Journal – John Wayne

Journal

For an insight on the life and history of John Wayne

A Reflection on Father’s Day

In recent weeks, there have been several dates that reflect the memory of John Wayne.  May 26th, the 110th birthday of John Wayne, June 11th, the anniversary of his death and June 14th, Flag Day and Father’s Day. Father’s Day, is a day that brings memories of my father and all the years of his lessons when we were together.  Whether it was a lesson in packing the car for a movie set, handling a gun, life on board the Wild Goose or being situationally aware around a movie set or livestock on the ranch, my dad taught me how to live life, respect American values and give back.  Reflecting on Father’s Day, I want to talk with you about how he continues to give back—even today.

This year, Men’s Health Week coincides with Father’s Day, which inspires me to not only pay attention to my health, but more importantly, to reaffirm the commitment of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation (JWCF) in the fight against cancer. It is anticipated that by the year 2030, there will be more than 21 million cancer cases globally.  Researchers, caregivers and educators are working hard to find a cure and give the best possible health care to patients and families.  But collectively, what can be done to further progress, to support those currently battling cancer and to honor individuals like my dad who lost his battle to cancer? 

We are asking our supporters to participate this month in our #ShowYourGrit campaign.  Grab a cowboy hat, a bandana or your favorite western wear and snap a selfie.  Upload it to your social media and share it with us tagging friends and family.  Uploads translate to dollars donated by campaign sponsors.  These dollars will go directly for the work of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.  Or, if you want to learn more or donate directly, go to www.johnwayne.org.  Join John Wayne this month as we emphasize the importance of men’s health and celebrate the men in our lives. 

My father was a world-renown actor, a leader in his community and a wonderful dad!  His movies live on and his character and value set continue to inspire people.  This month, as we honor my dad and all men – #ShowYourGrit – and help us continue his fight against cancer.

John Wayne Park is Officially Dedicated on what would have been his 110th Birthday

John Wayne Park will now serve as a tangible reminder of one of Newport Beach’s most famous residents. On Friday, May 26th, John Wayne family members, residents, and dignitaries alike joined together for a ceremony and park dedication of the new John Wayne Park, complete with a color guard and mounted cavalry.

Ethan Wayne speaking about his father and his relationship to the city of Newport Beach.

Former Mayor Evelyn Hart kicked things off, welcoming the community to the park directly next to the Newport Beach Theater Arts Center where she had the pleasure of installing a John Wayne diorama in 1981. With current Mayor Kevin Muldoon presiding, the dedication included comments from Ronnie Guyer, SPC E-4 US Army speaking about old “John Wayne tabs” he and his friends would carry, Mayor Pro Tem Duffy Duffield reminiscing about his father’s friendship with John Wayne, and Ethan Wayne, John Wayne’s youngest son and the current President of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.

“Standing here, overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean, steps from where I grew up and where the Wild Goose is docked, I know my dad would be overwhelmed and honored with the recognition being bestowed upon him today. I am thrilled to know that future generations will be able to come to this beautiful park and remember my dad as an example of kindness, strength, and grit.”

Band “Runaway June” performing the National Anthem at the opening of John Wayne Park.

A treat for the guests, country artist Runaway June, including Jennifer Wayne, John Wayne’s granddaughter, performed the National Anthem. Also in attendance was former Mayor and current President of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce Steve Rosansky, Assemblyman Matthew Harper, Newport Beach City Councilmembers Diane Dixon, Jeff Herdman, Scott Peotter, Chief of Police Jon Lewis, Interim Fire Chief Chip Duncan, and various Commissioner’s and City Staff. Guests were invited to a private reception in honor of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation immediately following.

Special thanks to the City of Newport Beach for the honor and Troop 744 Newport Beach Boy Scouts of America.

Duke: 110 and Still Funny

By Michael Goldman

John Wayne on famed sketch comedy show, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.

John Wayne’s legacy includes dozens of classic film roles all Duke fans know well, but there is one role he played that seldom gets much attention. It was a brief, television cameo actually, on September 11, 1971. That’s the day the most macho actor alive appeared on the famed sketch comedy show, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, dressed in a lavender bunny suit, lamenting that the outfit made him “feel like a liberal.”

Such parodying of his own image was something Duke happily cooperated in. It was, in fact, one of 15 times that John Wayne appeared on what was, back then, considered a hip, counter-culture, youth-oriented show between 1968 and 1973.

Since this month would have been Duke’s 110th birthday, we thought it appropriate to pause and remember him as close family and friends do—a fun-loving, practical-joking guy whose “sense of humor is vast,” according to a profile of him written by journalist Wayne Warga while Duke was promoting Rooster Cogburn. It’s also instructive to examine his use of humor over the years, often strategically. Indeed, John Wayne, despite his image, gruff exterior, and passionate beliefs, was never above poking fun at himself and others he was close to, both on camera and off. On camera, for instance, Laugh-In was just one of dozens of comedic television shows he guest-starred on between the 1950’s and the 1970’s.

In fact, the greatest cinematic tough guy of all time goofed around on sitcoms like The Beverly Hillbillies (1967), I Love Lucy (1955), The Lucy Show (1966), and Maude (1974), and a huge range of comedic variety shows with the likes of Bob Hope (six TV specials), Dean Martin (four Dean Martin TV roasts and one variety show appearance), Don Rickles (one), Jack Benny (one, plus a tribute program to the great comedian), Jimmy Durante (one), Milton Berle (one), Red Skelton (twice), and Jonathan Winters (once), not to mention appearing on People are Funny with Art Linkletter (1957), The Super Comedy Bowl (1971), and six times with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show between 1971-76.

Comedy actually came easy to Duke, because off-camera, humor was among his most obvious traits. The letters he sent to his mentor and friend, director John Ford, ooze with natural one-liners, teasing, and cracks at the expense of their mutual buddy, actor Ward Bond. He especially liked to tease Ford with cards on his birthday, such as the 1953 card he sent for Ford’s 42nd birthday in which Duke revised the words of the traditional “Happy Birthday” song:

“We’re flat on our ass, our room rent is due, but never mind us, happy birthday to you.”

