John Wayne, 72, Dies of Cancer

Appeared In 120 Features, One TV Series, Directed 2 Pix; Fought Disease 15 Yrs

John Wayne, who fought cancer off and on for 15 years, died late yesterday afternoon at UCLA Medical Center. Doctors were unable to make him strong enough to start the chemotherapy and experimental treatment “The Duke ” had consented to. He was 72.

Wayne died at 5:30 p.m., according to hospital spokesman who issued a statement last night, several hours after the death. He said Wayne’s family was with him at the time, that someone from the family had been at his bedside every day, around the clock, since he entered the hospital May 3, at which time doctors removed an intestinal obstruction. Following that surgery , during which doctors, for the second time this year, found more cancerous tissues, the actor agreed to undergo experimental treatment. Doctors were trying to build up his physical condition and, as late as 10 days ago, Wayne was walking about the hospital.

Last Sunday, the hospital reported that Wayne was in “stable” condition, the same as the last official progress report released by the family and the hospital last week.

The family last night said funeral services and burial will be private and suggested, in lieu of flowers, any remembrances be made to the UCLA Medical Center, John Wayne Memorial Cancer Fund.

Wayne had been plagued with medical problems for 15 years. In 1965, he underwent surgery for lung cancer. Last year he had open-heart surgery in Boston.

This year he was hospitalized three times. On January 12, he warn operated on for routine gall bladder removal, at which time doctors found malignant cancer and removed his stomach in a nine-and-one-half-hour operation. On April 20, he was again admitted to UCLA for treatment of a bronchial condition brought on by flu, but was released a week later.

His last public appearance was at the Academy Awards ceremony at Music Center Pavilion on April 9, at which time he answered a rousing ovation with, “That’s just about the only medicine a fellow would ever need.”

Wayne attended the Oscar Awards to hand out the best picture award to “The Deer Hunter.” Before announcing the award he noted that he and Oscar went back to the beginning together. “Oscar and I both came on the Hollywood scene in 1828.” At that time he noted that they both had been around a long time and promised they both would be around a lot longer.

Prior to his Oscar appearance, and before his second-to-last hospital stay, he appeared on a Perry Como tv special.

During his L.A. visit in early May, President Carter stopped by the UCLA Medical Center to spend a few minutes with Wayne.

Soon after the news was first broadcast on television, the word could be heard being passed across backyard fences In neighborhoods throughout the city — the first time since the death of Bing Crosby that this particular phenomenon had been noted.

Wayne enjoyed probably the longest and most successful career of any actor in film history. He had appeared in 120 features and one series, “The Mesquiteers” and also directed two. A starring role in director John Ford’s “Stagecoach” (1939) lifted him overnight to enormous fame, and from then on Duke remained an outstanding performer. He was among the top 10 boxofflce attractions more often than any other star.

“Stagecoach” was predictably a western. Wayne had played a man of the cattle country through much of his career up to then. For nine years following “The Big Trail,” which featured him In his first big role In 1930, he tolled In six-day, grade B films. But the record shows that he performed a wide diversity of parts in varied locations.

Making those programmers so long must have seemed sometimes a ticket to permanent obscurity. But Ford was always there. And Wayne persisted, with his curious, rolling gait and his characteristic way of swinging both arms in front of his body when he walked.

1970 Oscar

In 1970, after more than 30 years of stardom, he won an Oscar for “True Grit.” He played, as in most of his films, the big, tough, fearless western hero — sometimes a brawler but never a drunk, sometimes a ranch owner, sometimes a cowhand, sometimes a lawman.

In private life he drank perhaps too much, worked too hard, slept too little. But on the screen, as in reality, if he had faults, they were the shortcomings of a man always decent at bottom, always law-abiding, always capable of rising above his weaknesses.

As one biographer, Mike Tom Tomkies, tells it, for Wayne there was no “anti” preceding “hero.”

It was true, also, of the other roles, played usually with distinction: the sea captain in ‘Wake Of The Red Witch,” the former boxer in “The Quiet Man,” made in Ireland; the tough Marine sergeant in “Sands Of Iwo Jima.” for which he received his only other Oscar nomination. He was always the solid hero, in Hollywood and on location in Hawaii, Mexico, Peru, Africa, and other places.

