Friday, May 25, 2012

Oh to have riden with John Wayne

In 1971 I was twelve years old.  I clearly remember being in a classroom (during a break) looking over a spread in LIFE magazine about John Wayne's up and coming movie.  The article had lots of pictures about a movie that was in the works.  I had heard that the people who were producing the new movie were looking for some boys to be cowboys in Wayne's next venture entitled The Cowboys!  I really wanted to be in that movie.  I remember filling out little form to apply for the part.  I don't remember where I got the form.   I'm sure millions of boys did the same.  The world seems much smaller to me at the time and so I guess I thought I had a chance.  I never told anyone about it, but I could just see myself riding along side THE DUKE himself.  I remember that the call from John Wayne never came.   I was very disappointed when the movie came out without me.

As it turned out, the boys that were cast were either bona-fide actors or bona-fide reall  little cowboys.  The young actors helped coach the young cowboys how to act and the young cowboys helped teach the young actors how to ride horses and do other cowboy stuff.  I could do neither and I know that John Wayne probably looked over my name and figured I was just a city kid that he'd have to spend extra time teaching how to act and ride horses and shoot a gun. Shucks. I wouldn't have minded in the least.

I was thinking as I watched this movie again a few nights ago, about how this script would've been the better story for John Wayne's last film rather than The Shootist.  In The Cowboys, John Wayne's character, Wil Anderson, lost his seasoned cattle drivers due to a gold rush.  They left him short handed.  Wil had a limited time to move the cattle and had to rely on young boys to drive herd across 400 miles of territory before Winter.  The boys had to quickly and literally be shown the ropes before saddling up for the venture.  John Wayne became a father figure to the boys and taught them to be men along the way.

Who could forget Bruce Dern in this movie?  Bruce Dern played a cold-blooded character 'Long Hair' who shot John Wayne in the back.  The story I heard was that John had told Bruce before production that
"America will hate you for this."  Dern wryly replied, "Yeah, but they'll love me in Berkeley."I guess the reason this would've made a better final film for Wayne is because he was a father figure for so many of us boys.  We all looked up to him.  He was more than a screen legend.  He was a role model. He was the giant good guy that we all grew up watching. My heart sank when I saw that giant fall after Dern shot'm in the back.  Those boys though, those young cowboys, they buried that old man and went about to finish the job they promised to finished.  They had become men along the way.

Cimarron: They didn't even dig him a decent grave.
Wil Anderson: Well, it's not how you're buried, it's how you're remembered.

This is not Wayne's best, but it's good.  I've got to close for now - "We're burning daylight!"
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