At Duke’s annual Thanksgiving cattle auction at his 26 Bar Ranch, he typically did a bit of stand-up before getting on with auctioning off his prize bulls, and drafts of many of those scripts exist in his Archives today. In November of 1973, for instance, he told the assembled throng that “Bulls go to the highest bidders, which makes it a lot like politics. The only trouble is that in politics, they have a lot more bull to sell than we’ll ever have.”

His Archives also include the speech he gave in December of 1974 to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. Some of the material he used that night included, once again, making fun of himself and his acting career.

“I’ve been in more uniforms than Georgie Jessel, I’ve been in more battles than Napoleon, and more wars than Germany,” he declared. “I’ve captured Bataan, Corregidor, Fort Apache, and Maureen O’Hara. But I stopped getting the girl about 10 years ago, which is just as well, because I’d have forgotten what I wanted her for.”

But it wasn’t just the telling of jokes that Duke enjoyed—he liked doing practical jokes whenever he could. Those who worked with him on movies over the years say his practical jokes on set were commonplace. Stuntman Terry Leonard remembers being a rookie on the film The Train Robbers (1973) with Duke when he injured his knee during what he calls “a late Saturday night excursion” the night before having to shoot a physically taxing scene. He claims that John Wayne heard about his “incident” and sent the assistant director to pull him out of his trailer early the next morning, telling Leonard that “Mr. Wayne needed to see me right away.”

“I’m thinking, I’m going to get fired,” Leonard recalled a few years ago. “I was petrified, because I didn’t know him that well yet and was supposed to be conducting myself in a dignified manner. So, I go to see him and he says, ‘I hear you had a little trouble Saturday night.’ I said, ‘yes sir, I was trying to defend myself.’ He looked at me, smiled, and said, ‘sounds to me like you are the real John Wayne.’ ”

And Duke wasn’t above playing such stunts on his own family either. According to his youngest daughter, Marisa Wayne, in a story she related in an issue of the Official Collector’s Edition John Wayne magazine last year, Duke once went out of his way to pull a fast one on her sister, Aissa, and Aissa’s friends. Marisa said that when Aissa brought some friends with her to a house the family was renting in London during the filming of Brannigan, the young girls were worried the old house was haunted.

“He put my sister and her friends on the top level,” Marissa recalled. “In the middle of the night, he would go up there and move stuff around and tilt paintings on the wall to make it look like there was a ghost doing all this. She came tearing down the stairs to [tell everyone], and he’d just roll his eyes, saying she was imagining things. Then, he’d give me a quick wink.”

However, John Wayne’s oldest surviving daughter, Melinda, points out it was a lot harder to successfully play a practical joke on her father than to fall prey to one. During the making of McClintock, she recalled showing up on set in Arizona to surprise her father. She had a wardrobe person dress her in a Native American costume, with her face covered, to stand in line with other extras and get an autograph from her father.

“I handed him a piece of paper, he signed it and then said, ‘Hi Melinda, when did you get here?’” she says. “I asked how he knew it was me, and he said it was because of my smile.”

Duke seemed to instinctively understand that humor can bring people together regardless of beliefs or circumstances, and he was certainly in favor of bringing people together. When the satirical publication Harvard Lampoon invited him to do “battle” over political ideologies in Boston in January of 1974, while he was in town to promote McQ, Duke not only accepted, he used the occasion to win over his younger, liberal audience using his characteristic good humor.

He staged a publicity stunt on the day of the event by riding through Cambridge’s Harvard Square in an Army Reserve armored personnel carrier, and then engaged in friendly back-and-forth ribbing with his “foes” for a couple hours. When asked, at one point, if he looked at himself as the embodiment of the American Dream, he wielded humor as a sword and told his questioner, “I don’t look at myself more than I have to.”

Later, he wrote the Lampooners a friendly thank-you note and told family members that the event, coming at a time when his health was in decline, made him feel better than he had been in months. Melinda chalked that result up entirely to humor.

“Those students wanted to murder him politically, and instead, he made them laugh,” Melinda points out.

One can only imagine what kind of one-liner Duke would have cracked today at the thought of suddenly being 110 years old, but there is little doubt he would have had a good one ready.


Michael Goldman wrote the 2013 award-winning book that examined letters and documents from John Wayne’s personal archive—John Wayne: The Genuine Article. Goldman has authored six books about major media-related topics, legends, and institutions, including co-authoring a textbook on filmmaking, an acclaimed coffee-table book on director Clint Eastwood’s filmmaking techniques called Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work, an authoritative history of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and more. He has also written for acclaimed film journals like American Cinematographer, CineMontage, DGA Quarterly, Emmy magazine, Millimeter, Post magazine, Variety, and consumer publications like the LA Times, Orange County Register, Philadelphia Inquirer and others. Goldman also podcasts interviews with filmmakers monthly at the Studio Daily site in a series called Podcasts from the Front Lines. You can learn more about his work at his Website—www.hollywood-scribe.com.

Start Your Summer Celebrating John Wayne

Many are aware that John Wayne lived in Newport Beach, CA during the height of his celebrity. Remembrances of John Wayne remain around Southern California. People fly in and out of John Wayne Airport, you can enjoy dinner at John Wayne’s table at A Restaurant in Newport Beach or hang out at the well-known John Wayne watering hole Class of ’47 Bar. A statue still stands tall in front of 8484 Wilshire Boulevard in LA, he is remembered as a famous attendee at USC and you can see his footprints in cement outside the world-famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater. This summer though, kicking off on what would have been John Wayne’s 110th birthday, SoCal residents can celebrate the local legend at a variety of events.

On his birthday, The City of Newport Beach will be officially rededicating Horace Ensign Park as John Wayne Park. Situated overlooking the Bay with a view of where John Wayne’s boat the Wild Goose is docked, the park will serve as a permanent reminder for the local man with a lasting legacy.

