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John Wayne

John Wayne Fought A Constant Battle Behind The Scenes Of The Shootist

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John Wayne spent nearly 50 years as a working actor in Hollywood, from the no-budget poverty row westerns of the ’30s to ascendant, unprecedented stardom following his role in the 1939 John Ford classic “Stagecoach.” He brought his sometimes-warm, sometimes-hostile persona to a number of film genres, but he’s best associated with the western — after all, he was in many of the all-time greats. 

In his final western, 1976’s “The Shootist,” the nearly 70-year-old Wayne had visibly aged. He certainly couldn’t play characters like “The Ringo Kid” anymore. He couldn’t even play the cranky middle-aged character type he developed through much of the ’50s and ’60s, macho guys like Cole Thornton in Howard Hawks’ “El Dorado.” Even though he insisted on doing his own stunts for 1971’s “Big Jake,” there was a shift in his presence in his final years. “The Shootist” took advantage of that, using the shadow of the John Wayne legend to contrast against the sick, elderly human being, who had begun having heart problems and stomach cancer according to Scott Eyman’s biography “John Wayne: The Life and Legend.”

But there were other issues. “The Shootist” was a far cry from the kind of western Wayne liked to make, or thought he made. Like so many ’70s genre pictures, this would take the mythology of the past and subvert it. Don Siegel, the director, had big ideas for the movie. He and Wayne would not get along.

The legend

“The Shootist” begins with a veritable highlight reel of John Wayne westerns, as the bitter father figure of “Red River” and the beleaguered sheriff of “Rio Bravo.” This montage, full of classic John Wayne shootouts, effectively functions as backstory for the hero of this movie, J.B. Books. More importantly, it places “The Shootist” explicitly in a continuum of John Wayne movies, playing a more subdued take on the character against our memories of him. Neither he nor the filmmakers knew this would be his last western, but the montage makes it feel inevitable.

Coming from Don Siegel, the filmmaker who had revolutionized the “urban vigilante” genre with the “Dirty Harry” series, this movie would be tough, but with enough light and humor to prevent it from being a depressing slog. Wayne had expectations too and liked to craft characters of a similar type. According to Scott Eyman’s biography “John Wayne: The Life and Legend,” the actor liked to play characters who have “a little more good than bad in him.” It’s no wonder he almost walked away from playing Ethan Edwards in “The Searchers.”

For Wayne, J.B. was one such character. He has a tough hide, a violent past, but a tenderness that emerges in unlikely scenarios. When the old shootist, privately sick with cancer, ambles into turn-of-the-century Carson City, Nevada, he’s an easy target. Aspiring gunmen vie for the chance to take on a legend.

Behind the scenes, that would be Don Siegel’s job.

Script changes

According to “Duke: The Life and Times of John Wayne,” his contract gave him final script approval for “The Shootist.”

John Wayne could be demanding and dismissive behind the scenes. His decades in the business gave him experience and authority enough to know how to give the audiences what they wanted. He was protective of his image, evidenced by the control he exerted on 1969’s “True Grit,” which partly led to Mia Farrow’s departure from the movie. 

For “The Shootist,” he wanted changes from Glendon Swarthout’s original novel and the original draft of the screenplay. According to Scott Eyman, Wayne mostly took issue with the climax. The movie’s relaxed pace gives room for Books to ruminate on his life, befriending young adult farmhand Gillom (Ron Howard) and his widowed mother (Lauren Bacall).

Wayne’s image changed the ending

By the movie’s end, his identity has been uncovered and many young gunmen are descending on the town. In the book, he takes out his assailants in a saloon, shooting one of them in the back before getting shot by the bartender. Now fatally wounded, he looks to Gillom to take him out of his misery.

Wayne didn’t like shooting someone in the back, as it would look dishonorable. Nor did he like good guy Gillom performing an execution. Per Eyman, these factors led to him demanding and receiving script rewrites, the better to maintain his image. The movie would not have Books shooting anyone in the back, and Gillom would instead shoot the bartender responsible for Books’ death.

Take after takeBesides taking charge of the narrative direction of the movie, John Wayne also just didn’t like working with Don Siegel. Wayne had worked with some of the all-time American auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford, as well as studio masters like Henry Hathaway. There was a slight generation gap between him and Siegel, best exemplified by the differences in Siegel’s frequent lead actors Clint Eastwood and Wayne. 

As Videomaker puts it, John Ford rarely did more than one take, and he liked the raw emotion and improvised dialogue that could come from it. The legendary director worked with Wayne over a dozen times (and on one uncredited television collaboration), effectively training Wayne on the art of filmmaking. Meanwhile, Siegel had come up in television, learning how to negotiate multiple camera setups to get coverage of a scene, and following the script to the letter.

