Our John Wayne Love Affair

What is it about the Duke, John Wayne, that Americans and the whole world loved and still love? It’s got to be more than the good movies he made. I mean, just this year, 34 years after his death, John Wayne finished sixth in the Harris Poll of America’s Favorite Actors. Think about that for a minute. No other actor has had such longevity alive or dead, in any poll, ever; not Gable, not Boggy, not Cagney, nobody; only John Wayne. John Wayne; his friends called him Duke, a few called him John, and nobody called him Jack. The name itself is pure American.

We all know his story; the failure of The Big Trail, 10 years of struggle in B pictures, his discovery by Director, John Ford, his starring role in Stagecoach, his work during WWII (where he starred with some of the best actresses of the day), and of course the late 40’s when his career really took off. In the 50s we saw his work in the cult classic The Searchers, and his struggle to make his cinematic statement in The Alamo. In the 60’s, his character changed from leading man who “always got the girl” to a more mature leading man. He received an Academy Award his role in True Grit and finally, in the 70’s, his last movie The Shootist.

There were of course, so many more, fine performances in between – too many to comment on here. What I’m trying to get at, is why was John Wayne so popular? I believe, at least in my mind, I know the answer. First of all, there was nothing mean or petty about the roles Wayne played. Even when he was “the bad guy”, you cared about him. When he played one of his first bad guy roles opposite Randolph Scott and Marlene Dietrich in Pittsburg, you cared about him. The same is true of his character in Reap the Wild Wind where you knew somehow Wayne would make everything all right. His portrayal of Ethan Edwards in The Searchers was the ultimate “bad guy turned good”, whom you really cared about. You cared about him in the “good guy” roles such as Davey Crockett in The Alamo, The Cavalry Trilogy, and especially his role in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon; a role that he should have won the Academy Award for, and the role Wayne said was his favorite (mine too!). There were moments of comedy in North to Alaska, The Wings of Eagles, and The Comancheros.

All of these roles transformed Wayne into the American icon that we all came to love. He was able to symbolize and communicate good American values and ideals. Every one of us has, at one time or another, wished we were John Wayne. How many of us wish we could stand up to our bosses the way Wayne stood up to Henry Fonda’s Col. Thursday in Fort Apache, or take the long walk down the middle of the street and hit the bully, George Clews, over the head with a pistol in Tall in the Saddle? How many of us dreamed of being heroic like Capt. Nathan Brittles in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or Davy Crocket in The Alamo, Spig Wead in The Wings of Eagles, or Will Anderson in The Cowboys? Finally, how many of us would like to, or even dare to, go out as heroically as Wayne’s character in The Shootist, knowing that you’re going to die and taking some town scum with you?

Wayne was all of these things; always good, always heroic, and always an AMERICAN HERO. During his time and 34 years after his death, no one has approached his appeal to America and the world. He was a man’s man and, a man that women loved to be with. He was John Wayne.


  1. stella says:

    Love this man. Such a hero and all time American. Wish I had been able to meet him.

  2. Dale says:

    Respected him. Turned out to be the best in Hollywood. Decent, law abiding, lover of America.

  3. Steven Raabe says:

    You forgotten his role in “The Quiet Man”. It showed that resisting being a tough guy can still make you seem tough.

  4. ecarter54 says:

    I always thought John Wayne injected humor into nearly all his movies. Even The Searchers had quite a bit of humor in it. Take for example the fight scene between between Jeffrey Hunter and Ken Curtis.

  5. Jo Demarc says:

    One of my roomies & I are Duke fans.
    The man was honest, good-humored & not afraid to voice his opinion. As Lauren Bacall said, “Sometimes I think Duke was too normal to be a ‘movie star.’ “….

  6. Susan says:

    The only other person I know that is still loved 35 yrs after his death is Elvis Aaron Presley. Him and John Wayne will always be my favorite singer and favorite actors

  7. Neal says:

    We know that his star in Hollywood the concrete slab was actually mixed with sand from Iwo Jima. The movie “Sands of Iwo Jima” had second and more profound impact on American History. Here’s a bit of John Wayne trivia some people may not be aware of. Sands of Iwo Jima was made after WWII, and the U.S Government was looking for ways to save money in a post-war climate. One plan was to disband the United States Marine Corps. The Duke’s support and public outcry after seeing the movie saved this fine military institution.

    • Lavita says:

      There will never be anyone that will fill the shoes of John Wayne. Two pet-peeves I have about people’s perceptions or actions about John Wayne: there are some classics that can be done again and be good, or perhaps even better than the original, BUT no one should ever, ever re-do a John Wayne movie, especially True Grit! I thought the acting was okay, but the entire mo:vie was stupid just because of the fact that they even tried to re-do a classic. You just can’t fix stupid. And here is my next peeve” whether fans or companies that make/or sell John Wayne memorabilia, I have this to say to you – quit calling him THE Duke. It was just Duke Wayne, period. Do you think friends of his would come up and say, “Hi, THE Duke, how ya doin?” It sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it? At 16 I had written him a letter wishing him a “Happy Birthday” because our BD’s are just 2 days apart. I never in a million years expected anything back, but one day I opened this 8 X 10 envelope and there was an awesome picture of him and him having signed the following: “Happy Birthday, Lavita.” Duke really loved his fans and O how I wished I could have met him.

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