Friday, May 25, 2012


Memorial Day is a time for remembering heroes, especially those who fought for our freedom. But here are two special heroes, two real Men of The West, John Wayne and my dad. Many western authors are honoring John Wayne this weekend. I can't be certain, but I don't think anyone else is featuring my dad. Unlikely as it seems, I discovered they had several things in common. Each smoked way too much and it contributed to his death, neither served in the armed services, each lived a part of his life in California, and both loved westerns. One other thing they have in common is May 26th: One came into the world on that day, and one departed on that date.

First, My Dad: 

My Dad
Who was your first hero? Mine was my dad, Pearson Madison Johnson. May 26 marks the anniversary of his death. He was a chain smoker from the age of fourteen, and died from emphysema complicated by a stroke. Other than smoking, I don’t believe he had any bad habits...except some might call a fault the fact that he loved a good debate.And I do mean he loved to debate. He was a debater in school, back when there were debate competitions.

But that's appropriate. Daddy was named after a lawyer who was a friend to my grandparents. Had he been able to attend university, I believe my dad would have become a professor or lawyer. He loved to debate, and would argue a point endlessly. My brother in law, Buster, said he left the room once when my dad and half-brother Herschel were arguing. When Buster returned, he swears they’d switched sides and were just as adamant. Sounds crazy, but I believe him. Haven't I seen it happen?

Daddy was in his fifties when I was born to he and my mom. When they met, my dad was a widower a generation older than my mom and had four children. My mom was in her mid twenties. Daddy’s eldest son was actually a couple of years older than my mom, so I’m certain that seemed weird to everyone. Still does, in fact.

I asked my mom how she even met a man 23 years older than she was and started dating him. She said they met on Christmas Eve. My mom had accompanied her mother and step-father into town to buy groceries. Mr. Davis, a man she had occasionally dated but only liked as a friend, asked her if she was attending a party at the home of a mutual acquaintance. She said she had no way to get home. Mr. Davis invited her to ride with him and offered to take her home afterwards.

My dad had been talking to Mr. Davis when my mom and her parents went by. Uninvited, my dad said, “I believe I’ll just ride along with you.” The car was a coupe with only one seat, so three people were crowded. At the end of the evening, when Daddy got out and held the door so Mother could exit the car, he said, “Now I know where you live, and I’ll be coming to call.” Doesn't that sound old-fashioned and courtly? Obviously my mom thought so.They were married the following February, and I was born three years later. I think theirs is a romantic story.

Here’s are a couple of quotes from my dad:

When you cheat, you cheat yourself.”

"You are only as good as your word."

My dad was and still is my first hero. My dad thought highly of my Hero husband. I'm lucky to have two heroes in my life!

And John Wayne:

John Wayne
Who hasn’t watched a John Wayne movie? Wayne admitted, “I play John Wayne in every picture regardless of the character, and I've been doing all right, haven't I?”

 He also said, “When I started, I knew I was no actor and I went to work on this Wayne thing. It was as deliberate a projection as you'll ever see. I figured I needed a gimmick, so I dreamed up the drawl, the squint and a way of moving meant to suggest that I wasn't looking for trouble but would just as soon throw a bottle at your head as not. I practiced in front of a mirror.”

Even though he died 11 June 1979 from cancer, he consistently appears on lists of favorite movie actors in the United States and United Kingdom. His movies are still available on DVD, Netflix and other movie streams, and are re-shown on television. At six feet four inches, he was a large man who still looms larger than life in reputation. Sixteen years after his death, a 1995 Harris poll cited him as America's favorite movie star. Not one of the favorites, but THE FAVORITE!

Movie Poster

While I do not agree with his ulta-conservative or racist politics, he starred in several of my favorite movies. My number one favorite John Wayne movie is “The Quiet Man,” which Hero and I have watched so many times we know all the dialogue. I know, it's not a western, but bear with me. Released in 1952, this movie was a family affair for Wayne. His children - eighteen year old Michael, sixteen year old Mary Antonia “Toni”, thirteen year old Patrick, and twelve year old Melinda - had bit parts in the race scene.Patrick even had a line,. The movie was a family affair for others in the movie. Maureen O’Hara’s brother, James Lilburn, starred as the younger priest. Barry Fitzgerald and his brother James Shields (the Anglican minister) were in the cast. Wayne's good friend Ward Bond played the senior priest and his friend Victor McLaglen played "Red" Will Danaher. John Ford's brother Francis also played a part in the film, that of frail Dan Tobin.The movie received seven Academy Award Nominations and won two. By the way, Hero and I had breakfast at the Irish Bed and Breakfast where Maureen O'Hara stayed during the filming of "The Quiet Man." (I just had to throw that in because she is one of my favorite actresses and Ireland is one of my favorite vacation destinations.)

