John Wayne: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 24th, 2014 by bobmorris

John WayneJohn Wayne: The Life and Legend
Scott Eyman
Simon & Schuster (2014)

The amazing transformation of Marion Mitchell Morrison who became John Wayne

If there is a more comprehensive and more reliable biography of the man who became John Wayne (1907-1979), I am not aware of it. Hundreds of others have already reviewed this book and most of them share my high regard for Scott Eyman’s achievement. No one can deny that John Wayne was among the most popular actors in all the film history. On and off screen, he always seemed “larger than life” to me. Apparently, he had the same impact on those with whom he was associated. This is a massive biography. Whether or not it is the biography is a matter to be addressed by others far better qualified than I. Suffice now for me to say that I enjoyed reading this book almost as much as I enjoy watching, again and then again, my personal favorites among the 140 films in which he appeared.

I am very grateful to Eyman for what I learned about subjects such as these:

o Why John Wayne was loved and respected by almost everyone who knew him.
o Why he endured John Ford’s constant abuse while making films together
o The films of which Wayne was most proud…and why
o The best and the worst of his three marital relationships: to Josephine (“Josie”) Saenz, Esperanza (“Chata”) Baur, and Pilar Pallete
o Why all three marriages ended in divorce and what Wayne made of that
o His defining political and social views and values
o The difficulties that he encountered when attempting to finance and then complete his film about the Alamo
o Why he hated High Noon
o His closest personal friendships throughout his life and what they reveal about him as a person
o His attitude toward the Academy Awards
o What he most enjoyed about film making…and why
o What he least enjoyed…and why
o What he thought of himself as a husband and as a father…and why
o What he thought of himself as an actor…and why
o The most significant details of his losing battle with stomach cancer, especially during the last few days
o What Eyman thinks John Wayne’s life and career reveal about cultural values in the United States during the 1940s through the 1980s

With regard to my personal favorites among John Wayne’s films, they include these, listed in the order in which they were released:

Stagecoach (1939)
They Were Expendable (1945)
Fort Apache (1948)
The Searchers (1956)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
True Grit (1969)

There are dozens of memorable moments in dozens of his other films but I have selected these because of what I view as the sustained quality of his acting within the given role as opposed to being himself in a fictional context. One man’s opinions.

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