Life can be terribly unfair and nothing brings that home quite like 'John Wayne: The Legend and the Man' (powerHouse Books $24.91). Chock full of personal photos of family and friends, it really is something to see the charmed life John Wayne lead or, in the case of John Huston, followed.
Huge family, successful career, yacht, homes, wives...Like last year's 'Gary Cooper: Enduring Style,' there's nothing that connects to a celebrity, dead or alive, like ogling their personal photos. More so when that life resembles royalty.
Twitter and Instagram are diluting these images as celebrities post pictures of themselves left, right and center. I've been obsessed (in a good way) with Faye Dunaway for over 40 years but after following her on Twitter...I'm not so sure I want to see her scrap books.
For that reason, studio and publicity images of John Wayne ring tired and mostly false. Tired, because they've been seen too many times. False, because despite all those pictures in uniform, John Wayne never served in the military. What really impresses me, like the Cooper book, are the family scrap book pics of Wayne and his family.
It's like looking in an 18th century mirror and wondering who all has seen their reflection in it. I look at Wayne and Pilar in the bathroom with their daughter, Assia and I don't see a movie star as much as I see a proud Dad with a film director's eye for composition and a laugh.
Calling someone in my army, 'John Wayne' was not a good thing. Although, there was a round disc of chocolate that came with C rations called a 'John Wayne' bar. That was a good thing. There's a lot of speculation that Wayne's intense patriotism came from guilt from never having served. It's a complicated story when you dig into it but it's easy to see the connection Wayne made with the sailors below in a Hawaiian bar.
I grew up with John Wayne movies so it's hard for me to see him without a certain amount of Duke Dogma. Wayne died in 1979 while I was stationed at Ft Bragg. As corny as most of us thought him for the Gung Ho Show - I don't think there was a one of us who thought it an act. There was a party at the main post all-ranks club shortly after Wayne's death where the John Wayne Special was invented. It was a bastardized version of the 'Airborne Special' served at Ft Benning. Best as I can remember it goes something like this:
The John Wayne Special Cocktail
2 ozs Gin
2 ozs Vodka
2 ozs Scotch
8 ozs Grapefruit Juice
Bragg shared a connection with Wayne through his 1968 film, The Green Berets, even though most of the picture was shot at Ft Benning. Somewhere on Smoke Bomb Hill, the Special Forces A.O. at Bragg, there's an odd marker, almost a tombstone, dedicated to Special Forces from Wayne. God only knows what tribute was given to Duke at the Special Forces Sport Parachute Club.
I don't know when the day will come that I won't be surprised by the homes of celebrities. Usually it's someone like Howie Mandel living in a palatial estate with mixed media sculpture on his grounds and a collection of antique cars in a custom built garage. Their aesthetic always in close approximation to their talent. John Wayne's digs are nice...don't get me wrong, but no fur sinks here. Understated in that Marin County way where the heavy spending goes to landscapers.
Who knew? You think Wayne would have people for this sort of thing. Maybe that's the point. Toupee-less, wrench in hand...John Wayne was a man. A lucky man? You bet your ass. A legend? I used to think so...until this book. He was a man. He made mistakes. He put together bicycles on Christmas morning. He drank too much. He smoked too much. In him, some of us see the man we'd like to be. I think he saw in us, the man he wanted to be. Just a man. Bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.