But to the end Wayne kept returning to the Old West for stories. And finally as a tv and radio pitchman for Great Westem Savings & Loan.

The big hat and the riding spurs came to him honestly. For in a sense, he did ride the range, near Palmdale in California’s Mojave Desert.

He was born In Winterset, Iowa, May 28,1907, but he came early to California. His real name was Marion Michael Morrison. His father, Clyde, was a druggist who always wanted to live in open country, and in 1913, when the boy was six, he bought an 80-acre ranch.

It was alfalfa territory, and the family went into farming. Mostly they raised corn. It took the senior Morrison two years to go broke. But in those two years young Marion was often on a horse, and he rode horseback some 10 miles to school in Lancaster.

After the ranching calamity, the family moved to Glendale, just outside Los Angeles, and the father went to work in a drug store.

‘Eatin’ Money’

From then on it was a long struggle for what Wayne came to call “eatin” money.” Even after his father got his own business, Duke had to work all through his schooling days.

Some of those odd jobs had particular appeal, like delivering handbills for a neighborhood Bijou, which allowed him to see films starring Tom Mix and other cowboy heroes of the period.

Glendale gave Wayne his nickname. Actually, it was his dog’s. He used to leave his pet at a nearby fire house when he went to school, and the firemen, knowing the animal’s name but not the boy’s, took to calling both “Duke.”

So Duke It was, for the rest of his life.

John Wayne, offensive lineman of the University of Southern California Trojans football team, poses for a photo at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. photo credit: University of Southern California/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

He broke into films by accident. Always big and strong — he grew to six feet, four inches — young Morrison became a splendid athlete and won a football scholarship to the University of Southern California. But he still had to work. A sympathetic coach, Howard Jones, traded Tom Mix a coveted box at a big game for a summer studio job for his player. Ward Bond started out with him, and they became lifelong friends.

Marion Morrison became a set dresser, moving furniture and props. This was the late ’20s, when they were still making silents. Soon he met director John Ford, who gave him his first job herding geese on the set of “Mother Machree, “and with whom he was to share a devoted friendship broken only by Ford’s death in 1973.

Some have likened it to a father-son relationship, but Robert Newman, a studio executive who knew both well, says it was deeper than that. “He loved the old man as few sons love their father,” Newman said. “Ford gave him his start, and they were close over 40 years.”

After “Stagecoach,” they made 13 pictures together — “The Long Voyage Home,” “They Were Expendable,” “Fort Apache,” “Three Godfathers,” “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” “Rio Grande,” “The Quiet Man,” “The Searchers,” “The Wings Of Eagles,” “The Horse Soldiers,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, ” “How The West Was Won” and “Donovan’s Reef.”

Wayne also appeared in three television shows directed by Ford — “Rookie Of The Year” in 1955 starring his son Patrick, in which he was seen briefly as a reporter; “The Colter Craven Story,” a 1980 “Wagon Train” episode in which, under the pseudonym Michael Morris, he played a cameo as General Sherman, a role he was later to flesh out In “How The West Was Won”; and “Flashing Spikes” on the Alcoa Premiere series in 1962, in which he portrayed a drill sergeant in an episode which starred Patrick Wayne and James Stewart.

Ford Dox

Wayne was also seen in two documentaries about Ford, Peter Bogdanovlch’s “Directed By John Ford” and “The American West Of John Ford.” Appropriately, he also appeared in the last piece of film Ford ever shot, the introduction to the short documentary “Chesty,” which was lensed on the set of Howard Hawks’ “Rio Lobo” the day after Wayne received his “True Grit” Oscar. Arriving on the set, Wayne found the entire cast and crew with their backs turned on him. When they all turned around, he saw that they were all wearing Rooster Cogburnstyle eyepatches — including the horses.

But that was later. At the start he moved slowly, when Wayne could get away from prop-moving chores, into minor roles. He got a bit part In Ford’s “Hangman’s House” in 1928. In “Salute,” also by Ford, a story about the U.S. Naval Academy, he spoke his first lines.

He was 22 when director Raoul Walsh noticed his easy, graceful movements and tested him for “The Big Trail,” his first major role at $75 a week. He also got a new name because, as Walsh remarked, people would expect Marion Morrison to be a girl. So, from the time of the Fox release, he was John Wayne.

