Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Tonight I finished reading John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth by Michael Munn. It's the first biography of John Wayne I've ever managed to finish reading. I don't usually read biographies of celebrities that I admire, because too often they end up ruining my idolization by waving all sorts of dirty laundry in my face. In fact, up to this point, the only celebrity biography I'd made it through is Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee by their son, Dodd Darin. (I own that particular book, and now also this one about the Duke.)

I think the difference between these two books and the other celebrity biographies I've tried--and failed--to read is that these are written with real love and/or respect for the people they're describing. Michael Munn actually met John Wayne in the 70's, and his description of the time he spent in the Duke's company is especially touching. The book basically details John Wayne's whole life, from birth in Winterset, IA, to his death in CA. Munn discusses every movie the Duke made, and makes extensive use of interviews with others that worked on those films, letting them tell the story for him. Through these first-person reminiscences, we get to see different sides of John Wayne's personality down through the years.

For instance, here's something Lee Marvin told the author about a conversation he had with John Wayne on the set of The Commancheros:
"Duke said to me, 'I think there's a great part for you in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.' I said, 'Which part would that be?' He said, 'Liberty Valance.' I said, 'Who's the man who shot him?' He said, 'Me.' I said, 'Duke, if anyone's gonna shoot me, I can't think of anyone I'd rather be shot by.' And he was as good as his word." (pg 231)
Munn also writes about the Communist plot to assassinate John Wayne, which I hadn't heard about before. It seems pretty credible, and although I can't link you to any text from the book concerning it, here's something in another book that gives you a general idea. I was anti-Communist before, but now...whooo, they tried to kill John Wayne! At least three times! Yeeeeahhhhh. I think I'm gonna go burn anything remotely red-colored in my closet...

Anyway, it's a great book, and I kinda want to just start reading it over again right away. I enjoyed it that much!


  1. Interesting! I didn't know they tried to assassinate him. I also don't really read biographies, for the same reason you state, but this one sounds good.

  2. I think that was one of the most fascinating parts of the book--reading accounts about the assassination attempts, accounts from people like Yakima Canutt and Orson Welles, and some things John Wayne himself divulged toward the end of his life. It seems the Stalinists made two attempts on his life here in America, and then when he visited troops in Vietnam, a sniper was captured that had tried to shoot Wayne because Mao had put a bounty on him...


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