JOHN WAYNE: AMERICAN by Randy & James S. Olson Roberts


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An epic biography of one of America's most popular and iconographic movie stars. John Wayne, who used to boast, ""I don't act, I react,"" brought a relentless and sometimes compelling trademark sameness to almost every role in the 200 movies he starred in. The irony, as historians Roberts (Purdue Univ.) and Olson (Sam Houston State Univ.) note, is that ""he had never served a day in the military and he was America's ideal marine; he disliked horses and he was the country's favorite cowboy."" The authors try to make the case that it was precisely because of such contradictions that Wayne was (and is) America personified. They are more convincing when they stick to the detail and circumstance of Wayne's life--which they do relentlessly. In fact, this is not so much a tell-all as a tell-everything biography. Still, there are fascinating digressions on the economics of B movies, Hollywood in the McCarthy era, John Huston (who rescued Wayne's free-falling career in the '30s), and so on and on. The authors are admirably restrained in psychoanalyzing Wayne, but their insights into his character are invariably shrewd and subtle. They convincingly connect, for example, his guilt over avoiding military service during WW II to his later, rabid anticommunism. They also detail at length how his personality was ultimately shaped, even absorbed, by his roles. Over the years, John Wayne the man and the actor both endured an almost ceaseless barrage of criticism, but as Roberts and Olson (who coauthored When the Domino Fell: America in Vietnam, 1945-1990, 1991) demonstrate, he had an undeniable ""something,"" a force, a charisma, a basic decency that still radiates in his films. Despite its occasional clunkiness, this is very likely to be the definitive Wayne biography for years to come.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 1995
ISBN: 0803289707
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Free Press