Forget for a second that he led the infamous communist witch hunt in Hollywood during the fifties, and remember John Wayne for the man he was – a hard-boiled roughneck and Hollywood icon. Before John Wayne, the image of the cowboy was clean, unsullied, and played by pretty boy young actors who didn’t know how to throw a right hook to save their life. Here he is in his own words, describing the kind of man he portrayed, taken from Randy Roberts’ biography, “John Wayne: American.”
“Well, I wanted to be a dirty fighter if that was the only way to fight back. If someone throws a chair at you, hell, you pick up a chair and belt him right back. I was trying to play a man who gets dirty, who sweats sometimes, who enjoys kissing a gal he likes, who gets angry, who fights clean whenever possible but will fight dirty if he has to. You could say I made the western hero a roughneck.”
But, if hearing it from the Duke’s mouth himself wasn’t good enough, VK Nagrani’s compiled a whole mess of reasons why John Wayne was a total badass. Check ‘em out below.
1. American Awards
In 1979, when it was spread that Wayne was dying of cancer, his friend, Senator Barry Goldwater, presented a bill to honor the Duke with the Congressional Medal of Honor. Congress unanimously approved and posthumously awarded him the gold medal that simply said “John Wayne – American.” Just six days following his death, Orange County Airport was renamed John Wayne Airport.
The next year in 1980, President Jimmy Carter honored John Wayne with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is considered the high civilian award given out in the United States. President Carter said he was the “quintessential patriot” and “was both an example and a symbol of true American grit and determination.”
2. A Boy Named Marion
Wayne was born with the supremely unmanly name “Marion Robert Morrison,” but earned the lifelong nickname Duke after the family dog. Big Duke, the dog, would chase fire engines, and the firefighters started calling little Marion “Little Duke” which was later shortened to Duke.
Wayne once said, “The guy you see on screen isn’t really me. I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne. I know him well. I’m one of his closest students.”
3. Love of Literature
Agatha Christie novels ranked pretty high on the Duke’s favorite reading list, but his all-time top-two favorite books were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – “The White Company” and “Sir Nigel” – which were both set during the Hundred Years’ War in England. Wayne was also reported to have run around sets yelling quotes from Charles Dickens novels. Most notably, when an actor agreed to a business deal, he would shout, “Barkis is willin’!”, a phrase used by Mr. Barkis – a character in Dickens’ novel “David Copperfield” – when he tells David Copperfield of his intention to marry Peggotty.
Regardless of how you feel about his politics, John Wayne was a powerhouse of a man, and has forever shaped the way our culture views the Wild West, and the age of the cowboy in general. Keep in tuned to the VK Nagrani Blog for more editions of our Badass Series!