But, though he proved he could act. “The Big Trail” did little to build his fame. It was experimental, requiring a wide screen and special projection equipment, and this was 1929, with the country mired in depression. Few theatre owners could afford the system called Grandeur.

Fox let Wayne go, and then he signed for the series of six-day, grade B films for Republic Studios and Lone Star productions. It was obscurity, but It was work, and he considered himself lucky.

Among the more curious experiences that fell his way during that period was the distinction of becoming the screen’s first singing cowboy. Except that Wayne never sang. His booming voice was incompatible with melody. Smith Bellow was the dubbed-in singer and guitar player for Mascot’s 1932 “Singing Sandy” series, but Wayne was uncomfortable, considering the process a hoax. After two or three performances, he refused to play those parts.

In 1933 he married the first of his three wives, Josephine Saenz, daughter of the Panamanian consul in Los Angeles. Soon there was a son, Michael, then his sister, Toni, and later Patrick and Melinda, and it was Duke’s obscurity that provided the “eatin’ money.”

Then came “Stagecoach.” It was the hit film of 1939. It won three Academy Awards, though Wayne, despite a splendid performance, was not even nominated. Later he was to make a characteristic observation about that:

“You can’t eat awards; nor, more to the point, drink em.”

But that was the scorn of frustration. When he strode to the stage the night he got the “True Grit” Oscar, tears filled his eyes.

Despite his success in “Stagecoach,” Wayne was still stuck making glorified programmers at Republic, which only occasionally, as with Raoul Walsh’s “Dark Command,” would give him good directors, costars and budgets. He gradually worked his way out of the B-picture mold during the war, working for De Mille in “Reap The Wild Wind,” but was still at Republic as late as 1945.

Though he was already a star, 1948 was the key year for Wayne, as Hawks’ epic “Red River” established him forever as a top actor. Playing a tough, unforglvlng cattle driver, a character somewhat older than the actor waa at the time, Wayne gave a performance that led Ford to joke to Hawks, “I didn’t know the dumb s.o.b. could act.”

Ford’s cavalry trilogy followed in short order, as did his nomination for Allan Dwan’s “The Sands Of Iwo Jima” and his marvelous characterization of the American boxer who travels back to Ireland to find his roots in Ford’s “The Quiet Man.” Though he could still turn out a clinker, such as “The Conqueror,” in which he played Genghis Khan, Wayne starred in hit after hit during the 1950s, establishing himself as the prototypical American no-nonsense he-man identifiable around the world.

Ford was not the only director with whom Wayne forged valuable and lasting artistic relationships. Ten years after “Red River,” Howard Hawks called upon Wayne to star in “Rio Bravo,” the beginning of a remarkable string of pictures including “Hatari!” “El Dorado” and “Rio Lobo.”

Wayne worked with Henry Hathaway, the director who guided him to his Oscar, six times, “The Shepherd Of The Hills,” “Legend Of The Lost,” “North To Alaska,” “Circus World,” “The Sons Of Katie Eider” and “True Grit.” The films he did with William Wellman — “Island In The Sky,” “The High And The Mighty” and “Blood Alley” — were all hits, and in later years he worked four times with Victor McLaglen’s son Andrew on “McLintock!” “Hellflghters.” “Chlsum” and “The Undefeated.”

O’Hara Teaming

Not to be overlooked either was Wayne’s always enjoyable teaming with Maureen O’Hara, which was initiated by Ford in “Rio Grande” and continued by Ford and others in “The Quiet Man,” “The Wings Of Eagles,” “McLintock!” and “Big Jake.”

Winning it rewarded him in several ways. Wayne was not only a star, but a producer. He made many of his pictures through Batjac, the company he founded in 1952 in partnership with the late Robert Fellows, then an RKO writer and executive. “Grit” proved Duke still had plenty of vigor and skill six years after his battle with cancer.

Batjac was a pioneering enterprise. It enabled him to be an independent producer while working with various studios to make pictures. It also left him at one point, as he said, “pretty near broke.” But other things also figured In that. And he was, In fact, not anywhere near broke, since he was rich in land, in houses, and other possessions. He was only short of cash.

Batjac helped to empty the bank account through “The Alamo,” produced with United Artists, but mostly with Wayne’s money, and then fading at the boxoffice. There was also a business manager who led him into some calamitous deals and who later found himself out of his job.