Per Scott Eyman, Siegel would demand take after take from the ailing Wayne, once even getting into an argument with the actor and his scene partner James Stewart (playing the town doctor). Because Stewart had a hard time hearing his cues, he threw off Wayne’s timing, causing the director to get frustrated.

Wayne flares up“The Shootist” author Glendon Swarthout would be quoted in Scott Eyman’s book as saying that Siegel “had a short man’s complex” and “was a bit of a martinet.” And as future director Ron Howard would recall to Eyman, Wayne had a number of “flare-ups.”

Wayne’s biggest flare-up was not due to any particularly demanding bit of direction from Siegel. It didn’t involve being asked to do more takes than he could manage and it didn’t have much to do with the story. Wayne just couldn’t abide a particular camera setup. According to Howard, while shooting a scene in a barn, Wayne noticed the location of the camera: sitting in a bale of hay, pointed directly upward at him. Besides being an unflattering angle that would capture his nose and jowls, it was an ostentatious angle that drew attention to itself. He silently signaled for the camera operator to move the camera up, and then loudly told him to. Then he growled at Siegel to finally do the scene.

Besides that, Howard claimed they kept it professional until the end of the shoot. “They never kissed and made up, but both of them respected the work.” Wayne might have grumbled and fought for control of the story (as well as the camera angles), but he and Siegel made an excellent film together. The union of director and star was contentious, but ultimately fruitful, as “The Shootist” is a touching elegy to a long-gone version of the Old West.

John Wayne

”The Shootist”: John Wayne put all his heart into the final movie.

John Wayne. What can you say about him? Whether you enjoy the man’s work or not, there’s no denying that he has made a massive impact on film history and pop culture. But even as a fan, I can’t defend every aspect of the Duke, like the guy’s acting. I can’t think of anyone who’s watched a John Wayne film for his acting chops.

The man was more known for his screen persona than his acting abilities, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have some good advice on acting.There are, however, a couple of films in which Duke pull off a pretty good performance . There’s his iconic role as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers (1956) where he played a cold-hearted and cynical war veteran searching for his niece.

Then there’s his Oscar-winning performance as the one-eyed, fat, drunken Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn in True Grit (1969). But in this column, I’m going to talk about his last performance in a feature film :Тһе Տһootıѕt (1976), directed by Don Siegel.Based on the Glendon Swarthout novel of the same name, the film tells the story of an aging gunfighter named JB Books, played by Duke, who at the dawn of the 20th century finds out he has terminal cancer.

Per this news, he decided to try and spend his final days in peace. But as rumors spread about him through the tiny town of Carson City, Nevada, more people want to get a piece of him. It eventually climaxes with Books realizing that he’ll never escape his past and going out the only way he knows how.Before I go on about John Wayne in the film, I have to talk about the rest of the cast.

This film boasts an all-star ensemble, many of whom took the role purely as a favor to Wayne. There’s Dr. Hostetler (James Stewart) who delivers the bad news to Books about his health and becomes a closer friend throughout the film. “You know, Books,” he says, “I’m not an especially brave man. But, if I were you and had lived my entire life the way you have, I don’t think that the ԁеаtһ I just described to you is the one I would choose.

Then there’s the late, great Lauren Bacall as the widowed boarding house owner Bond Rogers and Oscar-winning director Ron Howard as her wide-eyed idolizing son. The film also features a slew of great TV and Western legends — Richard Boone as the vengeance seeking Mike Sweeney, John Carradine as the town’s undertaker Hezekiah Beckum, Bill McKinney as the ill-tempered Jay Cobb, Scatman Crothers as the liver-stable owner Moses Brown, and Harry Morgan as the fast-talking and loud Marshal Thibido.

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John Wayne

The reason John Wayne is labeled as ‘Draft Dodger’ by the audience in World War II.

Around the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Wayne was not the big-name actor we remember him being today. He was fresh off the box-office success of the 1939 film “Stagecoach.” According to author Garry Wills’ 1998 book, “John Wayne’ America: the Politics of Celebrity,” the actor received a chorus of boos when he walked onto the USO stages in Australia and the Pacific Islands. Those audiences were filled with combat veterans. Wayne, in his mid-30s, was not one of them.

