I had a cousin who was your typical ’60s hippie. As a teenager he hated almost everything. He was disrespectful of his family, his religious heritage and especially his country. In a turbulent time, he embodied everything that modern liberalism now holds dear. But of all the things he viscerally detested, number one on his list was John Wayne.
Dropping his favorite word, “bourgeois” into every sneering declaration, he decried — with the weary worldliness one can only acquire after having been raised for 18 years in middle-class Connecticut — those for whom the Duke embodied patriotic America. He scorned his every appearance or utterance in public, be it in movie theaters or on TV.
And why not? John Wayne was born Marion Morrison 100 years ago last month in the dreaded Midwest, before his family moved to a California that had yet to see the “golden days” of left-wing infiltration. He played football at USC before a surfing injury caused him to lose his scholarship and he soon found work as a Hollywood stuntman before stardom found him.
He was incredibly handsome in youth and despite his large and rangy frame, had a lithesome quality to his bearing, even late in life. It is a cliche used in reference to many actors that women wanted him and men wanted to be like him, but this is in no way truer of anyone more than the Duke. Think of the greatest fistfight in film history — Wayne and Victor McLaglen in The Quiet Man — and one of the greatest love scenes from the same movie, between the Duke and Maureen O’Hara in the stormy Irish graveyard.
John Wayne reigned as one of Hollywood’s kings for nearly 40 years, and his support of his country’s war efforts — from American settlement of the West to stopping Communism both here and abroad — got him into trouble as the nation’s ideas about patriotism took a sharp turn to the left. One wonders what Wayne would think about the current notion that it is patriotic to restrain our armed forces from doing the job they volunteered to do: defend their country.
But we don’t have to wonder what the left thought and still thinks of the Duke; indeed, their current methods of attack were originated and honed on the likes of John Wayne and his fellow actor, Ronald Reagan. Wayne was a lifelong Christian, a Presbyterian who had a deathbed conversion to Catholicism. And, since he was divorced (three times) this naturally made him a hypocrite; Christian notions that Christ came to call sinners never enter into this reckoning.
Additionally, he was what liberals blissfully refer to as a “chicken-hawk,” in that although he was never drafted, he did not volunteer for service in World War II. No one is exactly sure why he decided to remain at home and make patriotic movies instead of joining up, but it is said that he greatly regretted that decision later on in life.
It is odd, however, that liberals do not apply the same appellation to Bill Clinton who actually did dodge the draft yet sent American servicemen into harm’s way. Or cry hypocrisy at so many of today’s actors who routinely dress up in soldier suits, earning millions of dollars in the process, while spitting on the flag for which so many gave their lives.
Yet whatever contributions John Wayne did or did not make to our national defense — it has been reported that Joseph Stalin wanted him assassinated because of his anti-Communist efforts — he made only a handful of war movies in comparison to his westerns, and it was primarily for these that he is so loved, or so hated.
Salon writer Jonathan Leithem, in a piece that mostly lauds Wayne as a film presence, also jabs, “Thank heaven he’s also a laughable political ignoramus, a warmongering hypocrite who never served in the armed forces. Thank heaven he’s associated with the western, an easily dismissible film genre.” Leithem’s piece pre-dates Brokeback Mountain of course.
His critics say that there was no John Wayne, just Marion Michael Morrison reading from scripts written for him by his betters. If this is true, why then is there no John Wayne today? Anyone who surveys the current scene and is old enough to remember the days of the Duke surely knows the answer. The sublime Katharine Hepburn summed it up more eloquently than anyone:
John Wayne is the hero of the ’30s and ’40s and most of the ’50s. Before the creeps came creeping in. Before — in the ’60s — the hero slid right down into the valley of the weak and the misunderstood. Before the women began dropping any pretense to virginity into the gutter. With a disregard for truth which is indeed pathetic. And unisex was born. The hair grew long and the pride grew short. And we were off to the anti-hero. John Wayne survived all this.
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