DUKE: The Life and Image of John Wayne by Donald L. Davis

DUKE: The Life and Image of John Wayne

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Historian Davis (Southern Methodist Univ.) weighs in with another contribution to the recent spate of biographies of America's larger-than-life cowboy hero. It's hard to imagine someone adding much to the thorough job done by Randy Roberts and James Olson in John Wayne: American (1995), which Davis himself calls ""exhaustive."" Davis draws on extensive interviews with Wayne's third wife, Pilaf, and his favorite leading lady, Maureen O'Hara, as well as on research he did for his biography of John Ford (1995), the director who contributed the most to the creation of the actor's screen persona, but the result is not a lot of new material. Davis offers a competent but clichÆ’-riddled recounting of Wayne's career (""In 1946 Hollywood's studios were a beehive of activity. The Golden Age of moviemaking had reached its zenith; every soundstage in town was bustling. . . ."")--from his rather unhappy childhood (starved for affection from his chilly mother, deeply attached to his hard-drinking father, a warm presence but a failure as a provider) through his stumbling into the motion pictures by chance and his discovery that he really liked the process of making movies, his lengthy apprenticeship in B westerns, his sudden rise to stardom with Stagecoach, and so on. Although Davis promises at the book's outset that he will examine the nature of Wayne's image (without engaging in extensive analysis of the films, a remarkable feat, indeed), the resulting volume adds little to our understanding of Wayne as an actor, a political activist, or an icon. On the positive side, one does get a sense of the complexities and contradictions in the man, but even those are reduced to a handful of commonplaces. Despite thorough research, a book that adds little to our picture of Wayne.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0806133295
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma