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John Wayne: The Life and Legend Hardcover – April 1, 2014

4.4 out of 5 stars 551 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This is a fine biography of two men: Marion “Duke” Morrison, the jock who wound up working on a movie lot and eventually stepped hesitantly in front of the camera, and John Wayne, Morrison’s alter ego, the movie star who bore only a passing resemblance to Morrison himself. A studio chief gave Morrison, then a young, mostly unknown actor, his new name, and over the next several decades, Morrison built a persona around it; but, as the author points out, he never legally changed his name, never really thought of himself as John Wayne. Eyman tracks Morrison’s life and Wayne’s career, showing how one impacted the other (Morrison became a better actor as he became comfortable with the Wayne mannerisms and performance style). The book nicely balances the personal and the professional and offers us an opportunity to get to know the man who stood, not in John Wayne’s shadow (not that, by any means) but sort of beside him. A fine show-biz biography, delivering what fans want about the star’s career but probing with uncommon depth into his personality. --David Pitt


“[An] authoritative and enormously engaging new biography. . . . [Eyman] takes you through Wayne’s life, his death and his legend in a detailed, remarkably knowledgeable yet extremely readable way.” (Peter Bogdanovich The New York Times Book Review)

“A spirited portrait of John Wayne and the Hollywood he worked in. . . . Traces his transition from the eager, boyish roles he played in early movies to confident leading man.” (Michiko Kakutani The New York Times)

“We all think we know John Wayne, in part because he seemed to be playing himself in movie after movie. Yet as Eyman carefully lays out, ‘John Wayne’ was an invention, a persona created layer by layer by an ambitious young actor.” (Glenn Frankel The Washington Post)

“No Wayne biography until now has ridden the defile between the reverential and the tendentious with quite the graceful equilibrium of this one. . . . Eyman gets at the details that the bean-counters and myth-spinners miss. . . . Wayne's intimates have told Eyman things here that they've never told anyone else.” (David Kipen The Los Angeles Times)

“Deeply researched and totally absorbing.” (Clive Sinclair The Wall Street Journal)

“[An] exemplary biography. . . . Eyman appears to have had broad access to Wayne’s business and family life, and the result is a book with a compelling claim to being definitive.” (Robert Horton Film Comment)

"Full of historical detail and fan facts, John Wayne tracks shy Marion Robert Morrison's path to the screen hero who got scant credit for his own craft in creating the John Wayne that rallied audiences." (David D'Arcy The San Francisco Chronicle)

"A fine show-biz biography, delivering what fans want about the star’s career but probing with uncommon depth into his personality.” (Booklist)

“Scott Eyman has taken a legend and a statue and given us an odd, decent, muddled but deeply likeable man. That’s what makes this book so readable and so touching.” (David Thomson, author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film and Moments That Made the Movies)

“One of the greatest movie star biographies ever written.” (Allen Barra Salon.com)

“In comprehensive detail, this new biography chronicles a great star at work. . . . Like a cinematographer, Mr. Eyman offers readers Wayne from many angles, in his own words and the words of those who worked with him. . . . An engrossing record of how the Duke stayed top dog for so long.“ (The Economist)

“It would be hard to find a more complete picture of a public figure’s life and legend than Eyman gives us of the Duke.” (Larry Thornberry The American Spectator)

“[A] splendid biography of Hollywood’s most enduring movie star. . . . Eyman offers perceptive views of Wayne’s many films and a wagon’s worth of revealing and entertaining anecdotes. If you think you know John Wayne, you’ll know him even better as a movie star — and appreciate him even more as a person—after reading John Wayne: The Life and Legend.” (Douglass K. Daniel Associated Press)

“Eyman’s exhaustively informative biography is, in essence, a tribute. One ends it liking Duke a lot more.” (John Sutherland The Times (London))

“[Written] with deep research, clear, strong prose and unfailing good humor. The great strength of Mr. Eyman’s book derives from the strength of its subject.“ (John R. Coyne, Jr. The Washington Times)

“Eyman . . . does an expert job in nailing Wayne's enduring appeal: On screen and off, he presented a man of action, confidence, self-determination and, sometimes, compassion.” (Chris Foran Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

“Eyman’s take is . . . eye-opening and astute, bolstered by access to the archives of Wayne’s production company and a host of interview sources, and the fine way he utilizes oral histories and other research materials.” (Pat Broeske Bookpage)