Being drafted or enlisting was going to have a serious impact on his rising star. Depending on how long the ԝаr lasted, Wayne reportedly worried he might be too old to be a leading man when he came home.Other actors, both well-established and rising in fame, rushed off to do their part. Clark Gable joined the Army Air Forces and, despite the studios’ efforts to get him into a motion picture unit, served as an aerial ɡսոոеr over Europe. Jimmy Stewart was initially ineligible for the draft, given his low weight, but like some amazing version of Captain America, he drank beer until he qualified.

In his 2014 book, “American Titan: Searching for John Wayne,” author Marc Eliot alleges Wayne was having an affair with actress Marlene Dietrich. He says the possibility of losing this relationship was the real reason Wayne didn’t want to go to ԝаr.

But even Dietrich would do her part, smuggling Jewish people out of Europe, entertaining troops on the front lines (she crossed into Germany alongside Gen. George S. Patton) and maybe even being an operative for the Office of Strategic Services.Wayne never enlisted and even filed for a 3-A draft deferment, which meant that if the sole provider for a family of four were drafted, it would cause his family undue hardship. The closest he would ever come to Worւԁ Wаr II service would be portraying the actions of others on the silver screen.

With his leading man competition fighting the ԝаr and out of the way, Wayne became Hollywood’s top leading man. During the ԝаr, Wayne starred in a number of western films as well as Worւԁ Wаr II movies, including 1942’s “Flying Tigers” and 1944’s “The Fighting Seabees.” According to Eliot, Wayne told friends the best thing he could do for the ԝаr was make movies to support the troops. Eventually, the government agreed.

At one point during the ԝаr, the need for more men in uniform caused the U.S. military brass to change Wayne’s draft status to 1-A, fit for duty. But Hollywood studios intervened on his behalf, arguing that the actor’s star power was a boon for ԝаrtime propaganda and the morale of the troops. He was given a special 2-A status, which back then meant he was deferred in “support of national interest.”

The decision not to serve or to avoid it entirely (depending on how you look at the actor) haunted Wayne for the rest of his life. His third wife, Pilar Wayne, says he became a “super-patriot for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying at home.”After the ԝаr, he made a number of films set in Worւԁ Wаr II, including some of his most famous, like “The Longest Day,” “They Were Expendable” and “Sands of Iwo Jima.”

When actor John Wayne visited American soldiers in Vietnam in the summer of 1966, he was warmly welcomed. As he spoke to groups and individuals, he was presented gifts and letters from American and South Vietnamese troops alike. This was not the case during his USO tours in 1942 and ’43. Despite his post-ԝаr patriotism, many labeled Wayne a draft dodger for the rest of his life. He succumbed to stomach cancer in 1979. His enduring influence on American media and the perception of American fighting men led President Jimmy Carter to award Wayne the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1980

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John Wayne

The meaning of the phrase that John Wayne requested to be engraved on his tombstone.

John Wayne lived his life exactly the way he saw fit, right down till the very end. It’s why his tombstone features an odd, but honest message.In 1979, Wayne’s days were unfortunately numbered. He had last appeared in a film three years prior in The Shootist, and after overcoming lung cancer in the mid-1960s, his bout with stomach cancer was proving to be his ultimate killer.

When making final preparations, John Wayne requested a specific phrase in Spanish to be engraved on his tombstone. The tombstone, to this day, reads, “Feo, Fuerte y Formal.”The phrase means “ugly, strong, and dignified.” We couldn’t think of anything that better fits John Wayne if we tried.

However, that isn’t the only thing that’s transcribed on the acting legend’s tombstone. In 1999, the grave was marked with a quote:“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”

John Wayne Converted to Catholicism Late in Life

The 72-year-old acting legend was going through a journey in his final days. Years later, his grandson and Catholic priest, Matthew Muñoz, discussed his grandfather’s transition to Roman Catholicism as he struggled with cancer.“My grandmother, Josephine Wayne Saenz, had a wonderful influence on his life and introduced him to the Catholic world,” said 46-year-old Fr. Muñoz, a priest of the Diocese of Orange. “He was constantly at Church events and fundraisers that she was always dragging him to and I think that, after a while, he kind of got a sense that the common secular vision of what Catholics are and what his own experience actually was, were becoming two greatly different things.”

Further, Muñoz added that his grandfather converting to Catholocism “was one of the sentiment he expressed before he passed on”. The Catholic priest said his grandfather blamed the delay on “a busy life.”According to his grandson, Wayne was a spiritual and Christian man throughout life. This is best evidenced through his written prayers.“He wrote beautiful love letters to God, and they were prayers. And they were very childlike and they were very simple but also very profound at the same time,” Fr. Muñoz said. “And sometimes that simplicity was looked at as naivety but I think there was a profound wisdom in his simplicity.”

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