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John Waynes America Paperback – March 2, 1998

3.3 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Steve Neal Chicago Sun Times A fascinating and insightful study about the making of an American myth. Of more than a dozen books about Wayne, John Wayne's America is by far the best; it is a fresh and original interpretation of his film career and of his impact on American culture.

Dennis McLellan Los Angeles Times A stunning book...essential reading for anyone interested in Wayne and popular culture.

Molly Haskell The New York Times Book Review I hope this new book will find its way into the hands of those who are ready to think seriously about a pivotal figure in our culture, a figure who was a great star and a flawed man.

Mark Feener The Boston Globe No one has ever written better about the cultural ideology of John Wayne's career than Garry Willis does here.

About the Author

Garry Wills is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and cultural critic, and a professor of history at Northwestern University. A recipient of the National Book Award, his many books include "Lincoln at Gettysburg", "Reagan's America", "Witches and Jesuits", and a biography of Saint Augustine. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (March 2, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684838834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684838830
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,341,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bryan Moore on September 2, 1998
Format: Paperback
Anyone even remotely interested in John Wayne, John Ford, Westerns, or pop culture in general might want to add this fine book to their "to read" list. While Wills's book is full of biographical info. and is arranged (more or less) chronologically, it is much more concerned with tracing the formation of a truly larger-than-life public image. One of Wills's purposes is to debunk some of the myths that have clouded the public's view of (the former) Marion Morrison, but he clearly admires Wayne as a unique, commanding presence on the screen. Those who stubbornly refuse to think of Wayne as anything other than a manly, gun-loving superpatriot might want to steer clear. But most thinking people are more likely to be intrigued, even fascinated. The author's reading of Wayne--his life and films (THE BIG TRAIL, STAGECOACH, RED RIVER, and TURE GRIT in particular)--is always on target and lucid. While I don't recall disagreeing with Wills on a single critical point, I occasionally grew tired of his painstaking analysis of John Ford's background and various relationships and how they were inserted into his films. I realize that Ford played a huge role in the mythologizing of John Wayne, but I--again, occasionally--found myself asking whether Wills had lost his focus. Even so, the Ford sections are interesting; for example, I had no idea that he was such a sadist and fabricator. Over the course of the book Wills indicates that Ford was a complicated man, while Wayne was rather simple ("Wayne couldn't even spell [the word] politics," Henry Fonda says in one of the book's quotations). Though not perfect (I'd give it a 4 1/2 if I could), this is a great, fun book on a great (and overdue) subject.
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Format: Paperback
This is a maddening book, so full of promise it never really delivers on. Yet I've read it twice, something I don't usually do. Though some might argue, the subject is an important one: the mythic stature of John Wayne as American hero. Given his unparalleled popularity over the years, Wayne's elevation poses some serious questions. Namely, how did this fame come about, and what does the elevation of a cowboy actor to national icon reveal about ourselves. Understanding this revered status should at least tell us something about the mind-set of American men, if not women (Wayne has never been as popular with the latter as with the former, Wills observes). I think it helps to get at the way Wills presents the Wayne phenomenon to target three levels.
First, there is Wayne the person, the man. Wills doesn't devote much space to this level, though the book's subtitle, i.e. "The Politics of Celebrity", might suggest otherwise. Very little is presented of Wayne's personal life or controversial political stances. Most of what is presented are efforts to either debunk popular fictions from the early years, or to pass along opinions of others, which about the man are usually unflattering, (Ford's disapproval of Wayne's lack of war service). Clearly the author believes Wayne's mythic status comes from the screen and not from the private individual.
The second level is Wayne the actor, the commanding screen presence. Despite many insights along the way, Wills falters badly by spending way too much time on seemingly irrelevant details of John Ford's personality and film style, many of which (the diagrams of seating arrangements in "Stagecoach", for example), shed no light on Wayne the actor.
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Format: Paperback
What a super book! There are multiple levels to this book, and one can love all or only a few of them. On one level, the book is an analysis of the career of John Wayne the movie star (as opposed to John Wayne the private individual, though the two cannot be completely separated). So you can enjoy learning about Wayne's days at Columbia pictures, or his relationship with Yakima Canutt, or the formative influence of Harry Carey, or Wayne's film with and connection to John Ford and Howard Hawks. On another level, the book contains brilliant discussions on a number of the important films in Wayne's career, like STAGECOACH or my favorite Wayne and John Ford film THE SEARCHERS. On another level, the book contains marvelous socio-political analysis of the function the concept of John Wayne plays in American life. And on yet another level the book is an essay within cultural studies. One has to admire the many areas and subjects that Wills handles with ease.
My favorite parts of the book were those that dealt with the mythmaking that went into the creation of "John Wayne," the symbol of everything best about America and those dealing with his films and relationship with John Ford. Although extreme fans of Wayne may be somewhat offended by some parts of the book (e.g., Wayne's stringent avoidance of military service in WW II and the misinformation about his early life, such as his being a potential football star felled by an injury, when in fact he was dismissed from the USC football team for not being very good), I think everyone will come away from it having a better sense not only Wayne's shortcomings but his very real accomplishments. A fine book in every way.
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