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Friday, February 22, 2019

The State of the Art: “We’re in the business of magic” (Part II of John Wayne’s Famous, Amazing, 1971 Playboy Interview)

Re-posted by Nicholas Stix

PLAYBOY: How do you feel about the state of the motion-picture business today?

WAYNE: I'm glad I won’t be around much longer to see what they do with it. The men who control the big studios today are stock manipulators and bankers. They know nothing about our business. They’re in it for the buck. The only thing they can do is say, “Jeez, that picture with what’s-her-name running around the park naked made money, so let’s make another one. If that's what they want, let’s give it to them.”

Some of these guys remind me of high-class whores. Look at 20th Century-Fox, where they’re making movies like Myra Breckinridge. Why doesn't that son-of-a-bitch Darryl Zanuck get himself a striped silk shirt and learn how to play the piano? Then he could work in any room in the house.

As much as I couldn’t stand some of the old-time moguls—especially Harry Cohn—these men took an interest in the future of their business. They had integrity. There was a stretch when they realized that they’d made a hero out of the goddamn gangster heavy in crime movies, that they were doing a discredit to our country. So the moguls voluntarily took it upon themselves to stop making gangster pictures. No censorship from the outside. They were responsible to the public. But today’s executives don’t give a damn. In their efforts to grab the box office that these sex pictures are attracting, they’re producing garbage. They’re taking advantage of the fact that nobody wants to be called a bluenose. But they’re going to reach the point where the American people will say, “The hell with this!” And once they do, we’ll have censorship in every state, in every city, and there’ll be no way you can make even a worthwhile picture for adults and have it acceptable for national release.

PLAYBOY: Won’t the present rating system prevent that from happening?

WAYNE: No. Every time they rate a picture, they let a little more go. Ratings are ridiculous to begin with. There was no need for rated pictures when the major studios were in control. Movies were once made for the whole family. Now, with the kind of junk the studios are cranking out—and the jacked-up prices they’re charging for the privilege of seeing it—the average family is staying home and watching television. I’m quite sure that within two or three years, Americans will be completely fed up with these perverted films.

PLAYBOY: What kind of films do you consider perverted?

WAYNE: Oh, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy—that kind of thing. Wouldn’t you say that the wonderful love of those two men in Midnight Cowboy, a story about two fags, qualifies? But don’t get me wrong. As far as a man and a woman is concerned, I’m awfully happy there’s a thing called sex. It’s an extra something God gave us. I see no reason why it shouldn’t be in pictures. Healthy, lusty sex is wonderful.

PLAYBOY: How graphically do you think it should be depicted on the screen?

WAYNE: When you get hairy, sweaty bodies in the foreground, it becomes distasteful, unless you use a pretty heavy gauze. I can remember seeing pictures that Ernst Lubitsch made in the Thirties that were beautifully risqué—and you’d certainly send your children to see them. They were done with intimation. They got over everything these other pictures do without showing the hair and the sweat. When you think of the wonderful picture fare we’ve had through the years and realize we’ve come to this shit, it’s disgusting. If they want to continue making those pictures, fine. But my career will have ended. I’ve already reached a pretty good height right now in a business that I feel is going to fade out from its own vulgarity.

PLAYBOY: Don’t gory films like The Wild Bunch also contribute to that vulgarity?

WAYNE: Certainly. To me, The Wild Bunch was distasteful. It would have been a good picture without the gore. Pictures go too far when they use that kind of realism, when they have shots of blood spurting out and teeth flying, and when they throw liver out to make it look like people's insides. The Wild Bunch was one of the first to go that far in realism, and the curious went to see it. That may make the bankers and the stock promoters think this is a necessary ingredient for successful motion pictures. They seem to forget the one basic principle of our business—illusion. We’re in the business of magic. I don’t think it hurts a child to see anything that has the illusion of violence in it. All our fairy tales have some kind of violence—the good knight riding to kill the dragon, etc. Why do we have to show the knight spreading the serpent’s guts all over the candy mountain?

PLAYBOY: Proponents of screen realism say that a public inured to bloody war-news footage on television isn’t going to accept the mere illusion of violence in movies.

WAYNE: Perhaps we have run out of imagination on how to effect illusion because of the satiating realism of a real war on television. But haven’t we got enough of that in real life? Why can’t the same point be made just as effectively in a drama, without all the gore? The violence in my pictures, for example, is lusty and a little bit humorous, because I believe humor nullifies violence. Like in one picture, directed by Henry Hathaway [North to Alaska 1960?], this heavy was sticking a guy’s head in a barrel of water. I’m watching this and I don’t like it one bit, so I pick up this pick handle and I yell, “Hey!,” and cock him across the head. Down he went—with no spurting blood. Well, that got a hell of a laugh because of the way I did it. That’s my kind of violence.

PLAYBOY: Audiences may like your kind of violence on the screen, but they'd never heard profanity in a John Wayne movie until True Grit. Why did you finally decide to use such earthy language in a film?

WAYNE: In my other pictures, we’ve had an explosion or something go off when a bad word was said. This time we didn’t. It’s profanity, all right, but I doubt if there’s anybody in the United States who hasn’t heard the expression “son of a bitch” or “bastard.” We felt it was acceptable in this instance. At the emotional high point in that particular picture, I felt it was OK to use it. It would have been pretty hard to say, “You illegitimate sons of so-and-so!”

[In private, Wayne was not happy about the screen profanity, even if he was a notorious potty-mouth in his personal life.]


 

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