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Friday, October 4, 2013

John Wayne Used to Live at My Grandparents' House

Okay, so the actual man didn't live there.  It was just a life-sized poster, but still…it was rather startling to see him looming there in a doorway as you rounded the corner on your way to the bathroom.  Maybe it was that memory that popped into my head the other night that prompted me to look up John Wayne movies.  Perhaps it was boredom.   Whatever the reason, my husband and I watched an old John Wayne Western from the sixties.  It’s one of the two or three John Wayne movies that the gorgeous and talented Maureen O’Hara stars in as well.  If you don’t know who she is, think red hair and red lipstick but classier than Lucille Ball.  Do not, under any circumstances, confuse her with Maureen McCormick, aka Marsha Brady.  (I especially advise you not to tell your sister she looks like Ms. O’Hara, when you meant to say Ms. McCormick.  She was not thrilled to be compared to an actress who was in her eighties at the time).  J

So back to Mr. Wayne.  The film was fun and I enjoyed it overall, but a couple of things raised my eyebrows.  First of all, a group of so-called Comanche warriors greeted John Wayne’s character with a word that sounded like:  “ya ta hey.”  (Spelling surely incorrect).  Now, I’m no expert in Native American languages, but I thought that word was Navajo, not Comanche.  What the hey?  Hmm…also, the entire movie seemed to have one particular theme:  if you’re a man, it’s okay and even expected that you will push your girl around, and administer physical punishment in the form of spanking.  There are two spanking scenes in this movie.  First, the young, pretty college-age daughter is spanked by her love interest.  After that, she falls desperately in love with him and agrees to marry him.  The second spanking occurs after Maureen’s character first has her dress ruined so she goes inside to change.  Her husband confronts her while she’s wearing nothing more than her circa late 1800’s corset and white petticoat and chases her around the quaint western town with the entire population watching.  He finally catches her, thought not before her petticoat rips off and she’s running around in her bloomers and corset.  Then, he throws her over his lap so he can spank her in front of everyone, while they all laugh and cheer.  The result?  The two, separated for years, happily reunite.  Huh?

I’m not a huge Western movie expert, nor even a fan.  Okay, I must admit to having really, really liked “Young Guns” in the eighties.  And to have rather enjoyed watching Johnny Depp in “The Lone Ranger.”  But I digress.  Not only did John Wayne live at my grandparents’ house in New Mexico, but they had a lovely leather-bound collection of Louis L’Amour’s books.  Having forgotten to bring my own books one summer when I visited, I was forced to make do with what I found at hand.  At first, I was disappointed.  I mean, there were lots of “strong, silent type” cool guys who were a faster draw than anyone else, but where were the chicks?  I found a love interest in one of the books, but she was killed off in the very next book.  Sheesh.

Then, I found a lovely little gem, in the form of the only book L’Amour wrote where the protagonist was a woman.  Mary Breydon, a widow with a young daughter is the new station master at a remote stop along “The Cherokee Trail,” conveniently a place name and the title of the book.  Mary is feminine and pretty, and knows how to handle a bullwhip.  So far, she’s the only woman to merit her own book by Mr. L’Amour.  The story appealed to me for many reasons.  Mary stands up to bullies in the form of crude, drunken men who don’t think she can handle her job, and bullies like the smooth talking, wannabe governor with secrets to hide.  The book is worth a read.  In fact, I’ve always been disappointed that “The Cherokee Trail” is so short.  Happily, Mr.  L’Amour also created a few other good female characters.  “The Lonesome Gods” is another Western I enjoyed.  Thought there isn’t a sole female protagonist, there are two women who figure prominently in the story and merit quite a few pages of their own.  Another fun book with a good female character is L’Amour’s only attempt at sci-fi: “The Haunted Mesa.”  Okay, so the main guy, Mike, is still the “strong silent type” who’s smarter and faster than anyone else, but Kawasi, the woman in the book, is a leader among her people, strong-willed and intelligent.  Way to go, Louis! 

Back to John Wayne.  I admire him.  I think he was a good actor and has many, many fans.  But that spanking thing?  Come on!  I’ll take L’Amour’s female characters over the goofy, giggly, secretly-wanting to be pushed around and spanked females in John Wayne’s movies any day. 

By the way:  the word I heard spoken by the Comanches in the movie was “ya at eeh,” and it is Navajo.  The Comanche word for a friendly greeting is:  “maruawe.”  Too bad they didn’t have Wikipedia back then.  Or Johnny Depp.



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