[Previously, at WEJB/NSU:
Part I: “John Wayne: ‘I believe in white supremacy…’ Wayne’s Famous, Amazing, 1971 Playboy Interview, Uncut”;
“How Marion Michael Morrison Became Michael Burn, Duke Morrison and, Eventually, John Wayne; Part II of Wayne’s Amazing, 1971 Playboy Interview”; and
“Part III of John Wayne’s Amazing, 1971 Playboy Interview.”]
By Nicholas Stix
John Wayne was not only the most popular movie actor on the face of the earth, but he was also one of the greatest movie actors ever. Someone, whose name escapes me, called his style “epic.” Although Wayne was not one of the big four—Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Alec Guinness and Fredric March—nonetheless, John Wayne bestrode the screen like a colossus. And that wasn’t because he stood just a hair under 6’4.” Other actors—Rock Hudson, Clint Howard—physically stood taller, yet Wayne towered over them all. He was a force of nature. And yet, he was one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.
I was provoked to these reflections by the campaign by some mediocre, black supremacist crybullies—Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Spike Lee—demanding black racial quotas for Oscar nominations and wins. We’re talking about people who couldn’t fill one of John Wayne’s boots with both feet.
Although Wayne gave scores of great performances, he was only nominated for Best Actor twice in his 50-year career, for Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and True Grit (1969). However, he also gave nomination-worthy performances:
• In Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948), as murderous, psychopathic, cattle-rustling cattle baron, Thomas Dunson;
• As Sean Thornton, the Irish-born man with a past, the “Yank,” who comes home to Ireland, in John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952);
• As relentless racist Ethan Edwards, who has known only loss in love and life, yet who remains unbowed, in Wayne’s greatest performance and picture, John Ford’s The Searchers (1956);
• As aviation pioneer and author, Frank “Spig” Wead, who triumphs over a broken neck, in Ford’s Wings of Eagles (1957);
• As desperate rancher Wil Anderson, who is forced to take on a bunch of boys for a cattle drive, in what becomes a journey of the soul and a chance at personal redemption for a failed father, in Mark Rydell’s The Cowboys (1972); and
• In his swan song, Don Siegel’s The Shootist (1976), as dying gunfighter (“shootist”), John Bernard Books.
That makes eight Best Actor nominations Wayne should have gotten.
And as far as I’m concerned, Wayne was up for the wrong picture in 1949: He was much better in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon than he was in Sands of Iwo Jima that year. During the late ‘40s, he was on one of the great runs any actor ever had.
Mind you, I’m not saying that he should have been nominated for every great performance he ever gave. He was great in scores of other pictures without deserving a nomination, e.g.:
• Stagecoach (1939);
• The Shepherd of the Hills (1941);
• Angel and the Bad Man (1947);
• Fort Apache (1948);
• Three Godfathers (1948 was a very good year);
• Island in the Sky (1953);
• Rio Bravo (1959);
• The Alamo (1960);
• The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962);
• The Longest Day (1962);
• The Way the West was Won (1962—another very good year);
• In Harm’s Way (1965); and
• El Dorado (1966)
There are other acclaimed performances that I either can’t recall, almost 50 years after having seen them, e.g., 1940’s Dark Command, or have yet to see, such as 1944’s Tall in the Saddle, 1953's Hondo, and 1954’s The High and the Mighty.
Wayne won his lone Oscar for True Grit. He was also nominated as the producer of The Alamo (1960), which was up for Best Picture.
In the nominations for 1956, not only was Wayne snubbed, but the picture, The Searchers, was completely ignored by the Academy, even though it was a box office success, a rare, critically-acclaimed Wayne vehicle, John Ford’s greatest picture, and far and away the best picture of the year. (I rate it among the top 30 talkies.) The Searchers should have been up for at least seven Oscars: Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor (Wayne’s best friend, Ward Bond), Director, Screenplay, Cinematography and Editing.
I suspect that two factors were at work here. First, the Academy was sick of John Ford. The man who had won more Oscars for Best Director than anyone else (four or six, depending on who’s counting—four for features, and two for World War II documentaries), had worn out his welcome.
Second, race. While Jack Ford had once been a man of the Left, The Searchers was a race movie, but the wrong kind for Hollywood, which was heading to the radical, racial left, while the 60-year-old Ford was going back to the days when a man could be leftwing and pro-white.
The picture was adapted from the eponymous Alan Le May novel inspired by the Commanche massacre and gang-rape of the Parker family, the kidnapping of one of the Parker daughters, Cynthia Ann, and the turning of Cynthia Ann Parker into a Commanche squaw, the wife of the chief, and the mother of his braves.
The reality was much worse than the movie—by the time Cynthia Ann Parker was rescued, 20 years had elapsed, she had forgotten English, was devoted to her braves, and had completely assimilated into the Commanche. But Hollywood didn’t want to hear it.
The reasons for all the Academy’s snubs of Wayne: Politics, and the low regard the organization held for the most screen’s most popular and profitable genre, the Western.
As Wayne’s late son and producer, Mike, liked to say, movie critics didn’t review John Wayne’s movies, they reviewed his politics. And most critics were lefties—like many Academy voters—who hated his politics (Michael Munn, John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth).
However, many Academy voters at the time also loved John Wayne. The reds—joined now by the blacks—hadn’t yet taken over.
If you take a look at academy history, the Western hasn’t fared any better than the man who worked under the name John Wayne, but who never stopped being Duke Morrison, and who never changed his name.