“Duke” Morrison as Metapolitical Icon John WayneMorris van de Camp
The lighted pixels never go dark on John Wayne in the TV sphere. In the four decades since his passing, one can turn on a TV set at any time of day or night and there will be a John Wayne film being played on some channel.
When looking at John Wayne’s performances, many critics point out that John Wayne always plays John Wayne. However, he himself said, “That guy you see on the screen isn’t really me. I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne. I know him well. I’m one of his closest students.” He never changed his name to John Wayne, didn’t instinctively respond to the name “John,” and registered for the draft during the Second World War under his Morrison name.
Duke Morrison’s character John Wayne represented many things, the nuance of which will be further described below, but on the surface, John Wayne represented the white American ethnic group, as well as industriousness, seriousness of purpose, honesty, and courage. The character John Wayne was, and is, the embodiment of American manhood in its perfected form.
Looking back at John Wayne’s career, one can see that the entire Western genre was carried on his shoulders. After he passed away, the number of Western films and TV shows dropped off. Westerns that were produced after his passing, like Silverado (1985), never quite capture the magic that John Wayne brought. One possible reason for this loss of sparkle is that the dialogue in post-Wayne Westerns became crass and vulgar. Another possible reason is that Western movies have become afflicted by Negro-tokenism as in Silverado, Unforgiven (1992), and The Magnificent Seven (2016). Furthermore, post-Wayne, an excessively romantic view of the Indians has crept into the genre, as in Dances with Wolves (1990). Even the word “cowboy” was defined by John Wayne. During his lifetime, the word implied virtue and integrity; after his death, the word retreated back to the delinquent gang of insults from whence it came.
John Wayne’s example has even influenced this author’s life choices, although I cannot even remotely presume to describe myself as the perfect embodiment of American manhood. I’ve probably been in more schoolyard fistfights than necessary due to the example of John Wayne’s many righteous fisticuffs broadcast on Saturday matinee reruns. When I played the trumpet in my middle school band, I mastered the themes to The Comancheros (1961) and Rio Bravo (1959). He also influenced my choices about what to do during the summers of my childhood and adolescence. I didn’t take the easy opportunities provided by my family to go to church camp, where one had an opportunity to flirt with a large group of young ladies while time-wasting for The Lord. Instead, I focused (more or less – girls still were a distraction) on becoming an Eagle Scout. Once I learned to drive and had my Eagle Scout Badge, I spent my summers working on a cattle ranch on the western Great Plains. When I was in the Army in Iraq and other overseas locations, I made decisions based on what I thought John Wayne would or would not do; this probably sounds both more reckless and awesome than it actually was.
Duke Morrison, aka John Wayne, was also a man of the Right. He self-declared as a man of the Right; he admitted it up front and often. Towards the end of the Second World War, he became politically active and served four terms as President of the anti-Communist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Wayne’s closest friends were among Hollywood’s most strident anti-Communists, including Ward Bond (1903-1960) and the very attractive Hedda Hopper (1885-1966). He didn’t like Senator Ted Kennedy. Duke didn’t even like the New Deal, and publicly supported Richard Nixon from 1960 until Nixon’s resignation.
Origins, Iowa Privilege, and Personal Life
John Wayne was born Marion Morrison to Mary Alberta Brown and Clyde Morrison in Winterset, Iowa in 1907. His mother’s lineage was colonial stock Pennsylvanian and Irish. His father was of Scots-Irish and old New England Puritan/Yankee stock. His grandfather had served in the Union Army during the Civil War. John Wayne’s parents had a rocky marriage, and his father had a rough time making his career as a pharmacist work. The family bounced around Iowa until they decided to farm on some land in California that Wayne’s real estate agent grandfather owned.
By the time the Morrison family got to California, the American frontier was closed. All the remaining open land was in the desert. The Morrison’s farm failed due to the harsh conditions, and so the family moved to Glendale, California, where Wayne would grow up right next to the central location of the nascent motion picture industry.
