John Wayne and the American Brand

My old friend Pumabydesign picked up an article by Vassar Bushmills about John Wayne and his brand. It’s good stuff from Watchers of Weasels.

For close to ten years, in the late 60s and early 70’s, the most hated man in Hollywood was John Wayne. That’s right, the Duke. It was all about the Vietnam War, about which you never saw one contemporaneous film released except for Wayne’s “Green Berets”, a 1968 film released just as public sentiment was turning against the war because (take note) the American media, especially Walter Cronkite and CBS News, decided it was a war that could not be won, and who then took great strides to make their analysis came true.

Like the Vietnam War, Hollywood, New York and Washington were largely of one sentiment about John Wayne, only, the rub is, the rest of America loved him. And in a contest of numbers, that matters. Throughout the war period he was America’s top box office draw. He had established a “brand” by the 1960s that lives on today, and nothing those anti-war leftists could say would diminish it. And yes, Donald Trump’s presidency is in part a result of the resiliency of that brand.

It’s simple math, actually. A point that will be driven home shortly in a different context, Richard Grenier, in his 1979 elegy to John Wayne, wrote:

“But Richard Dreyfuss and Robert de Niro are known to only a small proportion of the people who knew Gary Cooper and John Wayne.”

With that alone, John Wayne could protect his brand by not having to say a word. All he had to do was continue about his business in a way that silently said “Screw you” to Hollywood and the political left, and let his brand speak for itself.

The beat goes on. Because Americans demanded such heroes, he and Coop were succeeded by others, men such as Clint Eastwood, who began his Dirty Harry franchise in 1971 after a string of spaghetti Westerns had established him as a quiet but deadly gunslinger. Over the years Eastwood’s “brand” also grew as an anti-liberal, law and order patriot, and is still an icon today.

Yep, an icon and an ideal, still for so many of us. For me growing up, dad was my hero, but you know, he represented almost the very same things that the Duke did. He just had never had time for the movies and so I wasn’t much on them either. But when I started watching some, it was John Wayne, because I already knew him.

They weren’t all guys though, how about this.

I think I might know a few women who might have said this!

Maureen O’Hara, from Ireland, was discovered by Charles Laughton and landed her first Hollywood role in 1937. By that time the “casting couch” was a fixture of the template for getting ahead there. Everyone knew. And The Harvey Weinstein-type producer-director was the template, not the exception, for Hollywood executives. But Maureen O’Hara considered this an occupational hazard and charted her course accordingly. She refused to allow directors and producers to lay a hand on her, (“to be pawed”, her words) until they finally quit trying. She threatened to quit several projects, and eventually earned the reputation of a “cold fish”, black-balled by some studios and producers. Like Wayne, she ended up being type-cast, as a strong woman figure, fiery temperament, but honorable and noble, a heroine. Just not one who would wear a pink hat in a protest march. Like Wayne, she liked her image, and with friends like Wayne and Gary Cooper was able to established an incredible brand without ever once having to lift her skirt or run off to the front office or media with an assault charge.

I’m sure it cost her some fine roles, but she didn’t like slutty roles anyway, which earned Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Fonda both Oscars. In the 40s Joan Crawford was always there to pick those up, anyway.

Like John Wayne, Miss O’Sullivan also realized her brand was immeasurably larger outside Hollywood than inside it. So “screw ’em”.

I can remember trying on the old “Everybody’s doing it” when I was a kid. I was swiftly informed that one: I wasn’t everybody, and two, I wasn’t doing it. So were the Duke and Maureen, and they didn’t, so nobody had to cower before the bullies, but they did. Well, those people always exist. We call them victims, and we pity them and then forget them. They too made their own beds and get to lie in them.

Every encounter between two people is always different, but something I’ve learned and relearned over the years, people who want to take advantage of you, in any manner, whatsoever, are bullies, and more or less evil. Many will rationalize letting them have their way, but that is your choice. You may not get the part, you may not be the most popular guy in school, but over time, things will come, and they will be due you. Because you did it, not so much ‘my way’, as the right way.

America is like that, always has been. That’s why John Wayne symbolizes America to the rest of the world. The closer we run the country to that image, the better it is for America, and Americans, but here’s the catch, the better it is for the people (although often not the government or elites) of those other countries. That’s why all those people we thought were our friends last week voted against us in the UN. It’s not their people, most of whom, if they know us, like us. Rather like the Duke and Maureen were great friends, because they are like us, trying to feed the family and do the right thing. The people that have usurped control of their countries away from the people, well they are not like us.

As the Duke would say, “Screw ’em”. And don’t get me started on what that fiery redheaded Irishwoman would do to them.

And Vassar is right, Clint Eastwood picked up the gauntlet when he started playing Dirty Harry. In fact, I’ve read that the Duke turned down the role, clearing his path.

So I guess the elites are going to have to answer that All-American question,

“Do ya feel lucky, punk?”

About Neo
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

10 Responses to John Wayne and the American Brand

  1. the unit says:

    Yep, “that brand”. Seems like “they” would eventually get it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. the unit says:

    “And yes, Donald Trump’s presidency is in part a result of the resiliency of that brand.”
    Guardian headling…Evangelical Christians ‘uncritical’ in support for Trump, UK bishop says.
    Then in article he shows how little he knows…”“If people want to support rightwing populism anywhere in the world, they are free to do so.” Un huh, free anywhere in the world? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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