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Stefan Kanfer
Portrait of a Western Man « Back to Story

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One of Wayne's critics offers:

"This false glorification does great disservice to Jimmy Stewart, Gene Autry, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Red Skelton, Robert Montgomery, John Ford, and thousands of unnamed gaffers, best boys, editors, and technicians who actually fought and died defending the free world from the Axis."

Leslie Howard had World War I service, not World War II service (and had no children at the time and was mustered out early); Stewart, Autry, Gable, and Skelton had no dependent children during the war; John Ford was employed by the military to make documentaries; he was present at battles but in non-combat positions.

Manchester's commentary.
"They booed him off the stage, reported Manchester, because they regarded him as phony-tough. "

Here's one quotation:

Does it strike you as odd that the 23 year old Manchester would have in 1945 derived 'enormous pleasure' from seeing John Wayne 'humiliated'? At the time this supposedly happened, Wayne had been making motion pictures for 19 years. He had over 100 films to his credit, but had made but three war films. One of these would have been released just weeks before the end of the war, around the time Manchester was wounded at Okinawa. Had Manchester seen it? In his previous war film, he played the boss of a construction unit, not a combat soldier. The man they were booing made westerns, not war films.
Correction, "March 1948 to January 1973" re the era of conscription.


One other thing: you list three actors who enlisted: Jimmy Stewart, Tyrone Power, and Clark Gable. None of these men had dependent children during the war, Power was seven years younger than Wayne, and Stewart remained a bachelor until 1946; Wayne would have required a release signed by his wife 'ere he could be inducted.

One thing to note. During the period running from 1940 to 1945, there were roughly 30 million men of an age to have enlisted (i.e. born between Sept. 1895 and Sept. 1927). About 10 million were conscripted. About 6 million of the remainder enlisted in the Army or Navy or enlisted in the Guard or Reserves (modally the reserves); about 400,000 had been in the Regular forces prior to the war. Wayne's response to his situation was the mode at the time.
On Wayne's service record:

At the time conscription was instituted in Sept. 1940 he was 33 years old and had three children with a fourth due shortly. Men with dependent children were exempt from conscription at that time, and exemption not suspended until the fall of 1943. During the entire time conscription was in effect (Sept. 1940 - March 1947, March 1948 - January 1943), the period running from the fall of 1943 to the fall of 1945 was the only one where men with dependent children were routinely drafted. At the time the exemption was suspended, Wayne had passed his 36th birthday and was beyond the age of conscription.

"The John Birch Society endorses the U.S. Constitution as the foundation of our national government, and works toward educating and activating Americans to abide by the original intent of the Founding Fathers. We seek to awaken a sleeping and apathetic people concerning the designs of those who are working to destroy our constitutional Republic."

It seems to me the far-rightness is in the eye of the beholder, Mr Kanfer.
people often wondered what Maureen Ohare whispered in Dukes ear at the ending of the Quite Man.John Ford was just wrapping up the film and it left John and Maureen standing next to the house in a field,Ford said to Maureen"go say something sexy to John" she ran over and whispered in his ear"lets go back in the house and ill screw your brains out"and she didnt say screw,watch Dukes reaction when you next see the film.priceless,,
Yeah, it was an act but it was beautiful act. He portrayed everything we thought we were and will never be again. You say he had warts? We don't care. RIP Big John.
John Wayne was just an actor who loved America. But he was a very talented actor who did more than Westerns. He acted a Swede in John Ford's THE LONG VOYAGE HOME; he was talented at adventure and light comedy. I still enjoy seeing his films after all these years. THE QUIET MAN is beautifully filmed and John Wayne captures the longing of an Irish-American for his ancestral homeland and for love. THE QUIET MAN remains a funny, charming and entertaining film. And of course there are the great westerns: STAGECOACH, THREE GODFATHERS, The Cavalry Trilogy, The Searchers, Red River, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, True Grit,The Shootist. And one cannot forget his sturdy and sometimes near great war films: The Longest Day, They were Expendable, Flying Leathernecks, The Sands of Iwo Jima. Of course, John Wayne made many other entertaining films which if not great were good entertainment and more importantly were always family friendly fare. Yes, John Wayne's world was a world of proud American patriotism and the old virtues, the "Cowboy Code" if you will. And the public understood that and loved him for that and continue to love him for it. John Wayne, in the end, was just a talented actor. He was an imperfect man and an imperfect husband and father. But he was deeply beloved and respected by those who knew him. I never met him myself but my cousin met him when he came to speak at her Junior College in California in the 1960's. She said he was a very interesting, kind and personable man. He was witty and generous. He handed out autographed picture cards to his fans (he always carried a batch) and he took the time to talk to the young students at the table in the cafeteria and to encourage them in their studies. My cousin liked John Wayne before and now, almost 50 years later she loves and reveres him. He remain her favorite actor of all time. As for myself, I came of age near the end of his film career so I only saw a few of his movies in the cinemas; such as The Longest Day, The Green Berets and True Grit. I saw most of his films on television, HBO, or VHS tapes or DVD's. I saw them with my father and I saw them with my son. And one thing I can tell you is John Wayne appeals to all generations. And the reason is simple: John Wayne was a man, an American man who represented the strength and virtues as well as the endearing foibles of Americans. But above all was a great entertainer. He was an interesting performer. He made anything he did better and more memorable even the GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD -which left an indelible impression on my son who was astonished to see John Wayne, all of a sudden, in a biblical epic. And in the end the "Centurion" was one of the most memorable cameos of the film. Now that is real star power and John Wayne had it.
Barton B. Mac Leod May 10, 2014 at 10:18 AM
I had the pleasure of working with John Wayne .. Barton B. MacLeod
I read the book and very much enjoyed it and after reading this review which doesn't do justice to the whole book it's sad. My father served in WW2 and loved John Wayne. It's funny how so many actors like Colleen Dewhurst, Lauren Bacall,Katharine Hepburn etc. adored him. I have no Idea who Stefan Kanfer is but this book did not leave anything out and the hatred for him because of his politics always seem to sway certain books about him. This book seems to be right in the middle.
Historian William Manchester was among a group of wounded, convalescent combat veterans when John Wayne showed up to entertain them dressed in his cowboy clothes. They booed him off the stage, reported Manchester, because they regarded him as phony-tough.
Airbrushing much? Wayne was right about the Communist infiltration of the US government, as distasteful as the Birchers may have been. That he shirked military service in wartime was his cowardice, laziness, or hubristic folly in believing he should be inducted as a General.

Still, Wayne's larger-than-life screen persona served America well as a manly figure for boys to look up to; as a moral, dutiful, albeit conflicted one for men to emulate; and, as a strong and playful or good yet gruff alpha male for women to respect. His ugly, strong and dignified swagger not only worked for mid-century America, his legacy as a one-off stand-alone character still resonates as the archetypal determined individual pitted against outside forces.

Best about the phenomenon of Wayne the actor and man is that, while no one would canonize him, he is not thought of as having been attracted to the dark side of human nature. In his life and work, he never exuded or exalted evil, and instead revealed the sins, flaws, and blindspots Everyman should face.