Although Wayne’s family continuously hovered near poverty during his childhood, his background was really a big advantage to him. He had Iowa Privilege. He came from a culture that rewarded honesty and hard work. Wayne was indeed honest; his biographers all attest to this. If, for example, he said he met the famous Wild West lawman Wyatt Earp, researchers determined that he probably did meet him. His parents also remained married until Duke was out of the house, despite the fact that his mother was a grievance-collecting woman who was difficult to like. John also made his own luck. He took good advice every time he heard it. His biographer, Scott Eyman, describes many instances where Wayne took good advice, including deciding not to be cruel, learning self-defense, continuing to find work in films even when they were “B” movies, and maintaining a good public image.
Duke was acting as early as high school. He got his foot in the door of the film industry in the prop department, through his college football coach’s contacts. Eventually he moved into minor acting roles; there, he got a credit as Duke Morrison in the 1927 movie, Seeing Stars. Eventually, he was noticed by the director Raoul Walsh, and the first movie he starred in as “John Wayne” was The Big Trail (1930). This film has sweeping cinematography, but is fundamentally flawed. The plot plods along like a wagon train drawn by oxen, and is as dry as the desert. The soundtrack is also lacking. To top it off, the film was released right after the Stock Market crash of October 1929. As a result, Wayne’s first starring role was a flop, and it sent him into the B-movie circuit for a decade.
However, this was still a blessing for Wayne. He became a household name to young moviegoers throughout the 1930s. His work ethic helped, too. Wayne worked 12- to 14-hour days, and often did his own stunts. It was in the B movies that Duke Morrison became the physically imposing and graceful John Wayne. He also behaved professionally. He showed up to do a scene knowing his lines, and learned everything else involved in making a movie, such as where to put the props, lights, and so on.
John Wayne’s career revived when he was picked to play the Ringo Kid in John Ford’s classic Stagecoach (1939). His flashy entrance in that film remains one of his finest. As the camera zooms in while he twirls a rifle, it is an example of teamwork, and the most important aspect of professionalism: mastering the basics. Indeed, the prop department had to modify the rifle to make it twirl without getting caught. The cameraman needed to adjust both the focus and angle to catch it, while Wayne had to move gracefully and make the just the right expressions while following the camera. Wayne also understood that every scene is dependent upon two factors: what the camera’s lens can pick up and how that image will impact an audience.
Wayne was married three times. All of his wives were of white, New World Spanish background (Hispanic is not a race). He would come to regret divorcing his first wife. His second wife was a train wreck of personal issues, and she dragged him through a nasty public divorce. His third wife was a solid helpmeet, even though they eventually separated but did not formally divorce. Duke also drank a great deal. He liked Mexico – indeed, all of Latin America – and its people. He enjoyed manly pursuits, especially sailing. He was well-read, and was talented at playing cards and chess. Off the set, though, he had a hard time figuring out what to do with himself.
John Wayne also struggled with cancer. He smoked an average of six packs of cigarettes per day and lost a lung in 1964. He also starred in the 1956 epic, The Conqueror, that was filmed downwind of an area that had been used for nuclear weapons testing. Many of the cast and crew got cancer or died of cancer. Wayne was no different. He was felled by stomach cancer in 1979. In both cases, he fought the disease as hard as he could. After losing a lung, he still did many of his own stunts, and he wore a wetsuit to appear to look more fleshed-out at his final public appearance.
Unavoidable Fodder for the Comments Section: My Opinion of John Wayne’s Work
Everyone’s got an opinion about John Wayne’s films, so I’ll brush over what I think here and dive into his really serious works further on – there will be overlap. The best of his bad movies is probably The Big Trail, as well as Angel and the Bad Man (1947). My favorite movie, which is fun from start to finish, is The Quiet Man (1952), where the leading lady was the goddess Maureen O’Hara. My second favorite is Fort Apache (1948), followed by Hatari! (1962). His best movie is The Searchers (1956), and other great movies include Stagecoach (1939), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), True Grit (1969), and The Cowboys (1972). The best of his more obscure films, in my view, is The Sea Chase (1955). My favorite movies where Wayne had smaller parts are The Longest Day (1960) and How the West Was Won (1962). But I dislike Rio Bravo (1959) and its various remakes.
