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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

June 11, 1979

Are we ready to take a look back through time with the Tuesday Timeline? I certainly hope so, because June 11 is looking like it's going to be a fun day to examine in greater detail.

So I don't think that I want to postpone this any longer. There's a lot we have to discuss today.

Why don't we begin this look back on June 11 by wishing the following famous people a happy natal day? Blowing out birthday candles today are Johnny Esau, Gene Wilder, Christina Crawford, Joey Dee, Roscoe Orman, Adrienne Barbeau, Robert Munsch, Stephen Schnetzer, Michael Swan, Frank Beard (ZZ Top), Graham Russell (Air Supply), Donnie Van Zant (38 Special), Peter Bergman, Joe Montana, Hugh Laurie, Mehmet Oz, Matt McGrath, Joshua Jackson, Josh Ramsay (Marianas Trench), and Shia LeBeouf.

That's quite a lot of famous faces...and surprisingly enough, almost all of them are male. I suppose this makes June 11 the official day of testosterone! Remember this point a little bit later in this blog.

And, looking ahead at the historical events of June 11, we have a smorgasbord of events that have taken place on June 11. Have a look.

1184 BC – Troy is sacked and burned to the ground during the Trojan War

1770 – Captain James Cook runs his ship aground on Australia's Great Barrier Reef

1776 – The Continental Congress appoints John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman to the Committee of Five to draft a declaration of independence

1805 – Fire destroys a large portion of Detroit

1837 – The Broad Street Riot between the “Yankees” and the “Irish” takes place in Boston, Massachusetts

1901 – New Zealand annexes the Cook Islands

1919 – Sir Barton wins the Belmont Stakes, becoming the first horse to win the Triple Crown

1935 – Edwin Armstrong gives the first public demonstration of FM broadcasting in the United States

1955 – Eighty-three people are killed, and at least one hundred more injured at the 24 Hours of Le Mans following the collision of an Austin-Healey and a Mercedez-Benz

1963 – John F. Kennedy addresses Americans from the Oval Office proposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964

1970 – Anna Mae Hays and Elizabeth P. Hoisington become the first females to receive the rank of United States Army Generals

1972 – The Eltham Well Hall rail crash kills six and injures 126, the crash caused by an intoxicated train driver

1981 – A 6.9 magnitude earthquake strikes Golbaf, Iran, killing at least two thousand

1999 - “Star Trek” actor DeForest Kelley passes away at the age of 79 after battling stomach cancer

2001 – Timothy McVeigh is executed for his role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing

2003 – Famed newscaster David Brinkley passes away at the age of 82 in Houston, Texas

I'd say that June 11 was a rather jam-packed day in history, wasn't it? What, with terrorist bombers getting executed, earthquakes happening, and the founding of FM Radio going on!

But, today's date that we will be going back in time to goes back to the comment that I made regarding the celebrity birthdays. I joked that June 11 must have been the day of testosterone, as the majority of the famous people born today were male. Well, as it turned out, today's date is linked to an actor who many people considered to be as masculine as you could get. He was hard, he was tough, he was powerful, and he could be intimidating depending on which movie featured him.

And, June 11 was a day that was strongly linked to our mystery celeb. Unfortunately, it's because June 11 was the last day of his life.

You see, our mystery man breathed his final breath on June 11, 1979.

And, I've probably watched more of this man's films than the average 32-year-old these days. Having grown up in a household where my father listens to oldies country music, wears cowboy boots whenever he gets the chance, plays twangy country songs on his guitar, and watched old time westerns, I was exposed to a lot of our mystery actor's films. And, while some of his films were not really my cup of tea, others were films that I really enjoyed. Regardless of which, his career was one that spanned decades, and thirty-four years after his death, he is still considered a beloved figure in the film industry.

So, who is this big, powerful, macho man who lived, breathed, and slept tough?

Would you believe that his first name was Marion?

Actually, his birth name was Marion Robert Morrison. But fans of his probably know him better by his stage name...John Wayne.

And, John Wayne is today's Tuesday Timeline subject.

