The American film star John Wayne was born 100 years ago this month (May 26, 1907). A classic movie cowboy, Wayne represented, for his fans, the American frontier values of honesty, fair play, and individualism. He died in 1979, but Mike O'Sullivan reports, John Wayne remains a Hollywood icon.
Known to friends and fans as Duke, John Wayne was born May 26, 1907, as Marion Morrison in a rural town in the midwest U.S. state of Iowa.
Beginning with small uncredited parts in silent films, he appeared in more than 170 pictures during a 50-year period, playing a war hero, an airline pilot, and in movie after movie, a classic American cowboy.
Wayne's daughter-in-law, Gretchen Wayne, heads Batjac Productions, a company the actor founded. She says whether football coach or gunslinger, Wayne played characters with integrity, a sense of humor, and a love for their country.
"He played various kinds of characters, but he was consistent within the values of those characters and he never deviated very much from the man he was if you sat across the table from him," she said. "He treasured loyalty, honesty, he thought this country was the greatest country in the world because he started out in a very humble way, and he was able to achieve the success that he had because he lived here."
Forty-eight John Wayne films are being re-released on DVD to commemorate the centennial of the actor's birth. The films include True Grit, which earned him an Oscar, and the Western classic Hondo. The film was originally shot in 3-D, a simulated three-dimensional format, and a restored 3-D version is being shown at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Hal Ackerman teaches screenwriting at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, and he says Americans idolized Wayne the way they did their sports stars.
"He was that rugged individualist," he said. "He epitomized the sort of baseball ethos that guided America, which was, let the better team win. He was a fair fighter. And I think that we really stood for that , and the world believed that we stood for that at that time. And he just became that brand."
Gretchen Wayne says generations of Americans grew up with the actor.
"His films go back into the late '20s, early '30s, so you are familiar," she said. "And he has been there all along. He did not have a five-year career, a 10-year career. So he is part of your family."
There have been other movie cowboys, from Gene Autry and Roy Rogers to Gary Cooper, but cinema professor Hal Ackerman says Wayne's legacy in Hollywood is lasting.
"It is hard to say because everyone has a different opinion, but I think that he will endure," he said. "He has become such an iconic figure that anyone else who is that type will be compared to him, not to anybody else. He is the watermark."
John Wayne placed third in a recent Harris Poll of America's favorite stars, after Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks. Gretchen Wayne says he offered fans consistent entertainment that was suitable for families, and his films still have appeal today.