John Wayne as the Personification of (White) American Manhood in Different Situations
Duke Morrison created John Wayne between his first starring roles in 1930 until he became an A-List actor in 1939. With Red River (1948), Duke had become an expert at playing John Wayne. With that in mind, we can see how an archetype of the epitome of (white) American Manhood behaves in various situations. As the embodiment of American Manhood, John Wayne wrestled with modern situations in Island in the Sky (1953) and The High and the Mighty (1954). Many of John Wayne’s movies are nostalgic – (white) Americans making North America their own through Manifest Destiny.
Manifest Destiny was a metapolitical idea whereby Americans believed that Divine Providence had foreordained that white settlers should continue westward until they occupied the entire North American continent. This meant not just the conquest of America itself, but expansion across the Pacific as well. Indeed, during the Spanish-American War (1898), the biggest American imperial gains were not in Cuba, on whose behalf the war was alleged to be waged, but rather in the Pacific. Americans would go on to capture parts of Samoa in 1899. After the Second World War, the Americans absorbed even more Pacific islands, and for a time even turned Japan into a semi-colony. Indeed, the fact that America chose to fight the Communists in Korea has shades of Manifest Destiny. The US Marines at the Chosin Reservoir were not much different than Custer’s Seventh Cavalry at Little Big Horn. And when Kennedy was inaugurated as President in 1960, Manifest Destiny was still ongoing – which was part of the reason for his involvement in Vietnam.
Nearly every Western that John Wayne starred in has Manifest Destiny as a central theme, although later on his Westerns explored other ideas as well. This is so obvious that not much needs to be mentioned about it. It is likewise clear that John Wayne’s Pacific War movies – such as They Were Expendable (1945), Back to Bataan (1945), and Flying Leathernecks (1951) – were all Westward Expansion movies, with “the Japs” serving as Indians. Admittedly, there are other issues explored in these films, but the main idea remained “Westward Ho!”
America’s expansion across the Pacific was different from its earlier expansion in one vital regard: the natives didn’t vanish. This created a new set of circumstances for the American public.
As the Cold War picked up in Asia, Americans realized they had to justly rule and valorously defend the racially different Orientals that they had only just previously been interning and killing. The films which deal with this contradiction include The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958), Donavan’s Reef (1963), and The Green Berets (1968). John Wayne’s films from this period are similar to the view of Asia that we get in other works of the period, especially those of James A. Michener.
Duke Morrison and Military Service
Although he registered for the draft, John Wayne didn’t enlist during the Second World War. He did go overseas with the USO on morale tours, but he didn’t take the oath and wear real stripes. Wayne would come to regret this decision later in life. Since the war, military service has come to be seen as a marker of manhood in American life. It is believed that this sets a person apart and above all others.
However, as a man who has served in combat, and given that men (and some women) in my family have served in every conflict from the Global War on Terror back to the Spanish-American War, I can say this is all hogwash. Every military career is swiftboatable, and John Wayne’s would have been especially so. When the war broke out, Wayne was 35 and a lifelong smoker. He likely wouldn’t have qualified for the Infantry or as Combat Aircrew. If he had ended up in the Coastal Artillery Corps in Los Angeles. he might have served in 1942’s Battle of Los Angeles, which would have made him a laughingstock as he took increasingly public pro-Vietnam War political stances in the 1960s. Had he joined the Signal Corps and made movies, he still would have been criticized. There, he’d have been moved around for photo ops and training films, but would not have seen much action. He was in an impossible position.
Military service also carries with it a major flaw; that is to say, people follow veterans’ ideas, even if those ideas are bad. For example, Senator John McCain’s policy positions after 1991 were increasingly irrational and disastrous, yet very few people could effectively stand up to him. After all, McCain had been a POW in ‘Nam and a “war hero.”
