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:
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:
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!
|John Wayne's birthplace|
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.
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.
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: