The Duke-and-King Bond: Fact or Fiction?

Stephen King’s 1974 horror classic Carrie described the attitude of the school’s assistant principal to be like John Wayne from the perspective of the gym teacher. No big deal. The Duke’s distinctive cinema demeanor became a trademark during the era of his epic Westerns. However, when three more novels in the 1990s also had allusions to the Duke two decades after the Duke went to kingdom come, the Carrie thing may not anymore be a coincidence or context design.

Not that it is a felony to make reference to John Wayne in literature or something to that effect. In fact, John Wayne fanatics and the Stephen King fan base may even be thrilled with the connection. Both artists are royalty. Just can’t help but wonder. Is there really a bond between the Duke and the King?

In another King thriller in 1994, Insomnia, the reference to John Wayne was made in the light of the dreaded disease that afflicted both the Duke and Jimmy Vandeermeer, friend of the main character Ralph Roberts. Jimmy seemed so proud both he and the Duke got lucky with the cancer.

This was, however, a decade and a half after the Duke passed away. Moreover, since then, many other celebrities have succumbed to cancer.

A couple of years later, in The Green Mile, a former prison guard gave an account of his retirement experience with allusions to John Wayne and his movies. Inclusion of the Duke’s movies was justified here considering how Wayne’s movies were employed in the context. Most retirees at that time would have been big Duke fans and were treated to John Wayne’s movies to ease them of their boredom.

However, in 1999, King’s new thriller novel, The Testament had a scene from a Western flick. This time, King’s reference to the Duke was both unexpected and unusual: “He stood and gave Nate a look that would have horrified John Wayne”. The scene from the movie depicted Indians.

The Duke happens to be America’s most popular cowboy. His on-screen persona exuded power, fearlessness and grit. What could horrify the Duke? Even cancer, which was incurable during that time, did not.

Could the King of suspense thrillers be fascinated with the Duke of cowboys? Is Stephen King a fan of John Wayne? Carrie, Insomnia, The Green Mile, and The Testament couldn’t have been just a coincidence. Only the Green Mile justifies context for the mention of John Wayne. Come to think of it, again, it is not a crime to mention John Wayne’s name or his movies.

Fortunately, this is one curiosity that would not harm the cat. Nevertheless, another theory cooking up on this writer’s mind is that, the King is trying to feed the inquisitive minds of fans. The theory fizzled out, too because it has been 14 years and no King thriller had been published yet using elements of the Duke’s reel or real life as plot.

Be that as it may, the excitement about the possible Duke-and-King connection has not yet been doused with cold water. This is a hot issue which has not yet been settled. Only the suspense-thriller king can shed light on the matter. What’s your take on this, John Wayne fans?


  1. Jim Pippenger says:

    The Duke was always and still is greatest actor of my times. It is a proven fact, as far as I am concerned, that there is no one that can replace the Duke. Oh, there are some that didn’t like all of his movies. That is their loss, not mine or many of his other fans. I am 69 and completely enjoy each and every movie of his career. Any other authors making reference to the Duke is only helping to keep him up front and showing respect for his beliefs.

  2. Phyllis says:

    Stephen King is not comparable to John Wayne. EVER, in any form

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