Band “Runaway June” featuring Jennifer Wayne, John Wayne’s granddaughter.

Speaking of the Wild Goose, that evening Hornblower Cruises will be hosting a special birthday cruise aboard the Wild Goose! Guests are invited to enjoy a live performance by John Wayne’s granddaughter and her country band Runaway June (have you heard their hit “Lipstick” yet?), gourmet appetizers and drinks made with Duke Bourbon, all to raise money for the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. To purchase tickets, click here!

Kicking off on May 26 but lasting through Labor Day Weekend, visitors are also invited to visit two different curated art exhibits featuring John Wayne.

The Balboa Island Museum will be featuring an exhibit showcasing John Wayne, at home in California. Guests are invited to view over 40 images of John Wayne on the Wild Goose, at his home in the Bayshores community of Newport Beach, and enjoying life around Southern California. Included with the exhibit is a brand-new Newport Beach capsule collection, with proceeds benefitting the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and the Balboa Island Museum. To learn more, visit the Balboa Island website here. Docents of the Balboa Island Museum are invited to a special “Coffee with the Captain” the morning of May 26th. Attendees will have a chance to chat with Wild Goose Captain Bert Minshall, and hear stories of John Wayne’s time in Newport. To become a docent and attend, click here.

The Newport Beach Public Library featuring a selection of 15 modern archival prints of John Wayne from the John R. Hamilton collection.

Just up the road, the Newport Beach Public Library is playing host to a selection of 15 modern archival prints of John Wayne by legendary photographer John R. Hamilton. The collection will feature never seen images from some of John Wayne’s most famous films including The Searchers (1956) directed by John Ford, The Horse Soldiers (1959) directed by John Ford, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) directed by John Ford. This rare opportunity to view this lost archive will be on display from May 26 – Labor Day weekend. To learn more, visit the NB Library website here.

The celebrations this summer are a great opportunity for residents and visitors alike to remember John Wayne. Not just as the world-famous celebrity, but as the local resident, father, and philanthropist whose legacy through the work of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation remains a testimony to his values of kindness, strength and grit.

Duke’s Confidante, Mary St. John

By Michael Goldman

There are many candidates to claim the spot of John Wayne’s closest confidante. As previously discussed in this space, his buddies John Ford and Ward Bond come to mind, as does legendary actress Maureen O’Hara. Less discussed, but only because she avoided the limelight, would be Mary St. John, his friend and personal secretary of almost 30 years. In many ways, she fits the bill better than any of them.

Mary first met Duke when she was running the secretarial pool at Republic Pictures in 1937, and then eventually left the studio when Duke literally stormed out during a dispute with studio boss Herb Yates. According to various accounts, Mary helped Duke pack his things, prompting Yates to ask where her loyalties lay. “With Wayne,” she replied as she walked out the door with him. She proceeded to run Duke’s office, intimately involved in his personal and professional affairs, until her retirement in 1975.

But Mary St. John was far more than a personal assistant—she was one of John Wayne’s most loyal friends. She faithfully wrote him wherever he was in the world while filming pictures to update him not only on office affairs, but also about his family, wife, and children, as well as her own life. She was the one who let him know his family was OK when a fire struck his house in 1958 while he was filming Barbarian and the Geisha in Japan. She wrangled the press, hired teams of secretaries to handle the reams of mail pouring into his home daily, updated him on his mother’s health, holidays he was missing, his children’s accomplishments, and frankly lectured him when she felt a business associate was attempting to take advantage of him. She attended parties with Duke, expressed fears for his safety on faraway locations, occasionally moved into his house when he was traveling to care for his family, and she was right there during his cancer battle in 1962 and to help sort out financial setbacks.

Pilar Wayne and Mary St. John.

In other words, Mary St. John was dedicated not only to her job—she was dedicated to Duke himself and, by extension, his entire family. Indeed, all the Wayne family members who were around during her time in John Wayne’s orbit have particularly fond memories of Mary. Duke’s oldest surviving son, Patrick Wayne, for example, emphasized that “Mary was as dedicated to [Duke] as if they were related.” Pilar Wayne, John Wayne’s third wife and mother of three of his children, reminded that Mary St. John was her only attendant at her wedding to Duke in 1954 in Hawaii. She also reminded that Mary’s relationship during that era was, in fact, with the whole family. “To me, she was more like my mother,” Pilar said. 

A visitor to the John Wayne archives can contextualize these statements by reading letters Mary St. John wrote Duke over the years. A series of weekly letters, penned by Mary between October 11, 1957, and January 24, 1958, while Duke was filming in Japan and Mary was watching home and office for him illustrates the intimacy of their bond. Most feature a sign-off varying from “love” to “much love” to “love always.” Some are addressed to both Duke and Pilar, and contain as much personal discussion as office talk.

On Nov. 26, she happily reported that little daughter Aissa had “learned to say some colors like pink and green”; on Dec. 27, she thanked Duke and Pilar for sending her a Kimono from Japan and “for the lovely handbag and generous check that came my way;” on Dec. 11, she told Duke she was “in the dumps” because her “little dog ‘Punch’ ” had died from an intestinal infection, and she swore she would never get another dog. Then, on January 15, she told him the details of the fire at his house, and in a legendary tale, how the family dog, Blackie, woke Pilar and alerted her to get out of the house, averting a tragedy.

Wayne family pup “Blackie.”

“Thank God for little Blackie, as Pilar was sound asleep and had been for several hours,” she wrote. “We sure got that little dog a big, beautiful hunk of roast beef and all the coffee he wanted.”

But other letters involved heartfelt declarations of empathy for the burdens Duke had to bear. In February of 1957, she wrote to say she had “always approached your problems in a very personal way—as if they were my problems too. … My primary purpose in this job is to help solve as many of the problems that confront you as it is possible for me to solve.” That theme continued at the end of that year when, on Dec. 2, 1957, she wrote about how vexing it was for her to try to constantly evaluate who really needed his help compared to those who were trying to take advantage. “There seems to be very little I can do, except to be on the receiving end for all complaints that people want to write or cable you about (but seldom do),” she wrote. “They come in and talk to me about their beefs; I listen and try to figure out where the trouble really lies.” she explained.

