That voice. That walk. That craggy grin. Thousands have imitated the Duke. But his impact has never been duplicated.
From the top of his dusty cowboy hat to the soles of his boots, John Wayne embodied the American frontier spirit like no one before or since. Unflinchingly brave, uncompromisingly fair, the Duke became a role model – an icon of what it meant to be a real man.
John Wayne was born Marion Michael Morrison on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa and moved to California in 1914. It’s hard to believe now, but when the Duke left USC (where he played football) for the movies, he wasn’t an overnight sensation. Not that he wasn’t trying: his filmography shows that between 1929 and 1933, he appeared in an astonishing twenty six films. But none of the roles were big enough for the Duke’s persona to shine through.
Director John Ford gave the Duke his start in the movie business in 1926, as an assistant propman making thirty-five dollars a week. One day, while moving a Louis Quinze sofa on the backlot, the Duke was spotted by director, Raoul Walsh.
Walsh ordered his casting director to give young Marion Morrison a screen test immediately. The Duke was cast in THE BIG TRAIL. It seemed like he was on his way. But the movie did so poorly at the box office that some Hollywood pundits proclaimed “the Western is dead.”
John Wayne’s star plummeted. During the ’30’s, he seemed destined for nothing grander than a journeyman career in obscure action pictures and serials.
But John Wayne never gave up. Finally, his old friend John Ford cast Duke in a new film, STAGECOACH. It changed everything.
In 1939, John Wayne soared to stardom as Ringo Kid, and his legend began. He was the ultimate “good guy”, tough but fair, willing to take it – or give it – on the chin if that’s what it took to get the job done.
But one of his finest roles was as the hard-bitten, utterly unlikeable cattle baron Tom Dunson in RED RIVER (1948). Director Howard Hawks originally wanted Gary Cooper for the part, but Coop wouldn’t have it – he felt the character was too ruthless. (The character’s obsessiveness may have rubbed off. John Wayne insisted that Hawks hire experienced cowhands. He did, putting more than 70 experienced riders to work – and his film over budget. The $1.5 million budget for the film eventually ballooned to nearly double that figure.)
In films like Big Jim McClain, The Sons of Katie Elder, and In Harm’s Way, John Wayne taught a generation of men how to stand tall, how to give a kiss, and how to take a punch.
In 1969, he won the Best Actor Oscar for TRUE GRIT. John Wayne kept working right until the end of his life – his final film, THE SHOOTIST (1976) was just three years before his passing.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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