Tuesday, December 12, 2017

John Wayne's Last Great Honor

John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara on the set of Big Jake in 1971
"Sure I wave the American flag.  
Do you know a better flag to wave?" 

~John Wayne
Marion McDaniel Lodge No. 56, Arizona

I was shopping in a local antique store recently, when I ran across something interesting.  Two large bronze medallions featuring John Wayne framed in two dark wood frames against a dark brown felt backing.  My wife made it pretty clear she thought they were ugly and they certainly wouldn't be gracing the walls of the living room.  I had to get them anyway.  The antique store didn't know what they were, but I sure did.  I had told the story about these "medallions" in my first book Famous American Freemasons.  In fact, the chapter on John Wayne was the first chapter I wrote in that book.  You see, these aren't just "medallions."  Let me tell you the story . . .

In 1976, John Wayne began filming the movie The Shootist.  It is a film about an aging gunfighter, J.B. Books, who learns from the local physician, played by Jimmy Stewart, that he is dying of cancer.  He decides that rather than die in bed, he was going out in a blaze of glory--and he was going to take a few really bad dudes with him.  And what a great cast!  Jimmy Stewart.  Lauren Bacall.  Harry Morgan.  Ronnie Howard.  Richard Boone.  John Carradine. 

The irony of that script was that John Wayne really was dying of cancer.  Although he didn't know it at the time, The Shootist would be the Duke's last movie.  His health was failing when he took the role, and it got worse as they filmed.  It was uncertain he would be able to finish it.  He was gone off the set for long periods of time . . . first one week, and then two.  But finishing that film was important to the Duke and he was determined to do so.  And with the help of the director and the assistance of the cast, he did just that.  Despite terminal stomach cancer, he finished what many believe to be one of his best screen roles.

By 1979, Hollywood knew their favorite leading man was about out of time.  A delegation of some of the best actors in Hollywood, including John Wayne's favorite leading lady, Maureen O'Hara, flew to Washington, D.C. and testified before Congress that they felt John Wayne should be honored for his contributions to America.  Congress agreed and awarded John Wayne the Congressional Gold Medal on his 72nd birthday on May 26, 1979.  The Congressional Gold Medal featured John Wayne on horseback on one side, and his portrait on the other accompanied by the words that Maureen O'Hara suggested before Congress--the United States Mint liked the simplicity of her words and used them.  Her words said everything that needed to be said.  The medal designed for John Wayne states simply "John Wayne - American."

Great story, huh?

They look a little better the way I framed them . . .
I was happy to stumble on a set of these bronze castings of John Wayne's Congressional Gold Medal finally.  They do look dramatically different since I re-framed them than they did when Valerie and I first saw them.  And it doesn't happen very often, but Valerie was wrong--these are hanging on the living room wall.  She hung them there! 

~Todd E. Creason

originally published 5/26/15

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