Mary St. John finally retired in 1975, and Duke threw her a farewell bash at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. But she returned “to help out,” according to a note she wrote in Duke’s date book, on April 18, 1979, when he was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia as his health declined, just a couple months before his death. Then, according to what she told authors James S. Olson and Randy Roberts of “John Wayne: American,” she was among the last people to see John Wayne alive—visiting privately with him just three days before he passed away.

According to their book’s acknowledgments, Olson and Roberts tracked Mary St. John down in Kansas City where she had retired, and talked her into doing an extended interview for their book. They said the interview began at 9 a.m. one morning and didn’t end until 1 a.m. the next, and that Mary remained a source to them throughout their project after that. As near as I could tell, the only other journalist to interview her extensively about her time with Duke was Wayne Warga, the former L.A. Times and Life writer and book author who attempted to work with Duke on his biography in the mid 1970’s before Duke called the project off, as I documented in my book.

In handwritten notes that are part of a collection of his papers at the USC Doheny Library, Warga quotes St. John as insisting that Duke was “always involved with people and a sucker for the underdog.” Knowing him so well, she also explained Duke’s penchant for raising his voice that, St. John insisted, was often misinterpreted by those who did not know him well.

“People say he yells,” she told Warga. “What he does do, especially with me, is recreate his experiences of the day. He doesn’t tell his experiences as other people do. He relives them, and he puts all of himself into his dictation, peering at me over his glasses to see if got the full impact.”


Michael Goldman wrote the 2013 award-winning book that examined letters and documents from John Wayne’s personal archive—John Wayne: The Genuine Article. Goldman has authored six books about major media-related topics, legends, and institutions, including co-authoring a textbook on filmmaking, an acclaimed coffee-table book on director Clint Eastwood’s filmmaking techniques called Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work, an authoritative history of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and more. He has also written for acclaimed film journals like American Cinematographer, CineMontage, Millimeter, Post magazine, Variety, and consumer publications like the LA Times, Orange County Register, Philadelphia Inquirer and others. Goldman podcasts interviews with filmmakers monthly at the Studio Daily site in a series called Podcasts from the Front Lines. You can learn more about his work at his Website—www.hollywood-scribe.com

32nd Annual Odyssey Ball – John Wayne Cancer Institute Auxiliary

The Best is Yet to Come

March 25, 2017

Each spring, more than 500 people attend the John Wayne Cancer Institute Auxiliary’s largest gala fundraiser, the Odyssey Ball. This year’s event was held at the at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA and raised more than $700,000 to benefit the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in support of Cancer Research.

The auxiliary honors and celebrates members of the community and their efforts in the fight against cancer with “The Duke” Special Service Award and the “True Grit” Humanitarian Award.

This year internationally recognized medical oncologist Steven J. O’Day, MD, was honored with the “The Duke” Special Service Award. Steven is a Professor of Medical Oncology, Director of Immuno-Oncology and Director of Clinical Research at the John Wayne Cancer Institute. He is recognized as one of the preeminent melanoma specialists in the world. He provides expert clinical care while incorporating teaching and leading clinical research and has been at the forefront of new drug development in melanomas over the last two decades.

“It gives us great pleasure to celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of Dr. O’Day and his commitment to our mission,” said Patrick Wayne, chairman of the board at the Institute and son of the legendary actor John Wayne. “His worldwide collaborations and dedication to advance knowledge of melanoma cancer research and treatment embody all that ‘The Duke’ Special Service Award symbolizes.”

Multi-award-winning actor, producer and screenwriter Vince Vaughn received the “True Grit” Humanitarian Award. Vaughn dominated the screen in such hits as Wedding Crashers, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and, most recently, the Oscar nominated Hacksaw Ridge as well as True Detective, but Mr. Vaughn’s philanthropic work was honored with organizations ranging from Special Olympics to his ongoing dedication to working with veterans.

“The ‘True Grit’ Award was established to recognize individuals who embody the American values that were characteristic of John Wayne,” said Anita Swift, Auxiliary president and granddaughter of John Wayne. “We are honored to celebrate Vince Vaughn for his generosity, commitment and support of America’s servicemen and women.”

When Duke Met the Grunts

By Michael Goldman

When John Wayne arrived in Vietnam in the summer of 1966 to visit American troops at the height of the Vietnam War as part of a tour co-sponsored by the USO’s Hollywood Overseas Committee and the U.S. Department of Defense, he was still in the early phases of developing the 1968 feature film he would eventually direct and star in, The Green Berets. Although one of his goals was ostensibly to do research for a film project that would eventually go on to become controversial for breaking with the era’s cinematic habit of disapproving the Vietnam War, it quickly became clear that the tour held more meaning for Duke beyond his movie project.

Despite the fact that he had visited troops before, during USO and base visits, it offered him an opportunity to interact extensively with regular soldiers in the field during an active conflict in an informal way he had never been able to do previously. Indeed, a large percentage of his tour was spent in close quarters with so-called “grunts” (a slang term for military infantrymen), regular GI’s laboring in the trenches without much glamour or attention coming their way until the legendary John Wayne suddenly showed up. As Duke told the press when asked why he went to Vietnam, he said he wanted to bring the grunts a bit of relief. “If nothing else, [his visit] gave the kids something else to write home about,” he told Stars and Stripes. “Life is so monotonous over there that they have nothing to put in their letters.” In another article in the Valley News newspaper, he explained, “I cannot sing or dance, but I certainly can talk to the kids.”

But what Duke didn’t anticipate was how profoundly his time with the troops would impact him, as documents in the John Wayne Archives illustrate. If you read his correspondence from that era, it’s clear that the 1966 Vietnam trip was a life-changing experience for him.

