John Wayne's America

John Wayne's America
by Garry Wills

One of the many blessings of my childhood was our family’s friendship with the late Hubert van Zeller, the English Benedictine monk and theologian who wrote magnificent and widely read books about prayer and the life of the spirit. The great, blazoned moment of Father van Zeller’s Victorian-era childhood was his attendance at Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, and it left the Dom, as we adoring children came to nickname him, with a ferocious love of all things wild and Western. The great, blazoned moment of my own cold-war era childhood, in fact, was being taken by the Dom to the Orpheum Theatre in Springfield, Illinois, to see John Wayne star in The Comancheros. There may have been a more passionate John Wayne fan in our hemisphere than this somewhat bookish, stoutly Tridentine, profoundly contemplative, and usually diffident priest, but I doubt it. When it came to the Duke, the gentle Dom could sit shoulder to shoulder with us bourgeois American kids in our Davy Crockett hats, our lips aflame with popcorn salt as we bayed for the blood of prairie bullies everywhere. John Wayne back down from a fight? That’ll be the day.

In this highly disappointing study, Garry Wills somewhat prissily reminds us that John Wayne’s real name was Marion Morrison. There was a person from Iowa who answered to that name in those long-ago days before Sergeant Stryker led the Marines up Mount Suribachi, Davy Crockett blew up the...

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About the Author

Michael O. Garvey works in public relations at the University of Notre Dame.