In true stereotypical Texan fashion, my Grandmother met John Wayne once.

She was working in a shop in Dallas,  ‘like a super fancy Macy’s’ she said, and one day John Wayne and his wife came in. While his wife was being attended to by several employees, my grandmother was assigned to Mr. Wayne himself. She said he was charming and very kind, making conversation and interested in her responses even though she was just a shop clerk.

That story is what prompted me to pick up this book when I saw it in the library last week. Then I read the book jacket and was stunned to find out he had three wives. Not stunned by his behavior, but stunned that I hadn’t known that. And really, that I knew  nothing of his personal life. My Dad loves John Wayne movies, we watched Donovan’s Reef last time I was home, but this whole time I knew nothing of him off screen.

So I picked it up and was finished in two days.

What an incredible life. Pilar Wayne, the third wife, describes his very humble beginning and how he made a name for himself. She also describes how he went on to make more than 100 movies.

One hundred movies. He admitted not all of them were high quality but come on, that’s like two and a half movies a year once he started. And surprisingly about a third of them weren’t westerns.

Not only that but he ended up filling many roles in his career, actor, director, producer. Sometimes all three on the same film!

Pilar also describes how his larger then life persona carried off screen as well. He was a known partier and prankster. Wayne was also one of the most powerful men in Hollywood for years and knew everyone; from Sinatra to Eisenhower to McQueen. When he couldn’t find a studio to back some of his projects, he made his own. She shows us that he felt things very deeply and could be incredibly stubborn.

Wayne became such a symbol of the American hero, both on and off the screen, Pilar points out that many of his other pursuits were over looked. His involvements with the horse ranch and oil industry were particularly surprising.  Not to mention all his political activism.

On the other side of the coin, Pilar makes it clear their marriage wasn’t always easy. She takes her share of responsibility and admits that his tendency to put his career above his family often made life hard. He struggled with being a father for many years.

Not to mention that by the end, we knew him well enough that it was like we watched him battle cancer all over again.

Ultimately, I hope he would have been pleased with his legacy. Specifically how he helped revolutionize the movie industry and came to represent core values of American culture. Pliar said she learned something about Wayne after their years together that sums it up nicely.

“Duke will never belong to any one person, John Wayne has always belonged to his fans and to the world. That is how he would have wanted it.”  

So I urge you to read this book then marathon as many of Wayne’s movies as you can get your hands on.

As for me, I’m going to call my Grandmother and ask some questions about that day in the shop. It had a lasting impression on the Waynes, I believe Pilar mentioned it in the book.

“Duke did a great deal of business traveling. One week when we were in Dallas he decided to go shopping, one of his favorite pass times. That day we were like two children having fun, going from store to store in a rare and happy time alone together.” Pg. 226