Thursday, May 24, 2007

John Wayne

I didn't grow up a John Wayne fan, but somehow over the years have become one. Some of that may have rubbed off because my Mom is a big "Duke" fan. If there's a Wayne movie on television you'll have to pry her away from it.

I mention this because his 100th birthday would have been this weekend and you'll be seeing scores of his films on the old glitter box.

My parents grew up at a time when Hollywood had the star system and a movie star was the real deal. Their pictures got you through the Great Depression, WW II and you could escape from real life. It was before TV, VHS and DVD's would bring their movies right into your living room.

My folks tried to teach me a little about the classic stars and appreciation for their films. I guess some of that sunk through because now when I watch an old film I appreciate the movie and the performances a little more.

When did I become a John Wayne fan. You know that's a funny thing. It kind of slipped over me. My Dad liked Jimmy Stewart and I am a Jimmy Stewart fan as a result. It must have happened while I was watching "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." I've seen it a number of times, but it wasn't until recently that I came to realize that it wasn't Jimmy Stewart who was giving the great performance.

Other Wayne movies I enjoy are "The Searchers," "Rio Bravo," "The Quiet Man," "True Grit," and "The Shootist." "The Shootist" was his last film and ironically about a gunfighter dying from cancer. It's fun to see Ron Howard, the actor, playing a gunfighter wannabe.

Until recently I'd never seen "Stagecoach" the film generally regarded as the movie that put John Wayne on the map. Watch the first scene when the camera focuses on him and it's definitely a star making moment. He only had to toil in movies for nine years to get that point.

Fellow KFIZ Breakfast Clubber Jerry St. John tells me there are certain Wayne films he'll watch whenever they are on like "The Quiet Man" or "McClintock." So I guess I'm not alone in that regard.

I sort of understand why I became a "Duke" fan, but don't quite get why he's such an enduring star now 28 years after his death. Some of the stars I enjoy watching now, I'm wondering if the same can be said. Maybe when Bruce Willis hits his sixties he'll win an Oscar too!

Watching the "Duke" die on film is tough. It only happened in four of his films. If you can name them you're probably a Wayne fan too. For me the death he suffered in "The Cowboys" not only drove the plot, but showed that even in one of his last films he still had it. Like Stewart and Cary Grant, Errol Flynn and a few others; Wayne could act, but made it look like he was having too much of a good time to be taken seriously. Maybe that's the point. He was entertaining us and 100 years after his birth still is.

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