Ultimately, military service is merely a garnish on a career, and today any American “fighting for freedom” is embarking upon a pointless endeavor. In most circumstances, America’s military fights people who are not the enemies of the country, but rather they are the enemies of whatever foreign pressure group has better lobbyists in Washington. It’s been that way for at least a century. The First World War was exactly this sort of conflict. Likewise, the Second World War – at least as far as Germany and Italy were concerned – was the result of pressure groups rather than national interest. In America, courage that really counts is defending the white American people domestically. John Wayne did that. His first genuine metapolitical work was Big Jim McClain (1952), where he fought Communists in Hawaii.
The Road To and From The Alamo: John Wayne as Metapolitical Activist
John Wayne’s major project – one which he poured his fortune and soul into – was The Alamo (1960). He directed and starred in it alongside Richard Widmark and Lawrence Harvey. When watching it, one sees that Wayne as Davy Crockett isn’t fighting Santa Ana and his army of mestizos, but rather America’s domestic Left wing and the Communist side of the Cold War. He even got some funding from conservative Texans to make a movie as a counterpoint to the Leftist, anti-white movie Giant (1956).
John Wayne’s direction of The Alamo should be viewed as a lesson in good leadership. Wayne deftly handled the logistics of the project – it was filmed on location in rural Texas. He even had train tracks built to maintain supply lines. He kept production going even in the teeth of several tragic deaths among the cast and crew. He also managed to get his mentor, John Ford, out of the way when he showed up uninvited and started giving orders. He was able to keep big-ego actors working for him even after arguments that almost became fistfights. Indeed, although all of Wayne’s friends knew that he’d thrown his heart and soul into the project, a great many of them worked against him in some way throughout. James Arness, for example, didn’t show up for a meeting where he’d have been offered to play the role of Sam Houston.
Although Wayne successfully completed the project, moviemaking is a for-profit business. The Alamo’s costs had spiraled out of control. To finish the project, Wayne threw in all his own cash, mortgaged his film company’s stock of movies, and mortgaged his house. While many Americans went to see it, the film didn’t make any money in the short term due to its massive cost. However, it should be carefully analyzed, as it represented the strengths and weaknesses of the Right just as the racialist, non-white political Left was about to sweep into power through Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. The Alamo’s strengths and weaknesses are as follows.
- The story’s pacing is poor. There are long subplots that don’t push the story along. Among other slow stretches, Davy Crockett (John Wayne) tries to woo a “damsel in distress” (Linda Cristal). There is also a big bar-fight scene between The Alamo defenders that serves no real purpose. Outside of science fiction and dystopian works, Right-wing fiction has yet to match that produced by Leftists.
- It is a metapolitical work for the anti-Communists who were fighting the Cold War. It is not an accurate depiction of what actually transpired during the Texas War of Independence. In reality, the conflict was a clash of civilizations between the Spanish-ruled mestizo civilization and the American Anglos. In the actual battle, the Mexicans deliberately killed Texans outside the bounds of Christian chivalry. In John Wayne’s epics, the Texans gladly fight to the death and the Mexicans honorably killed them. As a result of this, the movie is awkward.
- Santa Ana (Ruben Padilla) is played as something like an anti-Communist military dictator similar to Chile’s Pinochet rather than someone more shifty – like Vicente Fox.
- John Wayne makes what we call today the “Boomer conservative” philosophical error of mistaking a form of government (muh Constitution) for a form of government that is an expression of a particular people. Wayne as Davy Crockett makes this mistake when he says, “Republic. I like the sound of the word. It means people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose . . . Some words can give you a feeling that makes your heart warm. Republic is one of those words.” All African nations are republics . . . does that make your heart warm?
- John Wayne portrays blacks as loyal and self-sacrificing citizens-to-be. He ignores the fact that blacks in the 1960s were embarking on an insurgency that would leave cities in ruins up to the present day. For example, Jethro (Jester Hairston) throws himself in front of Mexican bayonets to allow his master, Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark), to fight a few seconds longer. This also is an entirely inaccurate view of black loyalty during a military crisis. Blacks are uneven.