Indeed, two years later, on January 10, 1968, Duke received a letter from Sargent Gilbert Mumfort of the Fourth Infantry Division, whom he had met during his Vietnam tour. It wasn’t all that unusual—dozens of GI’s corresponded with John Wayne following his trip. Sometimes, they just wanted to be in touch; sometimes, they had a favor to ask or wanted an autographed picture, and so on. In Mumford’s case, he simply wanted to report about the most recent combat experiences of his unit, the Fighting Apache Raiders. Mumford wrote that he hoped Duke might find time to write back, because it would “raise our spirits.”

John Wayne did, in fact, write back, just nine days later, on January 19. “I don’t think the Apache Raiders need any words from me to lift their spirits and moral,” he wrote. “But tell them that the letter from you fellows raised mine.”

The John Wayne Archives are filled with such handwritten letters and photos from GI’s in the field from that period, and copies of notes back from John Wayne. Sometimes, soldiers would just send Duke letters of appreciation for his visit, such as the undated letter from nine members of a rifle platoon calling themselves “Men of the 1st Squad.” That group sent him a simple note, thanking him “for what you have done for the men in Vietnam,” and calling him “one of us in the fight for freedom.”

Meanwhile, Duke always tried to honor reasonable requests, sign autographs, share anecdotes, and on at least one occasion, he sent cases of strawberry preserves from Knott’s Berry Farm to an entire unit. The gift giving went both ways, of course. On June 23, 1966, several field commanders signed a note to Duke in-country to commemorate a gift they had presented him, taken in furious combat a few days earlier—a Chinese Chicom Carbine Rifle, pulled out of a large cache of weapons from a North Vietnamese ship on June 20.

“Please accept the weapon as a token of our appreciation for your visit today and the many hours of enjoyment you have given us all at the cinema,” the commanders wrote.

Of course, the most famous gift Duke was given in Vietnam was the silver friendship bracelet presented by a Montagnard Strike Force unit, made up of indigenous Vietnamese soldiers. The bracelet was bent to fit his wrist, and he wore it for the rest of his life.

Naturally, Duke couldn’t accommodate every GI request. During the trip, he told some soldiers about plans to make the Green Berets, and a few of them thought that perhaps they could help. Captain John Welker of the 5th Special Forces Group was one of them, writing Duke on July 28, 1966, to reminisce about his time with Welker’s unit a month earlier. Captain Welker then took the liberty of “nominating myself for the position” of technical adviser on Green Berets. Duke wrote him back on August 10, pointing out that he had to get Pentagon approval for any Armed Forces advisor, and couldn’t even make a request until his script was finished. But, in typical John Wayne fashion, not wanting to lead the soldier along, Duke added a postscript in which he stated bluntly, “you’ll have to stand in line for that job. Everybody has asked for it.”

However, John Wayne was ever mindful that the grunts weren’t participating in a movie, and that their effort and sacrifice went far beyond what most people could possibly comprehend. Such understanding was never far from his thoughts, but if he needed a reminder, he got one when he received a letter in February of 1968 from a Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Carpenter of Youngstown, Ohio, informing him that their son, a Special Forces member whom Duke had met in Vietnam two years earlier, had been killed in action.

John Wayne wrote them an aching letter of condolence in reply.

“It’s most difficult to find the right words (if there are any) of sympathy and comfort,” he wrote. “But, as one parent to another, I am sure the fact that your son, in these days of irresponsibility on the part of so many young people, voluntarily joined the Special Forces, volunteered to do what he did, and did it very well apparently, must give you great pride. The weeks and months I spent in Vietnam and at Fort Benning filming the picture, The Green Berets, and working with many Green Beret trainees and veterans, brought me very close to them. They, like your son, are men whom all of us should be very proud.”


Michael Goldman wrote the 2013 award-winning book that examined letters and documents from John Wayne’s personal archive—John Wayne: The Genuine Article. Goldman has authored six books about major media-related topics, legends, and institutions, including co-authoring a textbook on filmmaking, an acclaimed coffee-table book on director Clint Eastwood’s filmmaking techniques called Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work, an authoritative history of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and more. He has also written for acclaimed film journals like American Cinematographer, CineMontage, Millimeter, Post magazine, Variety, and consumer publications like the LA Times, Orange County Register, Philadelphia Inquirer and others. Goldman podcasts interviews with filmmakers monthly at the Studio Daily site in a series called Podcasts from the Front Lines. You can learn more about his work at his Website—www.hollywood-scribe.com

Duke Salutes the Presidents–All of Them

By Michael Goldman

As we celebrate President’s Day, it’s reasonable to assume that John Wayne would appreciate the fact that the holiday commemorates the office of the president, not a single president’s life. Duke always expressed profound respect for the office, and enjoyed interactions and relationships with six Presidents—Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan, with whom he was dear friends, though he died just before Reagan finally won the office.

Although Duke was a Conservative Republican, it would be a mistake to assume it was only Republican presidents whom he interacted with. Ironically, despite his ideological leanings, John Wayne was bipartisan when it came to the presidency itself—he respected and supported whomever held the job.

Duke was first lured into politics when he campaigned for Eisenhower. In a draft for a speech he gave on the eve of Eisenhower’s 1956 inauguration, Duke argued in plain-spoken fashion for the former war hero’s bona-fides as the next president based, simply, on his management skills as “a value that can’t be fooled around with.”

JFK was the first Democratic president to receive Duke’s famous congratulatory telegram sent to a president he didn’t vote for—“congratulations from the loyal opposition.” Lyndon B. Johnson and Carter would receive similar telegrams in the future. He often criticized Kennedy as too liberal, and yet, when Kennedy was tragically killed, Duke was as devastated as any average American.

In a letter Duke wrote to journalist Wayne Warga that exists in the John Wayne Archives, shortly after JFK’s death, Duke wrote of the pain that millions were feeling. “You didn’t have to be a Kennedy fan to be decimated by his assassination,” he said. “John Kennedy could have been so very good—he was just beginning to realize his responsibilities.”

