John Wayne-Cardiac Catholic

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(John Wayne died 33 years ago this week.  It is amazing to me that a third of a century has passed since that sad day when I heard that he had passed.  In his memory I am reposting this post from August 24, 2009.)

 

John Wayne died on June 11, 1979.  Like many Americans at the time I felt as if a personal friend had died.  Growing up, Wayne was a part of my childhood both on TV and at the local theater.  Remarkably, more than three decades after his demise, he still routinely appears among the top ten favorite actors in polls.  For three and a half decades he dominated American film screens and became the archetypal Western hero.  Frequently savaged by film critics in his life, something which bothered him little, his appearance as a Centurion in the film The Greatest Story Ever Told, the video clip which begins this post, was a special target,  Wayne’s work has endured the test of time.  A staunch conservative, Wayne upheld  love of country when such love was popular and when it was unpopular.  Eventually he became a symbol of America, recognizable around the globe.  What is less known about Wayne is his religion, and, at the end, his conversion to Catholicism.

Wayne had a strong faith in God.  This is illustrated well in this video clip from The Alamo, the scene begins at 9:26 on the video, the film which was Wayne’s pet project from beginning to end.

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This clip didn’t make it into the released film, but a discussion of God did.  Before the final assault on the Alamo, some of the defenders are thinking about death and debating whether God exists, and one of the men makes a striking declaration of his faith in God.  We also have this line from John Wayne as Davy Crockett:  “It was like I was empty. Well, I’m not empty anymore. That’s what’s important, to feel useful in this old world, to hit a lick against what’s wrong for what’s right even though you get walloped for saying that word. Now I may sound like a Bible beater yelling up a revival at a river crossing camp meeting, but that don’t change the truth none. There’s right and there’s wrong. You got to do one or the other. You do the one and you’re living. You do the other and you may be walking around, but you’re dead as a beaver hat.”

Sadly this faith did not move him to moral conduct in one important area of his life.  His pursuit of women led to two divorces and his estrangement from his third wife.  Unlike some sinners in his profession however, Wayne never pretended that his conduct was in any way right and moral, and he blamed only himself for the wreck his lust made of his personal life.

Ironically enough, each of his wives was Catholic.  All of his seven kids, the first being born in 1934 and the last in 1966, were raised Catholic, and for virtually all of his adult life Wayne paid tuition to Catholic schools, as each of his children received a Catholic education.  Wayne was deeply impressed by the results, as none of his kids, as he said, “ever game me a minute’s trouble”, and he gave a large share of the  credit to the Catholic schools.    His wives were hispanics, and Wayne had many close friends in Panama and Mexico, and he  remarked as to how he envied the certainty that their Catholic faith gave them.  When his close friend and director John Ford died of cancer Wayne also noted the serenity and courage with which the Catholic Ford faced a painful death.

When asked about his religion Wayne would either say he was a Presbyterian, although he never attended Presbyterian services as an adult, or a “Cardiac Catholic”, a humorous reference to the fact, as any priest can attest to, that many a non-Catholic facing death wishes to go out embracing Mother Church.

For years, Wayne knew that his kids wanted him to convert.  He felt guilty that he hadn’t been a better father to them and when he fought his final courageous battle with cancer he decided it was time.  On his deathbed Wayne was received into the Church, one more laborer hired at the last moment who receives the full day’s wage, one more lost lamb bounding into the sheepfold as darkness descends.

Wayne played many roles in his life. At the end, acting was done and Wayne faced God as a penitent Catholic.  May he be now enjoying the Beatific Vision.

25 Responses to John Wayne-Cardiac Catholic

  • Remarkably, three decades after his demise, he still routinely appears among the top ten favorite actors in polls.

    Dude, he’s the Duke!

    Our little Duchess is named partly in his honor, and both her parents are dang kids; I dearly hope that he fully embraced the Church at the end, and that my father will follow in his footsteps. (My dear dad’s sins are too few and private for me to know– my mom’s, I know because I share in them. Gunpowder temper and all.)

    Curse it, now I’m going to have to ask Marion Morrison to pray for my daughter, just on the off chance that he’s there and interested. I dearly hope he doesn’t get a chance to prove he’s a saint from my family!

  • “Dead as a beaver hat”
    Oh how I hope I can remember that line in daily conversation. (Never heard it before).

    Perhaps I can file it with one of my Dad’s favorites: “Hot as a $2 pistol”.

  • Matthew Muñoz, a priest in the Diocese of Orange County California is John Wayne’s grandson. (Father Matthew Munoz Talks About The Conversion of His Grandfather: John Wayne, Published Wednesday, October 5, 2011 A.D. | By Donald R. McClarey )

  • “Don’t apologize – it’s a sign of weakness.” Nathan Brittles, Captain, United States Cavalry, Retired – She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

    If you must have an example of manhood, you could do a hell of a lot worse than John Wayne (RIP).

