Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Good Morning Folks,
I recently spent part of Memorial Day watching television. Each year Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics trots out the John Wayne war movies in honor of this special day. While I enjoy many John Wayne movies, his war movies do little for me. Each time I see the Duke muscling that earth mover up the hill against an army of Japanese in "The Fighting Seabees, or Big John storming some Pacific Beach, I can't help but remember that John Wayne refused to fight for his country when the country needed him.
It's true! John Wayne was in his early thirties during World War II. While Clark Gable and a thousand other celebrities went off to war, old John cited the need to "support his family" and got a deferment. For years it alienated Wayne from his best friend, John Ford, who gave Wayne his big break in "Stagecoach". This did not stop John Wayne from profiting hugely during the war years; he was literally alone in Hollywood and had his pick of the hero roles for all those gallant war movies.
Long after the war was over the Duke was still making those war movies and he cashed in big. In today's media machine Wayne would have been eaten and spit out for his putting profit over patriotism. But back then, the publicity managers were able to gloss over the problem and America wasn't the wiser.
Incredibly, John Wayne became the very icon of patriotism right up to his death. Wayne is both the recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest awards that can be granted to a civilian.
John Wayne is not alone in this silver screen pageantry. I don't go to war movies; don't like them at all. The realistic ones bring back too many reminders and the unrealistic ones just seem silly to me. Stallone, Van Damme, Arnold, Afleck and a couple of dozen other "national brand heroes" never served a day in the military; it was totally beneath them. Yet, Americans flock to them every day of the week and get chill bumps just watching the celluloid bravery of their icons.
There are plenty of past and current actors who served proudly in our armed forces. Some of them became successful movie stars and some didn't. But I've found the ones who were most successful were those who can carry off the heroism in celluloid to extreme proportion. Perhaps those who served just could not attain the level of dramatic glory that so many movies portrayed. Perhaps those who served were restrained by the knowledge that war is ugly and wasteful of human life and should be practiced with extreme caution.
"Okay, Pilgrim...let's take that hill!".