John Wayne: Life and Legend Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of John Wayne: Life and Legend

This is the life story of movie legend and American icon, John Wayne. John Wayne died in 1978 but remains one of the biggest movie stars of all-time. A series of myths have grown over the years that obscure Wayne's remarkable career as an actor in films by two of the greatest directors of the Golden Age of Hollywood: John Ford and Howard Hawks. Biographer Scott Eyman does a good job separating fact from fiction and Wayne's political views from his movies. It was always the work that mattered most to the Duke.
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Marion (Duke) Morrison was born in Iowa but his family moved to Southern California to find the American dream. Their son certainly did. Eyman has done some fine research into Wayne's days as a student at USC and it turns out that he was more than just a football player. He was a good student, active in student government but very interested in the movies.

Director John Ford was one of Wayne's mentors and he told many different stories about his friend and protégé, many of which we not entirely true. Ford claimed to have given Wayne his big break when, in fact, Wayne's first big film role came in Raoul Walsh's 1930 Western, "The Big Trail". The movie flopped but Wayne had found his genre even though the actor disliked horses. He worked at Republic Studios throughout the 1930's churning out budget Westerns until Ford cast him in 1939's "Stagecoach." Wayne played the Ringo Kid in an ensemble that included Thomas Mitchell and Claire Trevor. It was not a huge part but it was memorable.

Wayne, however, did not immediately take advantage of the impact of "Stagecoach" and remained at Republic instead of moving to a larger studio. He did make some decent films with Marlene Dietrich during the 1940's including "Pittsburgh," and "The Spoliers." The two stars also had a torrid affair.

Wayne's decision not to serve in World War II initially caused a rift with John Ford. Some of the Duke's fans claim he stayed in Hollywood because he could better help the cause by making movies. Most people think he did so for career and family reasons: he had a bunch of kids and his career was just taking off. Eyman, and others, believe that guilt over this choice led to Wayne's jingoistic super patriotism during the Hollywood blacklist period.

The post war period was when Wayne's career took off. He worked with Howard Hawks on "Red River," a Western that established the prototypical Wayne character: a hard bitten, cranky older man who shot first and asked questions later. Wayne later played variations on this character in Hawks' "Rio Bravo" and "El Dorado."

John Ford was impressed by Wayne's work in "Red River." He is quoted as saying that he didn't know "the big SOB could act." That was typical Fordian hyperbole but he and Wayne made a string of classic films: "Fort Apache," "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon," "The Searchers," "The Quiet Man" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" to name but a few. These were not only some of the best films either Ford or Wayne made, but movies that are still watched and loved by film buffs.

Wayne's other movies were an undistinguished lot. He focused on Westerns, war pictures and cop films. He directed two bloated epics "The Alamo" and "The Green Berets" that were a mixed bag both commercially and artistically. Most of Wayne's movies, however, were big hits because audiences, especially men, loved his pictures. Wayne won an academy award for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit" and repeated the role opposite Katherine Hepburn a few years later.

Wayne became politically active after World War II. He was an ardent anti-communist who supported the Hollywood blacklist and the Vietnam War. He was a very controversial figure in the 1960's: an icon to the right and anathema to the left. In the end, it was not Wayne's politics that are most remembered: it is films.

John Wayne died in 1979, three years after making his final film, Don Siegel's "The Shootist."
Best part of story, including ending: It was a fascinating portrait of the golden age of Hollywood.

Best scene in story: The making of The Quiet Man in Ireland and how the movie people interacted with the Irish.

Opinion about the main character: John Wayne was a great movie star but I do not like his politics. In the end it's the work that matters the most to me.

The review of this Book prepared by Peter Athas a Level 3 Eurasian Jay scholar

Chapter Analysis of John Wayne: Life and Legend

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Plot & Themes

job/profession:    -   actor/actress Job/profession/poverty story    -   Yes Story of entertainer?    -   Movie Drama Actor Period of greatest activity?    -   1950+

Subject of Biography

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   actor/actress/producer Ethnicity    -   White Nationality    -   American


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   6 () United States    -   Yes The US:    -   California Century:    -   1930's-1950's

Writing Style

Book makes you feel?    -   thoughtful Pictures/Illustrations?    -   A lot 11-15 B&W How much dialogue in bio?    -   significantly more descript than dialog How much of bio focuses on most famous period of life?    -   76%-100% of book

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