Back to John Wayne's westerns, all of which I enjoyed. “North to Alaska ” was a fun movie, and “McClintock” was another in which Maureen O’Hara co-starred with Wayne.  They co-starred in five movies. I also enjoyed his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” for which he won an Academy Award. Accepting the award, he said if he'd'd known wearing an eye patch would have done it, he'd have worn one sooner. One of his so-called B westerns I loved and still like which never receives mention was “Three Godfathers.”

John Wayne's birthplace
John Wayne was born Marion Morrison in Winterset, Iowa on 26 May 1907, the son of pharmacist Clyde Morrison and his wife Mary. He was of Scots-Irish and Scottish descent on both sides of his family, and he was brought up as a Presbyterian. Clyde developed a lung condition that required him to move his family from Iowa to the warmer climate of southern California, where they tried ranching in the Mojave Desert. (What were they thinking? A pharmacist ranching in the Mojave Desert?)

When the ranch failed (Told you!.), the family moved to Glendale, California, where Marion delivered medicines for his father, sold newspapers, and had an Airedale dog named "Duke" (the source of his own nickname). He did well at school both academically and in football. He narrowly failed admission to Annapolis and he went to the University of Southern California on a football scholarship 1925-7, where he majored in pre-law.

Tom Mix got him a summer job as a prop man in exchange for football tickets. On the set he became friends with director John Ford for whom, among others, he began doing bit parts. His first featured film was “Men Without Women” in 1930.

After more than 70 low-budget westerns and adventures, Wayne's career was stuck in a rut. But then John Ford cast John Wayne in “Stagecoach” in 1939. That movie made John Wayne a star. It won 2 Academy Awards and was nominated for five more.
John Wayne's favorite of his western movies was his portrayal of Ethan Edwards in "The Searchers." He named one of his sons Ethan after the character in that movie. Certainly it's a movie I remember having a great impact on me.

He appeared in nearly 250 movies, many of epic proportions. John Wayne holds the record for leading roles, starring as lead in 142 movies.

Here are some John Wayne quotes:

Westerns are closer to art than anything else in the motion picture business.”

His westerns were full of action but usually not excessively violent. "Fights with too much violence are dull," claimed Wayne, insisting that the straight-shooting, two-fisted violence in his movies have been "sort of tongue-in-cheek." He described the violence in his films as "lusty and a little humorous," based on his belief that "humor nullifies violence."

About the low morals of some movies, he said, “I read someplace that I used to make B-pictures. Hell, they were a lot farther down the alphabet than that . . . but not as far down as R and X.”

The West - the very words go straight to that place of the heart where Americans feel the spirit of pride in their western heritage - the triumph of personal courage over any obstacle, whether nature or man.”

A man's got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.”

When the road looks rough ahead, remember the Man Upstairs and the word Hope. Hang onto both and tough it out.”

Happy Birthday, John Wayne!

Appropriate to this weekend, here’s a video of John Wayne explaining Taps:

Have a safe Memorial Weekend. 

Thanks for stopping by!


Bookie said...

What a lovely post! I loved meeting your dad, a handsome man. His cheekbones and sensitive mouth are almost too pretty for a man!
I live John Wayne and also find Quiet Man a favorite. Have my own copy...might get a chance to watch it "again" this weekend. Have nice holiday days yourself.

Bly Books said...

Enjoyed this article very much!
Janet Chester Bly

Celia Yeary said...

Thanks, Caroline--of the two men, I liked the story about your dad the most. You certainly had an interesting family--and no wonder you're so literary and creative.
He does sound like a true American hero--thanks for sharing with us. Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend--rest up, loll around, and fix up some great American food.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Your Dad is adorable. He sounded like my granddad. He saw my grandma walk by as he was having his shoes shined and told the guy working on the shine he was going to marry that girl. He did a few weeks later. I guess they didn't have much patience in those days. Thank you for sharing your memories. I know I could go on and on about how wonderful my Dad was. He was my No. 1 hero always.

It was fun reading the facts on John Wayne. He definitely gave the persona of being larger than life. I think McClintock is my favorite. He and Maureen O'Hara definitely had chemistry together.

Virginia C said...

Hey, Caroline! Thank you for another fabulous post! I love the picture of your dad--those eyes : )

I am watching John Wayne movies today. Just watched "The Green Berets", and I am now watching "Angel and the Badman". I wish "The Quiet Man" was coming on too--it's one of my favorite movies of all time. Does it get any better than John Wayne teamed with Maureen O'Hara?

Have a great weekend!

S. L. Rowland said...

Your dad sounds charming. I can see why he's your hero.
And thanks for sharing John Wayne.
They just don't make men like that often.

And that's why we write romance.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Caroline, your dad and my dad would've had a great time debating. He's another one who could switch sides just to keep things going. I loved the excitement of it all. Then there was my mother, who sat there quietly, later correcting him. LOL.

My favorite quote from my dad: "If you don't have the facts, make up a statistic. That's what the politicians do."

Patty said...

I love the story about your father and mother. That really is sweet!