Manny P. here…
It was a simpler time. No, not Hollywood’s Golden Age; I’m talking about the frontier of the nineteenth century. John Wayne and his entourage wanted you to believe this premise. With the help of director John Ford, and his stable of filmmakers, which included Harry Carey Jr., Ward Bond, John Agar, Victor McLaglen, Noah Berry Jr., and others, the Old West became the backdrop of conservative values, validating the concepts of homesteading, a search for gold, the coast-to-coast travel by rail, the use of barb wire to section off property, trails of Native American tears, and the eventual Anglo colonization of the United States.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m a huge fan of Stagecoach, Red River, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Bravo, True Grit, and The Shootist. John Wayne’s (right) movies are works of inspirational fiction. He and his cronies represented, and continue to represent, a certain kind of American infallibility. Wayne’s characters were so certain they were right that audiences believed them, too. And on screen, he didn’t waste time using his trademark laconic drawl to dress down his enemies, and then, shoot them dead with ruthless efficiency. Of course, critics of The Duke have surmised:
He’s like the racist grandpa that we nevertheless acknowledge; he’s the embarrassing tear in your eye when you root for America in the Olympics; or he’s the proud viewer of a Chevy truck commercial.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way in his career, Wayne drank the kool-aid of artificial patriotism. This lead to his naming names from the very real Hollywood community to members of the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities, as part of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Many directors, actors, screenplay writers, and others lost their opportunity to work for perhaps decades, and maybe, for the entirety of their career. The reasoning for the unsolicited attack… A prior or current affiliation with the American Communist Party, and a fear of continued communist infiltration into the movie industry. This dangerous philosophical call-to-action had an folksy elitist feel at its core.
His apparent contempt only endeared him to audiences who found his lack of pretension both comforting and inspiring. Wayne maintained his unassailable image of immovability for an unprecedented career as a star and political activist: He campaigned tirelessly for Republicans for over four decades. The American legacy of John Wayne was cemented as the Berlin wall came down; an airport was named in his honor; and a museum in Winterset, Iowa celebrating his career is now a popular tourist destination.
Donald Trump is currently attempting to tap into this masculine brand of Americana when he accepted an endorsement in Winterset from John Wayne’s kin. The obvious strategy by the Republican candidate is to cement the support of primarily white men, aged 69 or older, with a high school diploma or less – a slice of electorate that has already shown a considerable affinity for the Teflon Don. Wayne has an undeniable cinematic cool – the kind of uniform appeal Trump has employed to woo voters since the summer.
Trump, it appears, is vying to restore the frontier-style justice version of America which Wayne’s films often portrayed; the only trouble: It was always make-believe. I remind my readers of this essential fact. Remember this when you enter a polling booth to vote.
And, sorry for burying the lead…
Until next time> “never forget”