- These can be boiled down to one paragraph, but they are big strengths. The cinematography and music are outstanding. The Alamo was awarded an Oscar for Best Sound and a Golden Globe for its music. The battle scenes are also very well done. Clips of the Mexican army were used in other films, including How the West Was Won. And this tale does show how to behave in a dignified way under terrible pressure.
John Wayne and Race
It is important to note that, while John Wayne was well-read, he lived in a time when the distribution of information and its framing was tightly controlled. There were only two serious Right-wing books that “went viral” while John Wayne was politically aware and active. The first was The Iron Curtain Over America (1951) by John Beaty, and the second was The Dispossessed Majority (1972) by Wilmot Robertson. We don’t know if Wayne did or did not read them. If he had a racial view, it could best be described as implicit white supremacy. During the North American phase of Manifest Destiny, the white man advanced and the red man disappeared. During its Pacific phase, the white man ruled over natives who did not vanish, but who were left prostrate following wars. Thus, Wayne didn’t need to think hard about race.
Wayne’s statements on the matter were all over the map. On one hand, he made statements in reference to his football career such as, “If the player on the other side of the scrimmage line is as good or better than you, you don’t care what color, religion, or nationality he is, you respect him. I’ve tried to live by that all my life.” These sentiments were balanced by more frank talk in an interview with Playboy magazine: “. . . [W]e can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.” He also told reporters:
We’re being represented by men who are kowtowing to minorities where they can get votes and I think it is bad for our country. And I’m sad to see minorities make so much of themselves as a hyphenated American. I wish they’d all get to thinking that they’re Americans, as they should.
Duke Morrison was unable to come to terms with the racial conflicts that were increasingly consuming America as he aged into his golden years. But there is one thing to note, namely that his best movie – and quite possibly one of the best movies ever made – was The Searchers, where Duke’s character John Wayne, the personification of (white) American Manhood, played a man driven to fight – racial holy war style – the Comanche who had killed his family. The movie is quite dark. Wayne is hostile to his mixed-race sidekick (Jeffrey Hunter). The Comanche rape and murder white women. Both sides mutilate the bodies of their racial enemies’ dead. In a way that many white advocates today might understand, in the movie’s haunting final scene, Wayne’s character Ethan is cut off from white civilization, although his actions were necessary for that civilization to exist at all.
John Wayne and the J-Communists
The Cold War was a large and complex thing, but one aspect of it was that Communism was a Jewish ideology masquerading as a universalist Christian heresy. At least this was true until the Soviet Union became ruled by ethnic Russians, who sided with the Arabs against Israel after 1967. Throughout John Wayne’s lifetime, Communism was on the march, and the Soviet Union was a real force to be reckoned with. Additionally, a great many people in Hollywood, especially Jews, were active Communists to one degree or another.
John Wayne was an anti-Communist. It is possible (but not certain) that he was a member of the John Birch Society. He gave many public speeches against Communism. And many of his friends were Jew-wise anti-Communists.
He also worked to get the former Communist, Carl Foreman, blacklisted. Wayne felt that Foreman’s movie High Noon (1952) was an inaccurate and subversive reading of Americanism. In it, the Sheriff (Gary Cooper, who was himself an anti-Communist) must protect his town from some returning criminals. The townspeople refuse to join the Sheriff’s posse and cower in fear. The Sheriff must face the criminals alone. High Noon is an excellent film, and it has several interpretations. White advocates can easily identify with Cooper’s solitary stand for his community.
One note about the blacklist: After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, Spanish cultural forms entered a golden age. In the Jew-free England between Edward I and Oliver Cromwell, England produced Chaucer and Shakespeare. Judging from these examples, one can see that Jews bring down the culture of their host society. During the era of the Hollywood blacklist, the worst Jews were cut off from the culture industry, and those remaining had to toe the line. The 1950s became a mini-golden age of American culture. The songs from that time are excellent. Even today, “oldies” remain very popular. Turn on a TV channel that specializes in re-runs, and nearly every show will have been produced in the 1950s. Walt Disney’s greatest works also originated during a time when no Jews worked in his company.