Feeling the pressure, Wayne made five westerns, one after the other. He was in his 50s, and it was too much. For years he had the reputation of being able to outdrink and outwork any man in Hollywood. In the beginning he had been a stunt man, and he continued to do rough scenes himself so the camera could move in close.

In 1964 he made “McLintock” and “In Harm’s Way,” and then a routine physical examination showed he had lung cancer. An operation was the only thing that could save him. But it could have left him a helpless invalid, and very nearly did.

There were, in fact, two operations, because after the first he suffered complications in which his whole body swelled up. The second was successful, but it cost him almost an entire lung.

The doctors told him he must give up smoking, and though it was a habit of 40 years, he did quit. But old ways cling hard. By 1972 he was smoking again.

During his struggle with cancer and the idleness that was as painful to him as anything else in his recovery, Wayne had the comfort of his third wife, Pilar.

He and Josephine were divorced in 1944, after 11 years. In 1946 he married Esperanza Bauer, a Mexican actress. It was a stormy union and they were divorced in 1953 with considerable acrimony, much of it public.

He met Pilar Palette, the daughter of a Peruvian diplomat, while he was on location in her native country. They were married in 1954 the day his divorce from Esperanza became final. Some thought it a curiosity that all three of the women were Spanish speaking. More than once only a quick wit brought Mm cleanly through situations that might have produced public disfavor.

A heckler in a crowd, for instance, asked if he spoke Spanish.

“Not too well,” Wayne said.

“What!” the man shouted; “you’ve had three Spanish wives, and you can’t speak Spanish?”

“Wa-al,” Duke drawled, “I guess I just never listened to ’em.”

With Pilar there were three more children, two girls, Aissa and Marisa, and a boy Ethan. Now there are many grandchildren, too. This marriage also ended in divorce.

After “True Grit,” and as the nation’s taste began to change in certain ways, the boxoffice figures for Wayne’s films began to diminish a bit and he admitted that it was beginning to be more difficult to find appropriate roles and properties.

Turned Down Harry

Refusing on principle to appear in R-rated films, he turned down the lead In “Dirty Harry,” clearing the way for Clint Eastwood to step into the picture and its enormously successful followups.

In retrospect, Wayne admitted that he probably should have done the film. For different reasons, he turned down a leading part in Steven Spielberg’s “1941,” thinking that to do a spoof on the military would dishonor the image he’d spent his entire career building.

So, in the 1970s, he stuck to westerns and a couple of cop films, doing “Big Jake,” “The Cowboys,” in which, unusually, he was killed at the end, “The Train Robbers,” “McQ,” “Rooster Cogburn,” in which he encored his Rooster Cogburn characterization while playing alongside Katharine Hepburn; “Brannigan” and his last film, Don Siegel’s “The Shootist,” in which he was highly acclaimed for his performance as an aging gunfighter dying of cancer.

It was, in many ways, a fittingly meditative capstone for an Olympian career, fully cognizant of the mythic aspects of Wayne’s persona.

What emerges from all this is a life portrait of John Wayne curiously similar to the heroes he played through the years: a decent and honest human being. Only one thing, actually, in all his life and all him career, sent the winds of hate, of harsh personal criticism, sweeping against him. After World War II he took a big, public swing to the political right. Along with Ward Bond, Adolphe Menjou, Roy Brewer, then Hollywood head of the Int’l Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes, and some others, he founded a militant anti-communist organization called the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Liberals denounced him and he was distressed, but it was something he apparently could not keep bottled up.

Wayne affronted them again in 1968 with “The Green Berets,” a flattering look at some of the Americans who were fighting in Vietnam.

But the fact that Wayne’s iconographic stature overrode his political opinions even with his natural ideological opponents was clear even as early as 1974. In Boston to promote “McQ,” Wayne accepted an invitation by the Harvard Lampoon to ride into Harvard Square on an armored personnel carrier.

Though Initially pelted with snowballs, the Duke came, saw and conquered the thousands of Ivy Leaguers who turned out to see him, later engaging them in a lively q&a session at a neighborhood theatre.

John Wayne is for the ages. One of the screen’s true immortals, he’s one of the last about whom It can be truly said that we’ll never see his like again.

 

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