“A comprehensive and compelling examination of The Duke. . . . Insightful, exhaustive and engrossing—a definitive portrait of the man and the legend.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Drawing deeply on interviews with family and friends, acclaimed biographer Eyman colorfully chronicles Wayne’s life and work. . . . Compulsively readable.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1St Edition edition (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439199582
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439199589
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (551 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #254,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By G.I Gurdjieff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I read the electronic pre-publication copy of this book compliments of NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are mine.
I initially had no specific expectations about this book. I have read several Wayne bios and assumed that this might be a rehash of the others. To my way of thinking everything worthwhile had been said.
As it turned out, either time had blurred my recollections or Scott Eyman looked at Wayne with a fresh outlook. This was a very good book. It was broken down in three segments that covered Wayne's early life and career, his flush years as an accepted actor and bonified star, and his later years as an iconic old lion. Eyman diverted from earlier biographers by providing a lot of personal information about Wayne the actor and Wayne's personal insecurities. As Eyman readily points out, Wayne spent a good portion of his life trying to please his mother who summarily rejected him in favor of his brother who was four years his junior. By his mother's standards Wayne was incapable of doing anything right. Wayne also was publicly very low key about how he fell into movies, but he wanted to be successful and also wanted to be authentic. His attempts at getting some coaching regarding his acting are funny but also reflect a man who fought his way from the bottom up.
As for Wayne, he was often a case study in contradictions. He wanted to be a good husband and father, but he ended up coming up short in that area. Sadly, he came to the realization that he let his first marriage slip through his hands and was left with plenty of regret.He got into the movies to make money initially as a prop man and film extra.. While he wasn't a trained actor, he worked hard to learn his craft and render a good performance even when he was the king of the cheap western.
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Format: Hardcover
I just finished John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman, and you'll have to forgive me because I'm still a little teared up. Reading the last chapter, detailing the Duke's last eight months, was like reliving the illness and subsequent passing of a close friend. And that is what John Wayne was to his many fans and, thanks to television, dvds and movie retrospectives (there is a John Wayne Film Festival this weekend in Dallas), Wayne continues to be a familiar presence in our lives. I read a lot of entertainment biographies, and I think that this one was one of the best. I read it slowly, because I wanted to savor the story, and it seems to me that Eyman likewise savors the retelling the life of the man who transitioned from Marion Morrison to Duke Morrison and finally to John Wayne.

Early on Eyman points out that many past books or essays on Wayne have had a certain POV. Either the author verges on hero worship or, given Wayne's somewhat controversial politics, the author likes to spend time tearing down Wayne's image. Eyman has been around Hollywood for years, and in fact knew Wayne. He never comes out and says he is more liberal than Wayne, but I got that impression, but I also got the impression that he liked Wayne as a person and that he liked him as the subject of research and writing. (A couple of years ago I read Eyman's bio of Cecil B. DeMille, and in contrast, he either did not really like DeMille the man, or DeMille just plain wasn't as nice as Wayne. Both may be true.)

Two main themes run through the book. Well, maybe three.
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Format: Hardcover
When I was young, John Wayne was everywhere. His new movies were in theaters, and his old ones were on television. I remember him primarily as the quintessential cowboy—his most oft-played role—and particularly as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, for which he won the Academy Award. I also remember him as the first big celebrity to announce on television that “I licked the Big C.” And then, oh damn, he died of it anyway…but not for some time. And I read this biography to fill in the gaps, since I actually knew very little.

There are two popular assumptions made about Wayne, I think, that this biography does a thorough job of smacking down in the dirt where they belong. The first is that he was playing himself in those movies, a big, dumb galoot of some sort. In fact, he was very bright and well read. A journalist makes the error of talking to down to him, asking if he is familiar with the work of Eugene O’Neil. Wayne says that he has been to college, and yes, he has read O’Neil.

The second popular notion is that he emerged from nowhere as this enormous star, as some indeed did. Wayne did nothing to suppress such tales; in fact, he liked to pretend, our author says, that he was just doing props work and sort of fell into acting. But nothing could be farther from the truth. He wanted to act very much, and he put up with ten years of very hard work, in dust and heat and all kinds of environments, required to expend immense amounts of physical energy and strength (which he fortunately had). Ford, who most often directed him, was nasty and abusive toward most of the actors with whom he worked, including Wayne, who just took it. There was no stunt so dangerous that if his double was not available, he would not do it.
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