JOHN WAYNE'S AMERICA by Garry Wills

JOHN WAYNE'S AMERICA

The Politics of Celebrity

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Pulitzer Prize winner and author of 18 previous books, Wills (Witches and Jesuits, 1994, etc.) brings his usual insightful and far-reaching erudition to bear on one of the most culturally important ``stars'' America has ever produced. At one time or another John Wayne has been blamed for everything from cowboy diplomacy to the Vietnam War (see Editor's Letter, p. TK); the critic Eric Bentley called him ``the most dangerous man in America.'' But as Wills expertly details, the fault is not so much with Wayne as with ourselves: ``By a confluence of audience demand and commercial production, the Wayne that took shape in the transaction between the two expressed deep needs and aspirations that took `Wayne' as the pattern of manly American virtue.'' Wills is not particularly interested in Wayne's personal life, although he offers a number of fascinating details. He focuses almost exclusively on a close analysis of Wayne's image as it played itself out in his major movies (made with such visionary directors as Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, and John Ford). Most of these films--classics such as Stagecoach, Red River, and The Searchers--were prime examples of a uniquely American genre. ``The Western,'' Wills writes, ``can deal with the largest themes in American history--beginning with the `original sin' of our country. . . . It explores the relationship of the people with the land, of the individual with the community, of vigilante law to settled courts.'' With their themes of sacrifice, order, and duty, Wayne's films (Westerns and non-Westerns alike) were perfectly attuned to a newly imperial America. What Wills has wrought here is little short of a masterpiece. His intelligence and perception, his range of ideas, and his sheer readability set a high standard for writing about American culture and entertainment. He completely redefines our understanding of Wayne's work, its meanings, and its impact on our collective imagination. A major achievement in cultural criticism that will not be easily surpassed. (First serial to the New Yorker; author tour)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-80823-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997




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