From a book authorized by John Wayne Enterprises, you certainly can't expect a warts-and-all expose of a big, rambunctious, politically conservative movie icon who stomped on more than a few toes in liberal Hollywood during his storied career.
And with the lushly produced, highly entertaining and baldly celebratory “John Wayne: The Legend and the Man” (powerHouse Books, $45), there are no flies on the Duke's stellar image — only 272 pages of fan mail, publicity stills, backstage photos, telegrams, images of numerous medals and testimonials amassed by Wayne (the former Marion Morrison) during a fabled acting career that spanned six decades and established “The Duke” as Americans' reigning he-man icon.
Fitting of the oft-quoted line from John Ford's “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (in which Wayne co-starred with James Stewart), “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Wayne indeed was a legendary figure who transcended mere movie stardom.
His range of movie appearances alone is stunning — some 172 titles, according to IMDB, ranging from 1926's unaccredited turn as a football player in “Brown of Harvard” to his autumnal appearance as a dying gunman in 1976's “The Shootist.” Wayne died at age 72 in 1979.
In his time, he worked with some of the great directors on some genuinely classic movies — John Ford (“Stagecoach,” “The Quiet Man,” “The Searchers”), Howard Hawks (“Red River,” “Rio Bravo,” “Hatari”) and William Wellman (“The High and the Mighty”). And he won an Academy Award in 1969 for his memorable role as cranky Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit.”
Writing in the book's introduction, director and film scholar Martin Scorsese offers this assessment: “This wonderful collection of photographs gives us John Wayne the figurehead, John Wayne the actor, and John Wayne the human being. It's a rich experience to look through these pages and see where Wayne's three roles converged and diverged.”
Pure celebratory fluff, but highly entertaining fluff that plays right into our collective love of movies and magic and rousing, old-fashioned storytelling. That's just the kind of thing that Wayne built his legend on and just what this noncritical but handsome tome delivers in spades.
Dennis King blogs at Blog.NewsOK.com/projections.