Westerns Beyond the Westerns: John Wayne’s Serious, Later Work
After the challenges of The Alamo, John Wayne made a series of what film historian John McElwee has called “comfort Westerns.” These films, like North to Alaska (1960) and The Comancheros (1961) are well-made and easy to watch action films. A number of these films are also whitopian, such as the war picture In Harm’s Way (1965). Some of the comfort Westerns aren’t that good, however, like Cahill, United States Marshal (1973). Part of John Wayne’s ethos was to always keep working, and as a result, not all his films were great. Nonetheless, his later movies have a seriousness that needs to be discussed.
The Green Berets is the only movie made during the Vietnam War that was sympathetic to American efforts there. At the time, it was subject to many protests. Oliver Stone considers it “racist,” which misses the considerable empathy shown by Wayne for the South Vietnamese characters. The movie has aged well, its story is good, the pacing is on, and the death of Sergeant Petersen (Jim Hutton) still has an emotional impact. Manifest Destiny’s final moments played out on April 30, 1975 in Saigon, so there is a poignancy in that the actor who best personified Manifest Destiny played a soldier in Vietnam.
The Undefeated (1969), set during the Civil War, has an opening battle scene that is really well done. The movie tells the story of a group of Union Army vets trying to sell horses to the French in Mexico. They must eventually pick sides in the Mexican-French Conflict and team up with a group of Confederates who are going to join the French. While it is a whitopian comfort Western, it does attempt to get Americans to end their differences over things like the Confederate Battle Flag and work together. The firing squads depicted in it aren’t too far removed from what was really going on in Latin America during the Cold War, either.
In True Grit (1968), while Glen Campbell is miscast, it does show that the old values of Iowa Privilege still matter. Wayne would win an Oscar for this role. True Grit has an insidious side, though. It spawned a subgenre in which an old white guy does a successful rear-guard defense of the values and people of white Western civilization. However, this subgenre is easy to subvert. Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino (2008) is another example, but in it, Eastwood’s character represents white American manhood sacrificing himself in a non-white vs. non-white conflict.
Chisum (1970) loosely follows the story of the New Mexico Territory’s Lincoln County War. Like all great art, the movie can represent real-world situations beyond its original surface meaning. In this case, what should be an impartial law enforcement agency becomes an agent for one sociopolitical faction against another. President Nixon, who is said to have liked the film, would come to be the victim of a disgruntled senior FBI official colluding with the mainstream press and the Democratic Party – the sort of behavior which continues today.
The Cowboys (1972) was the first film that depicted Baby Boomers as being a disaster of vice, poor judgment, and self-absorption. John Wayne must get his cattle to the railhead at Belle Fourche, South Dakota with a group of children who are too young to be Boomers. Along the way, he toughens them up and teaches them how to be men. In the end, he is shot in a cowardly way by a knave with a hippie hairstyle right out of Woodstock (played by Bruce Dern).
And lastly, John Wayne’s swan song is The Shootist (1976). If John Wayne ever subtly alluded to the ongoing Sub-Saharan-fueled crimewave then plaguing America’s cities, it was when he depicted scenes of Anglo or Mexican muggers getting shot after some corny lines by Wayne. This happens in The Undefeated, Chisum, and The Shootist. It’s still escapism. John Wayne plays only an implicit white supremacist, not an actual one. But such a mugging (featuring an Anglo as mugger) opens John Wayne’s last movie. It wasn’t supposed to be Wayne’s last, but fortunately, from an artistic perspective, it was. (Wayne only acted in commercials following this film.) In it, John Wayne must face old age, and the film’s greatness becomes apparent if one sees it after caring for aging parents or grandparents.
John Wayne has ridden into the sunset, and yet his work lives on. His life and work should provide inspiration to whites for centuries.
 Scott Eyman, John Wayne: The Life and Legend (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014), Kindle loc 106.
 Ibid., Kindle loc. 778.
 Yes, I know, John Wayne doesn’t hook up to the static line before jumping!