Duke certainly didn’t vote for Lyndon Johnson. He supported his friend, Barry Goldwater, whom Johnson beat in a landslide in 1964. Still, despite Johnson’s victory, John Wayne was an unabashed supporter of the president’s Vietnam War policies, and worked closely with Johnson’s team to research and plan the 1968 Vietnam film he directed, Green Berets—a project Duke hoped would help lift flagging public support for the war fighters.

But Nixon was his closest personal friend to take the presidency during his lifetime. Their relationship began when Nixon was Eisenhower’s Vice President before seeking the presidency in 1960. A letter from Nixon to Duke after Nixon failed to beat Kennedy that year notes that it was “courageous” of John Wayne “to take sides” in political campaigns as a public figure, since doing so could potentially cost him fans.

After Nixon later became president, the two frequently corresponded, with Duke offering support and advice on many subjects. As Watergate dawned, Duke at first wrote Nixon encouraging notes, including a telegram in December 1973 telling him “don’t give up the ship.” Nixon replied that Duke shouldn’t “believe the rumors” that he would resign. But when Nixon did quit, Duke was clearly disappointed over Watergate. In a 1974 speech, he waxed philosophical that while Watergate itself was “a mess” and “positively, absolutely, dead wrong,” and “some men abused power,” he was pleased to see that “the system works.”

Earlier that year, Duke sent President Gerald Ford a letter thanking him for showing the courage to pardon Nixon, stating, “many thanks for your respect and feelings for the human dignity of Mr. Nixon. It is a lonely road. Here’s one you can count on—John Wayne.” That began a warm relationship with Ford, often writing him about topics as mundane as his concerns about a beef shortage in 1975, and headlining a tribute dinner to Ford shortly after he left office. He campaigned for Ford to win a full term, but when that didn’t happen, perhaps Duke’s most unlikely Presidential relationship commenced—his friendship with Democrat Jimmy Carter.

When Carter defeated Ford and received his “loyal opposition” telegram from Duke, he wrote back, pointing out he was a lifelong John Wayne fan and asking Duke to perform at his pre-inaugural ball. To the surprise of many, he agreed and gave a moving speech in which he declared, “I’m pleased to be present and accounted for in this capital of freedom to witness history as it happens—to watch a common man accept the uncommon responsibility he won fair and square by stating his case to the American people, not by bloodshed, beheadings and riots at the palace gates.”

Duke went on to regularly correspond with Carter, usually to critique his policies. Duke played a central role in lobbying Republican Senators to help ratify the Panama Canal Treaties favored by Carter, a topic Duke felt strongly about, having done business in Panama over the years.

When that decision upset his friend, Ronald Reagan, who was preparing to run against Carter and opposed the treaty, a series of letters in the John Wayne Archives illustrate the depth of the passion of both men on the issue, but also regarding their friendship. When Reagan finally wrote that he was concerned the dispute might harm their relationship, Duke wrote back and told him “you know damned well I have great affection for you and Nancy.”

John Wayne didn’t live to see Reagan beat Carter. It might have been awkward anyway, since he was fond of both of them. Just before taking on Reagan, Carter periodically visited John Wayne in the hospital during his dying days as he fought cancer, and would eventually eulogize him emotionally to the nation. Duke’s love for Reagan, meanwhile, was well documented—their relationship dated back to their Screen Actor’s Guild days. Perhaps Carter and Reagan would have found common ground with millions of others, or never pursued the office themselves, if Duke had run for president himself. Students at the University of Dallas pushed the idea to “Draft John Wayne” in 1964 under the reasoning that “we need a president who can act.”

But John Wayne, characteristically, had no interest when those students wrote him with the suggestion that year. He wrote them back and told them simply, “I’d rather be right than President.”


Michael Goldman wrote the 2013 award-winning book that examined letters and documents from John Wayne’s personal archive—John Wayne: The Genuine Article. Goldman has authored six books about major media-related topics, legends, and institutions, including co-authoring a textbook on filmmaking, an acclaimed coffee-table book on director Clint Eastwood’s filmmaking techniques called Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work, an authoritative history of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and more. He has also written for acclaimed film journals like American Cinematographer, CineMontage, Millimeter, Post magazine, Variety, and consumer publications like the LA Times, Orange County Register, Philadelphia Inquirer and others. Goldman podcasts interviews with filmmakers monthly at the Studio Daily site in a series called Podcasts from the Front Lines. You can learn more about his work at his Website—www.hollywood-scribe.com

Interview with Curator – Laurie Kratochvil for “Hollywood and the American West”

John Wayne Enterprises and the John R. Hamilton Archives were proud to collaborate with photography veteran Laurie Kratochvil to bring the new photography Exhibition “Hollywood and the American West” to the public, currently on exhibition at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum from February 3 – May 14, 2017. This week John Wayne Enterprises sat down with curator Laurie Kratochvil to learn all her secrets in curating an exhibition.

JWE: What is your background in photography?

L. Kratochvil: My first experience with photography was in the 9th grade. I worked at Newport Beach, CA based “Road and Track” magazine as my after school job. I had the chance to observe how photographers worked with editors and how editors assigned stories. I fell in love with the personality of photography.

JWE: How has the appreciation of photography evolved since you started?

L. Kratochvil: It has evolved incredibly just in the last 40 years. When I first started photography, it was not really accepted as a fine art. Now, photography has become something you collect. There are art galleries and shows devoted to photography as well as million dollar sales for single prints. Recently, as in the last 5 years, people have become very interested in not only vintage prints but also the provenance of the print, whether it comes from a famous person, directly from the artist, or if it was in the archive of a well known magazine like Life or Look. Photography has become mainstream in some ways and high end in other ways. Everyone is able to access it now. The digital revolution has a lot to do with that.

JWE: How did you become involved in this exhibition?

