A comprehensive and compelling examination of The Duke.
Hollywood biographer Eyman (Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille, 2010, etc.) goes beyond a mere cataloging of film credits and biographical highlights to illuminate the process that transformed Marion Morrison (1907-1979) into cinema’s most enduring symbol of masculinity, John Wayne. The poor son of a diffident man and a difficult mother, Wayne enjoyed social success in his school career due to his good looks, winning manner and athletic prowess. However, after an injury ended his football scholarship at the University of Southern California, he angled his way into a job as a prop boy at various movie studios. His commanding height, strength and graceful bearing were noted by director Raoul Walsh, who cast him in a small role, which led to a mostly undistinguished career cranking out generic, low-budget Westerns for Poverty Row studios such as Monogram and Republic. Eyman vividly evokes the humiliation and difficulty of those years in the trenches, where the canny Wayne devoted himself to learning every aspect of moviemaking and performing effectively for the camera. When John Ford gave Wayne his big break in Stagecoach (1939), the actor was ready. Eyman devotes much attention to the complicated but rewarding relationship between Wayne and Ford—the two would partner on an astonishing number of classic films—which would cement Wayne’s image in the public mind as film’s pre-eminent avatar of American manhood. Wayne’s personal life was as full of incident as his roles, including a tempestuous series of marriages, a long-term affair with screen siren Marlene Dietrich and controversy surrounding his conservative political views. Throughout, Eyman portrays Wayne as a man of hidden dimensions: a regular guy who liked to smoke and drink with his buddies and who was also a formidable chess player; a controlling figure on the set also capable of tremendous kindness and generosity; and an untrained actor who mastered the art of film performance.
Insightful, exhaustive and engrossing—a definitive portrait of the man and the legend.