could read the whole book without detecting an ideological message of any sort. It's puzzling. In fact, I had a moment of liberal guilt when I imagined a scenario in which authors Roberts and Olson constructed a well-nigh perfect biography, then perhaps failed to find a regular publisher, resorting only at the end to hooking up with a conservative press that required them to concoct a flag-waving preface. Is it really true, as they claimed, that a liberal cultural elite has "marginalized John Wayne, the brightest star in the pop culture firmament"? Gee, I hope not! Olson and Roberts go the whole distance with Wayne, showing how he responded to the shifting cultural changes in the US, showing for example how Wayne turned against Jane Fonda when she went to Hanoi, but forgave her only a few years later, going so far as to bestow her the Golden Apple Award voted her by the Foreign Press Association. So he was never a cultural monolith and was often capable of surprising turns, both ideologically as well as on the screen.
Roberts and Olson give us a man bafflingly devoted to John Ford, who seemed to think he had the right to abuse the Duke just because he had discovered him way back when. There was something a little masochistic going on in John Wayne's soul, he seemed not only to suffer but to welcome Ford's abuse, losing countless poker games to him, never once letting the old man know he was acting the fool. The Ford-Wayne relationship has been covered dozens of times, of course, but Roberts and Olson make it new all over again, with a savvy combination of candid interviews and trenchant analysis. They shine a powerful light on all aspects of Duke's career, from his three marriages to his guilt over his deferment during World War II to his slump in the late 1950s, a period when it seemed he just didn't care any more. Struggles with studio bosses, with critics and audiences, Everything looks brand new again under this cool, steady, biographical focus. They don't male Wayne a plaster saint; at the same time, the multidimensional profiling gives us the illusion of a 360 degree pan, as though we could reach out and touch the man.
I saw only one little section that left a bad taste; in their section on the production of Hondo, they see fit to carve up poor Geraldine Page like few actresses have ever been carved up. According to Roberts and Olson (largely following the memories of Mary St. John, Wayne's personal secretary), Page slept around, drank heavily, smelled like nothing on earth--and she was a liberal too of course. In this account Page was so blowsy "even Ward Bond wouldn't take advantage of her availability." After burning her at the stake for four pages. suddenly the authors switch to Page's point of view in a personal interview which reveals her in a bizarrely different light, as a charming, affectionate, sober, insightful witness. Roberts and Olson, have you treated the late Geraldine Page with the good faith anybody deserves? No, I think not--one shoddy episode in what is otherwise a biographical triumph,