L. Kratochvil: John Wayne Enterprises contacted me several years ago. They had recently acquired the analog archive of photographer John R. Hamilton and were interested in having somebody help pull it all together. I live in New York and they are located in California so I started traveling back and forth every couple of months, spending a week or two at a time going through the collection. My strategy was to pull the top 100 pictures I thought the public would want to see and get them in good condition. This photography had been sitting in John Hamilton’s files for years and many of the negatives had become scratched or had dirt on them. We did quite a bit of work to bring these 100 pictures back to their original condition. After cleaning and scanning them, we were interested in getting the work in the public eye. We participated in important shows such as Art Basel in Miami and a big show in Hollywood during Oscar week.

JWE: What was the inspiration for putting this exhibition together?

L. Kratochvil: When we first started working with the archive we were amazed at the breadth of John Hamilton’s work. He would go on movie sets and shoot the action scenes, or if he couldn’t shoot an action scene, he would capture scenery. The next day he might be shooting the stuntmen, or a stagecoach chase. As John worked on the movie sets he also became friends with some of the stars. John would get permission from his friends to photograph them at home. This variety of shots meant that John’s archives represent an incredible record of the American West through a Hollywood viewpoint. In going through the archives, Amy Shepherd at John Wayne Enterprises and the John Hamilton Collection and I realized the negatives showed “movie moments” vs. real situations and unique behind the scenes perspectives of the actors. These moments, combined with beautiful landscapes and portraits all came together to create a great show that we felt captured the making of an American Western.

 

JWE: Can you describe your process for curating an exhibition?

L. Kratochvil: When I first start looking at photographs I always feel a little overwhelmed. I start eliminating pictures that don’t peak my interest, selecting ones that do and laying them out on either a corkboard or a table. Then I begin sequencing them, leaving it up somewhere where I can observe it through out the day. Every time I walk by I may notice something new, or try a new combination. It is really a process of elimination.

One of the things I learned through working at magazines was a story needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The same thing needs to happen with an exhibit.

JWE: When you are curating an exhibition, what are you looking to show?

L. Kratochvil: I am looking to show the uniqueness or style of the photographer and the mystery or the uniqueness of the photography. In other words, what makes a photographer good, in my opinion, is what he sees and what he is able to capture in that moment. And when you have a good photographer, you have a consistency to capturing that moment. Now, you could say that the moment exists and the photographer simply captures it. Or you could say
that the photographer creates the moment. I think John did both but he had a way of capturing a moment that made people feel very comfortable. I want to try and pick the moment from his photographs that is the most personal, the most intimate, that says the most between two people. I am looking for emotion, for mystery, for intrigue.

JWE: Do you find it challenging to curate an exhibit when the photographer is no longer living?  What special steps do you take to honor the photographer and his vision?

L. Kratochvil: I think it is important to do your homework on the photographer. Fortunately, there is a lot of material on John Hamilton in the archive. When he wasn’t shooting he was putting together stories that he could submit to magazines or putting together books that he wanted to publish. Additionally, he also recorded what was going on at a shoot, how he got a picture, or what the circumstances of the shoot were. Being able to read his notes was very helpful in understanding how Hamilton felt about his work, and what he was hoping to show through his photographs.

It was also helpful that John was a strong editor of his own work. He printed many of what he considered his best pictures many different ways. That being said, over the years people’s interest change and we have also been able to find some real gems within his work that maybe he didn’t see the first time around.

JWE: Did curating Hollywood and the American West present any unique challenges?

L. Kratochvil: I often had to remind myself when looking at an image that what it was capturing was not “real” but instead, a movie scene! That was a unique thing about this exhibit. Also, I think mixing landscape and more traditional art photography with Hollywood portraits was a challenge. In the end, I was happy with how it all blended together because I think it all spoke to John as a photographer.

JWE: What would you like the public to take away from Hamilton’s work?

L. Kratochvil: For one thing, the unique period that John worked in. This was the golden age of cowboy movies. When they had a stagecoach going across the land and horses running behind it, that wasn’t digitally produced. It was real. It is wonderful that work has been documented both in film and through John’s photography. I think that is his legacy.

JWE: Are there any specific pieces in the exhibit that you want to highlight, or that you find personally moving?

L. Kratochvil: One of my absolute favorites was taken in what I believe is Monument Valley. It is just these lonely Hollywood fans sitting out in the middle of the American West. And, of course, the incredible panorama of John Ford in Monument Valley is an iconographic picture that everybody knows and is absolutely spectacular. I think the other one of my all time favorites is Kirk Douglas, standing in his “front yard”, which is his trailer that has been built by some of the crew, with a white picket fence and a little umbrella with a table. Finally, I really love the landscapes. The picture of the covered wagons going across the fields is incredible. It doesn’t get more American than that.

JWE: Why do you think Hamilton’s photos continue to resonate today, decades after his career?

L. Kratochvil: They are real and timeless moments. A lot of these pictures could have been taken yesterday. There is a black and white picture of John Wayne in the car that looks just like a family snapshot. It is not easy to get pictures that can resonate, have that much energy, are candid and also are a good photograph. I think John was able to capture that.

JWE: Can you talk about John R. Hamilton’s legacy and the impact of his work?

L. Kratochvil: John’s work lives on because it continues to resonate with people from all industries, including other photographers. Love of celebrity, love of the American West, and love of the American Dream has never changed. His themes, the types of things he was photographing, they connect with people just as they connected with people 50 years ago. A good photograph lasts and that is the true sign of a fantastic artist.


Laurie Kratochvil is a photography dealer and appraiser, as well as a consultant on visual projects that include magazines, books, the internet and film. She began her career at the Los Angeles Times as a photography editor and went on to work for numerous national publications before joining Rolling Stone Magazine in 1982. During her twelve years there as photo editor, Kratochvil saw the magazine win every major photography award including the National Magazine Award.While working for Rolling Stone, Kratochvil edited a number of books, including the New York Times best seller, Rolling Stone: The Photographs. She has curated several photography exhibitions in the United States and Europe: she has been a frequent panelist and lecturer, and has judged numerous photography competitions.

