Thursday, May 24, 2007

Happy Birthday, Duke

Saturday is the 100th anniversary of John Wayne’s birth. Yosemite Sam and I don’t have anything real planned to commemorate it; after all we never met the man. Some of the cable channels will play his movies and we’ll probably catch one of them. If not, I’ll drag a DVD of one of his movies out of our little library.

I’ve developed a greater appreciation of John Wayne as an actor and an American. I was much more liberal when I was younger. I grew up in the tail end of the baby boom: too young for Woodstock and too old for Disco (thank God).

Many people in the 1960s'-70s reflexively supported peace, love, and “don’t harsh my buzz, man.” It was in the bong smoke of the day. Many of us saw John Wayne as an embodiment of war, violence, and the American Way. His anti-communism, his support for the Vietnam War, and his bigger than life persona were immediate turnoffs.

As I’ve grown, I realized John Wayne was right about so many things. Communism is evil as its slightly more palatable twin, socialism. It was good to fight communists in Vietnam, although we didn’t fight that war well.

Wayne’s acting centered around his persona. One he deliberately developed. He’s the taciturn hero or occasionally the villain but with a good heart. His heroes never shirk from violence if it is necessary, but never deliberately dish it out unless there's a good reason.

For that reason, many have denigrated his acting. It’s unfair, because he brought a lot more to his roles than people credit. Watch The Searchers if you don’t believe me. He didn’t have much acting range, but he dominated the screen whenever he appeared.

Wayne’s persona is summed up in a quote from The Shootist, “I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a-hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”

This is a practical expression of the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you have done unto you;” at least for an imperfect world. For a generation remembered for peace, love, rock n’ roll, and pot, Wayne’s credo was too much. Now it seems like an excellent way to live.

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