    ” . . . and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won’t. I won’t. The hell I won’t!” – McLintock (1963)

  • Yes – The DUKE.
    Man, he was always impressive – almost larger than the screen in all his films.
    I just liked the rugged, manliness that he portrayed.

    Remainder edited by Donald R. McClarey (I would appreciate the humor of the joke you told in the remainder of the comment in other venues Don, but I decided that for TAC I couldn’t let it through, mild as it might seem on other forums.)

  • It’s nice to hear of deathbed conversions. I hope to make my own someday despite clinging to my agnostic notions. Unlike Wayne, I’m a cradle Catholic and have since strayed from the vineyards. As an actor, Duke made some decent films with with glaring exception — The Green Berets, a blatant piece of Hollywood propaganda designed to quell critics of Vietnam.

    In real life as opposed to reel life, Wayne obtained 3-A status, deferred for dependency reasons — hiding behind the skirt of his wife. Wayne was like like Bush, Chaney and all the other chicken hawks who had connections and skipped service. Cheney said Nam wasn’t in his career path. Dan Quayle golfed through the ’60s and early ’70s and there were other neocons who beat the war drums and sent kids overseas to die while they stayed home and brayed about patriotism, honor, courage, freedom, yada, yada.

    If Duke’s in heaven, that’s fine. Not for me to judge. But let’s set the record straight about what sort of human being he was.

  • “The Green Berets, a blatant piece of Hollywood propaganda designed to quell critics of Vietnam.”

    Nope it was all John Wayne propaganda. He firmly believed in the mission in Vietnam and toured combat bases twice, coming under enemy fire. Hollywood was mostly firmly on the Left by the time of Vietnam.

    As for Wayne and World War II, he was already getting pretty long in the tooth by World War II. At the time of Pearl Harbor he was 34 with four kids. With his bad eyesight, and a football injury that he incurred in college and which curtailed his athletic career, he had zero chance of getting into a combat unit and probably near zero of even being shipped over seas. He did volunteer to serve with John Ford’s film unit with the OSS in the Pacific during the War but nothing ever came of it.

    John Wayne helped save the Marines after World War II. Go here to read the post:

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2011/01/08/marines-hymn/

  • Thanks, Don, for sharing the link. I did not mean to be so harsh on ol’ Duke. He did some good things but The Green Berets was a terrible movie in so many ways. For starters it was shot in Georgia and the typography was all wrong. For another, the cardboard characters were irksome and, yes, Wayne was too fat and old for the part. Former fugitive David Janssen, cast as the lefty journalist, was wasted and cliches abound including the hackneyed WWII veteran, the guitar-strumming Jim Hutton, the brave commander, the tough-as-nails with heart-of-gold field grunt, the submissive natives, ad nauseum. It was all so gung-ho, complete with a “fight song.” Other war movies including The Dirty Dozen were ridiculous but at least entertaining. TGB is not one of them.

  • Oh, I agree with you on the Green Berets Joe. Although I agree with its politics, it was a dreadful film, the worst film Wayne ever made, except for The Conqueror. In regard to the Dirty Dozen, a film I greatly admire, Wayne was up for the starring role but rejected it.

  • Yep, Don. The Dirty Dozen is a guy’s movie no doubt and well done. I didn’t much care for Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson torching all the Krauts in the basement, including the gals, but otherwise enjoyed it. Ernie Borgnine is one of my favorite actors along with Telly Savalas who nailed the role. Kojak was a great TV series. “Who loves ya, baby?”

  • Telly Savalas was great as the aptly named Maggot:

  • Despite their flawed personal lives, I regret that “The Duke” and the “Chairman of the Board” are not alive today . I can only imagine what they would be doing and saying about what is being done to America.

  • That’s fine Don.
    After I had hit the “Post Comment” button, I had second thoughts – but, alas, too late. :-(

  • I roared with laughter when I read it Don! After I recovered I decided that even though it was funny I couldn’t allow it to go through on TAC. Truly funny and bad taste often walk hand in hand! :)

  • Joe Green God bless you. You are an interesting person! You say, “..deathbed conversions. I hope to make my own someday despite clinging to my agnostic notions.” Then you go on to talk about other people being chicken hawks.
    I don’t mean to be disrespectful to you, but do you see irony there?

    You HOPE to have a conversion? go ahead and have it– it’s your choice. Dancing around the issue, not making a commitment though your heart is there, your hope is there, does not preserve your freedom but limits your freedom

    It seems we are infatuated with doubt these days. We struggle with idea of accepting that whatever the Church teaches us is true. ( reference post by LarryD) We dither we dance… playing with opposing ideas as possibilites and are unable to claim one as the truth.