Kratochvil was the founding photography editor for In Style Magazine and worked there until 2005 before leaving to start her own visual consulting business, working with consumer magazines such as Self, O the Oprah Magazine, Bloomberg Personal, Men’s Health and Essence. In 2009 she was hired by Reader’s Digest Development to consult on new titles as well as the magazine’s international editions.

Kratochvil’s book projects include Africa by Herb Ritts, CUBA-Picturing Change by E. Wright Ledbetter, Mil Besos by Ruven Afanador, and Cyclops by Albert Watson, as well as Watson’s two-volume book on Las Vegas that was published in the fall of 2010. In 2011 she edited Pearls, Tears of the Sea. She recently completed work on another book with Ruven Afanador.

Kratochvil is a board member of The Society of Publication Design, a jury member of World Press, and a faculty member in the continuing education program at The International Center for Photography. A native of Newport Beach, CA, Kratochvil lives in New York City and Southold, New York.

Duke’s Pal, Ward Bond

By Michael Goldman

None of John Wayne’s show-business friendships were as enduring, or as entertaining, as the kinship he forged with two men he met around the same time—character actor Ward Bond and director John Ford. The trio hooked up when Ford, in 1929, hired both Duke and Bond, former teammates on the USC football team, along with other former football players, for small roles in a movie called Salute. Duke’s friendship with Ford has received most of the headlines over the years, but that’s possibly because it lasted longer. He was as close to Bond as any man he ever met, but unfortunately lost his buddy to a premature death at the age of 57 in 1960.

Various versions of how John Wayne’s relationship with Bond began have been told. The best known comes from Duke himself, as he wrote it in the unpublished, partial manuscript about his life.  In the manuscript, Duke wrote that Ford put him in charge of wrangling the football players Ford had hired for Salute. Duke wrote that he initially rejected Bond’s participation, because “he struck me as ugly and a potential discipline problem.” Ford found Bond’s unruly youthful nature to be pleasantly unpretentious, however, and hired him anyway.  Apparently Bond didn’t show up when the cast and crew were preparing to board a train for Los Angeles until the last minute.  Duke wrote of this instance that “the last player to arrive, an hour late, a dollar short, one pocket torn, and a gin bottle hanging out of the other, was Ward Bond.”

Basically, Bond drove John Wayne nuts on that trip—spending money irresponsibly, getting drunk, and disobeying rules. Ford, however, realized both Duke and Bond had honest, self-effacing natures, so he paired them together, hung out with both of them, and the trio eventually became inseparable. Duke wrote that Ford’s decision to have them room together was “his idea of a joke.” However, “over corn whiskey and a few nocturnal escapades, Ward and I became close personal friends, and that friendship lasted until the day Ward died, over thirty years later.”

It was also a professional collaboration—the two of them appeared together on screen in 22 movies and two television shows, starting with the long-forgotten Salute, but continuing into some of the most memorable projects of both of their careers, including Ford’s seminal The Searchers (1956), which made Duke into a permanent star.

Bond was also notable for his high-profile Conservative political activism that, from time to time, even had John Wayne—himself a rock-ribbed Republican icon—playfully teasing him about “being on his Communist kick again,” if letters in the John Wayne Archive are any indication. But that teasing is sort of the point—the friendship between the two men was so much deeper than a shared profession or shared ideological or political beliefs. Their brotherhood was built on genuine personal affection, some wild adventures, a humorous outlook on life, and genuine humanity.

Letters found in the archives are filled with playful ribbing between Wayne and Ford, poking fun at their beloved Bond. In one letter, Wayne joked that Bond had given up the sugar substitute saccharine because someone told him it was bad for his virility. In many of them were ongoing jests about Bond’s appearance—jokes that had been making the rounds almost since the time the two men first met.

Bond, of course, gave as good as he got over those years. In one way, he got the last laugh. In his will, he left John Wayne a shotgun as a permanent reminder of one of Duke’s biggest foul-ups. It was the same shotgun that Duke, years earlier, had borrowed on a hunting trip and accidentally used to shoot Bond in, yes, his butt. No significant damage was done, but Bond never let John Wayne forget it, even after his passing.

But for all the teasing, John Wayne was heartsick when Ward Bond died suddenly in a Dallas hotel room from a massive heart attack in 1960 just as he had rejuvenated his career as the star of the hit TV series, Wagon Train. He accompanied Bond’s body back from Dallas and took part in the ceremony-at-sea that preceded the disposing of Bond’s ashes into the ocean. In his eulogy, Duke was quoted as saying “we were the closest of friends, from school right on through. … He was a wonderful, generous, big-hearted man.”

In his biography manuscript, when talking about Bond, Duke went a lot further, making clear that he basically never stopped thinking about Ward Bond the rest of his life, even going so far as to fantasize about casting him in various movies when he read screenplays over the years that followed Bond’s death.

“When you lose a friend that close after so many years together, you realize you’ve reached the time of life when the ghosts surrounding you are some of the most significant people in your life,” Duke wrote in the manuscript during the 1970’s, not long before his own life would draw to a close. “Part of me knows he’s gone; another part automatically spots good parts for him. Instincts stay long after friends are gone.”


Michael Goldman wrote the 2013 award-winning book that examined letters and documents from John Wayne’s personal archive—John Wayne: The Genuine Article. Goldman has authored six books about major media-related topics, legends, and institutions, including co-authoring a textbook on filmmaking, an acclaimed coffee-table book on director Clint Eastwood’s filmmaking techniques called Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work, an authoritative history of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and more. He has also written for acclaimed film journals like American Cinematographer, CineMontage, Millimeter, Post magazine, Variety, and consumer publications like the LA Times, Orange County Register, Philadelphia Inquirer and others. Goldman podcasts interviews with filmmakers monthly at the Studio Daily site in a series called Podcasts from the Front Lines. You can learn more about his work at his Website—www.hollywood-scribe.com