The Greatest American Hero

I finished reading Nancy Schoenberger’s introduction – a well-crafted, passionate account on masculinity from a woman’s perspective, mostly derived through cinematic heroes such as John Wayne westerns, although with the obligatory nods to her father – and immediately turned to my wife stating she had to read this primer. In this world of Wonder Woman and where the glass ceiling is arguably (at least?) scratched, this is the perfect time to hear from a woman on Wayne, who was truly a man’s man, like Bogey and Mitchum whose fast-talkin’ wit and sharp muscles fed the ideals of Boomers to Gen X boys nationwide, and John Ford, the man who helped forge Duke’s image.

Like Schoenberger, I grew up on Duke’s film’s and own The Searchers on Blu-Ray for the sole purpose of showing the film to my own boys (full confession: I also have Yojimbo and Hidden Fortress reserved for future viewings as well) but after reading her book I learned that my knowledge only ran as deep as the big hits. Schoenberger goes deeper. Wayne and Ford: The Films, the Friendship and the Forging of an American Hero, Schoenberger avoids presenting a full biography on each man, acknowledging their tales have been told before. Yes, it is impossible to avoid such, but similar to what Bill Shatner recently accomplished in his 2016 recounting of his friendship with Leonard Nimoy in Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man, Schoenberger focuses on the often-contentious working relationship between Duke Wayne and Jack Ford and the nearly twenty films they made together.

Wayne and Ford book review, westerns, DukeMore than that, Schoenberger provides critical examinations on many of those films, including the aforementioned Searchers, the Cavalry trilogy (Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande), Stagecoach, as well as Duke’s directorial debut, The Alamo. Schoenberger ponders the essential morality lesson of these films specifically, as well as Westerns generally, and theorizes on the macho image of Hollywood heroes from the more recent past: Gibson, Schwarzenegger, Willis. What do Westerns teach us, she asks and follows up with, why are we missing those lessons today?

Their personal lives are accounted for within. Duke’s failed marriages and eventual cancer diagnosis. The possibility of John Ford’s suppressed homosexuality. She asides into separate projects, most noticeably the final three Westerns Wayne filmed without Ford, yet deliberately avoids other independent projects, most noticeably Rio Bravo, one of Duke’s most referenced films. She shows their relationship is more than mentor-student and truly becomes one of father-and-son.

Wayne and Ford is an excellent round-up and review of the work produced by two of the genre’s best. Ford had his Monument Valley. Wayne his stance, his drawl. Both are missed. Wayne and Ford lets you remember and learn.

Thanks to NetGalley and Nan A. Talese for the chance to read and review this enjoyable ARC.

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