Book review: John Wayne biography examines actor's work, patriotism

Book Review: “John Wayne: The Life and Legend” by Scott Eyman is due out this week.
by Ed Godfrey Published: March 30, 2014
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“John Wayne: The Life and Legend” by Scott Eyman (Simon and Schuster, 577 pages, April 1)

My first visit to a movie theater was to see “True Grit.”

I was 9 years old and my parents agreed to let my oldest brother, James, escort me on the 10-block walk from our little house behind the Enco gas station to the Time Theater in Stigler to watch the newest John Wayne flick that everyone was talking about.

I don’t remember a lot about being 9, but I remember that night, watching as Rooster Cogburn, that one-eyed fat man as Robert Duvall called him, took the reins by his teeth and charged the Lucky Ned Pepper gang with guns a-blazing.

Several months later on Oscar night, I begged my parents to let me stay up and watch television until the gold statue for best actor was awarded. I needed to make sure the right thing would be done, and John Wayne was going to win.

I am 54 now, and my wife can decorate our house however she wants, but the one thing I insist on is the charcoal sketch of John Wayne that hangs above the fireplace. She is not particularly fond of it, but I stand my ground on this.

Every year at Christmas, a John Wayne ornament goes on top of our tree. I tell my daughters the Christmas tree deserves a real star on top of it.

There are plenty of guys like me still around, boys who grew up wishing to be John Wayne, which is why film historian Scott Eyman’s new biography on the Duke will likely be a best-seller.

John Wayne died more than 30 years ago but remains a favorite movie star.

Eyman’s biography is the best yet on Wayne. Eyman previously published a biography on legendary movie director John Ford, the man most responsible for Wayne’s film career.

Well-researched, Eyman’s book is a sympathetic treatment of Wayne but far from hero worship.

The book examines Wayne’s three failed marriages and his decision not to serve in World War II when other prominent actors did, leaving Wayne with guilt for the rest of his life.

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by Ed Godfrey
Reporter Sr.
Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more...
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