The Wit of John Wayne: “… I Seldom Lie”

At first glance, the above quote from the Duke, as he is fondly called, appears to be a statement about honesty and credibility. The short remark was actually the last sentence of a longer quotation by the legendary actor describing how a man’s persona and moral fiber is molded by circumstances in life. To provide the proper context for this exposition, the complete passage was uttered as follows:

A man’s character and personality is made up by the incidents in his life. Mine has been made up of one thing in reel life, and possibly every dramatic experience that a human being could have in real life. Somewhere in between lies John Wayne. I seldom lie.” (excerpt from The Quotable John Wayne, edited by C. L. Mueller, 2007).

One medical doctor maintained that like digital technology, lying is ubiquitous but surprisingly, it remains an understudied phenomenon. Lying as a subject matter of scholarly research in psychology is interesting. However, as an article about John Wayne, lying would seem ridiculous and inappropriate. This is exactly the point. The Duke was known for his calm and demeanor, and it seemed unlikely that his supporters would buy the idea of a “lying” icon.

The quotation was used to bring attention to another side of John Wayne: witty grit. The quote, as initiated by Wayne or as partly used in the article title, was never really about lying. However, who could have missed the brilliant play of words in the last two sentences of the quip? That is the grandiloquent side of John Wayne.

The Duke merely described the obvious. Man’s character is the sum total of his experiences. Being the Duke, the smart duke that is, he customized the commonplace to breath life into who John Wayne is. Simply put, Mr. Wayne argued that his life as the actor and cultural icon John Wayne and his real life as Marion Mitchell Morrison (note that he was later renamed Mitchell from his birth name Robert) contributed to who he was. However, adding “somewhere between lies… ” rendered a significant impact and appeal on the statement, which was otherwise plain and simple.

This other side of John Wayne is the stuff that makes ordinary men unique. He was calm and dignified, but his language was frivolous and pompous in a positive sense. That is the magic of a John Wayne. What would be a faintly audible sound for others, he makes it thunderous neither by speaking in a high tone nor a loud voice, but by animating words to action.

True Grit won for him his Oscar in the big screen as a Marshall determined and motivated to serve justice to a murderer. In real life, however, John Wayne’s true grit is his gift with words. Behind the ravishing good looks, the distinctive stride, and his iconic stature as a well-loved hero of the cinema, is a man who has a perfect way with words. He may not be a man of few words, but whenever he speaks, he never fails to amuse and amaze people.

Certainly, John Wayne was a trouper in the movies. Sans the movie script, however, his words were more lethal and effective than his weapons in the blockbuster Westerns. No wonder, the Duke of the movies is a king in the hearts of real people whose lives he touched with his witticisms. His compilation of quotes is a pleasurable read. His words make every page seem alive and for the intellect, this one provides a real satisfying feed.

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