    During B16’s visit to this country, I heard a “man on the street” interview in which the man said that he didn’t buy into any religion because religion puts you “in a box”. He was apparently afraid he would have to restrict his thinking if he became Catholic.

    Of course even the most free of the so-called free thinkers, are “in a box” of their own paradigms.
    I wonder if you have already read John Henry Newman Discourse 11, (esp around 220 TO 222) Anyway come on in, the water is fine.

  • Truly funny and bad taste often walk hand in hand!

    That’s us South Pacific, spade weilding, earthy Colonials for you ;-)

  • So Grandpa Folger [Yep, real name.] is sitting in a bar in the Beverley Wilshire somewhere in the 1950s and a tall handsome guy sits down next to him and orders a drink. He strikes-up a conversations with Grandpa and then challenges him to flip for the next round. Grandpa wins.

    Guy says the LA Dodger at the plate on the bar tele is no good and gonna strike-out, Grandpa says he’s due and the batter pops one into the outfield. Finally, in exasperation the guy bets Grandpa dinner the Dodgers will lose and they win.

    Step-Grandma walks in from a day with the girls, kisses Grandpa and as he turns to introduce their dinner partner she nearly faints. Yep, John Wayne.

    Wayne dropped anchor in Grandpa’s cove on Vancouver Island many summers thereafter just to enjoy his company. When he was dying of cancer in the early 1970s he sent him a card, I still have: “Folger, get well again soon so we can flip for drinks – Duke”

    Why did Wayne like Grandpa so much? Because he had no idea who Wayne was. Grandpa never watched movies! He liked John Wayne just for himself and couldn’t imagine another side to him.

    Grandpa was also a devout Roman Catholic, attending daily Holy Mass, although he couldn’t receive Holy Communion since he was divorced from Grandma. I wonder what affect his quiet, manly Catholicity had on John Wayne’s conversion?

  • @anzlyne. First to admit I am the misanthrope among you. There’s a character in Sinclair Lewis’ “Elmer Gantry” who says he was “saved” seven times. Yes, I am the doubter, putting St. Thomas to shame, struggling daily to find the peace that Jesus promises to each of us. But it just doesn’t come no matter how hard I pray. In my dreams I am always traveling, seeking and never finding.

    Have you read Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia? There’s a character in The Silver Chair, called Puddleglum. He’s a Marshwiggle, temperamentally disposed to thinking that the worst will probably happen. That’s me. Maybe there are saints in heaven as curmudgeonly as me? Who knows?

  • Joe Green
    “But it just doesn’t come no matter how hard I pray”

    I think it becomes a matter of your will to accept. There is a peace in acceptance.

    For me there is also some enjoyment in the ongoing discussion with God that still continues. I believe Lord help my unbelief…with all my what ifs and yeahbuts and whatabouts

  • Joe I wasn’t careful in my post.I did not mean to say “YOUR will to accept” specific to you– but including myself and all others too I should have said “one’s will to” or “my will to..”

  • I am embarrassed that I have not read the Chronicles of Narnia– but I do remember Arlo Guthrie talking about The Last Guy ( as in the poor guy who is at the end of the list of ;there is always somebody worse off than you;…) you are prob not the Last Guy in curmudgianity

  • “Curmudgianity” — love the coinage, Anz.

  • I think I am a believer, but I keep sinning . . . The friars at St. Francis of Assisi on 32nd Street have heard it all. Every time I need to be humble and pick myself up and try to do better.

    Jesus tells us to lay down our heavy worldly (fleeting) burdens and take up his yoke which is light: to love God with all your heart and with all your might and to love others as yourself. Then, take up your cross (whatever you need to do to be saved) and follow Him.

    There is the 100% likelihood that we will die. We need to increase our odds of being saved. We can’t do that without God’s grace.

    Obviously, I don’t read much.

    I (imperfectly) remember my 1950’s Baltimore Catechism. God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him so that I may be happy with Him forever in Heaven.

    Jesus tells me my Faith must be like that of a little child.

  • ‘ We also have this line from John Wayne as Davy Crockett: “It was like I was empty. Well, I’m not empty anymore. That’s what’s important, to feel useful in this old world, to hit a lick against what’s wrong for what’s right even though you get walloped for saying that word. Now I may sound like a Bible beater yelling up a revival at a river crossing camp meeting, but that don’t change the truth none. There’s right and there’s wrong. You got to do one or the other. You do the one and you’re living. You do the other and you may be walking around, but you’re dead as a beaver hat.” ‘

    Have been noticing the smiles and eyes on the faces I see and have been connecting them to either true, warm, living, good and right or false, cold, dead, bad and wrong. John Wayne was a man, with a powerful smile even when he was wasn’t just actively ‘smiling’. The Grace of God shows through.

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