John Wayne was one of Hollywood’s most famous and most successful actors, but he was more than that.
He became a symbol of America itself. He epitomized the Western film, which for many people epitomized America.
He identified with conservative political causes from the early 1930s to his death in 1979, making him a hero to one generation of Americans and a villain to another. But unlike fellow actor Ronald Reagan, Wayne had no interest in politics as a career.
Like many stars, he altered his life story, claiming to have become an actor almost by accident when in fact he had studied drama and aspired to act for most of his youth.
He married three times, all to Latina women, and conducted a lengthy affair with Marlene Dietrich, as unlikely a romantic partner as one could imagine for the Duke.
Wayne projected dignity, integrity, and strength in all his films, even when his characters were flawed, and whatever character he played was always prepared to confront injustice in his own way.
More than 30 years after his death, he remains the standard by which male stars are judged and an actor whose morally unambiguous films continue to attract sizeable audiences.
Scott Eyman, author of “John Wayne: The Life and Legend” (Simon & Schuster, 2014) and “Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford (Simon & Schuster, 2012)