So, anyway, Marion Robert Morrison was born in the community of Winterset, Iowa on May 26, 1907.  He spent the first four years of his life there before his family relocated to the greater Los Angeles area.  Interestingly enough, John Wayne's first childhood nickname was "Little Duke", as he was very seldom seen without his beloved dog named Duke.  But that was fine for Marion.  He preferred the name "Duke" anyway.

In his teenage years, "Duke" sold ice cream, and became an active member of The Order of DeMolay - a youth organization closely affiliated with the Freemasons.  He developed a love of athletics when he was a teenager, and he played for his high school football team at Glendale High School.  Because of his natural athletic ability, "Duke" was offered a college scholarship through the University of Southern California, which was happily accepted following the rejection of his application to the United States Naval Academy in 1925.

Unfortunately, the athletic career didn't pan out.  Midway through his studies, "Duke" was injured in a bodysurfing accident, and the injury forced him out of the football team, meaning that his scholarship was revoked, and he was unable to continue his studies at USC, for he had no way to pay for it.

So, "Duke" had to earn his way through life a different way.  And, since he was in the area in which the film industry was beginning to bustle, he thought that he would work at various movie studios in the area.  He started off as a member of the prop department, then moved on to bit parts in small movies.  It was through these small parts that "Duke" would first meet longtime collaborator and friend, John Ford.

In fact, do you want to know what his very first credited film role was?  It was in the 1929 picture "Words and Music"...under the name of Duke Morrison.

So, how did Duke Morrison end up becoming John Wayne?  Amusingly enough, "Duke" never got the choice to pick the name!  Director Raoul Walsh cast him as the lead in his 1930 film "The Big Trail", and Walsh figured that "Duke Morrison" didn't quite work as a screen name for the actor.

(Keeping in mind that back in the 1920s and 1930s, hardly ANYONE used the names that they were born with to act in feature films.)

Walsh's original idea was Anthony Wayne, named after Revolutionary War general "Mad Anthony" Wayne, but it was rejected because FOX Studios chief Winfield Sheehan believed it sounded too Italian, so Walsh's second suggestion was John Wayne, which met Sheehan's approval.

Despite the fact that "The Big Trail" was touted as being extremely revolutionary because of it being one of the first films to use 70 mm Grandeur film processing, and despite the fact that the film was made on what was an extraordinary sum of two million dollars, the film didn't do so hot at the box office, and John Wayne was left working on smaller roles over the next few years.

But, in time, John Wayne would surprise everybody.  It just took a little time.

After spending the better part of the 1930s acting in B-movies, John Wayne's big break came in 1939 with John Ford's "Stagecoach", and when the movie became a critical and financial success, and this helped Wayne become a huge star.

It is estimated that between 1926 and 1976, John Wayne made at the very least a cameo, and at the very most had the lead role, in no less than 170 pictures!  And, some of the roles that he played helped secure the image that he presented...of the tough, masculine, everyman who displayed a thick skin, a hard edge, and true grit.

(Ironically enough, one of his films was "True Grit", a role that earned Wayne an Academy Award in 1969!)

Some of his other films were just as memorable though.  One of my father's favourite films of his was 1947's "Angel and the Badman", in which Wayne played an injured gunfighter whose wounds are looked after by a Quaker girl.  I particularly liked his performance in 1956's "The Searchers", which I had to watch during one of my film studies classes.  The film is about a Civil War veteran who spends several years looking for his abducted niece, who was kidnapped by the Comanches.

TRIVIA:  The niece in her adulthood is played by a very young Natalie Wood.

And John Wayne's final film appearance was in 1976's "The Shootist", in which he played a man who was dying of cancer...unaware that just three years later, life would imitate art.  

In 1979, John Wayne succumbed to stomach cancer on June 11, 1979.  He was seventy-two years old.  And to say that his death sparked a little bit of controversy would be a bit of an understatement.  When word came out that several cast and crew members of the 1956 film "The Conqueror" had also developed cancer, it was revealed that the film set - which was shot on location in Southwestern Utah, which was not far from where nuclear weapons tests were performed in Nevada.  Many have made the allegation that the radiation emitted from these tests contaminated the film set, and caused the cancer in the people who worked on that film set.  Despite this, John Wayne never came out and said that he felt this way.  Having previously survived lung cancer fifteen years before he died, he simply believed that his cancer was due to a strong addiction to cigarettes.  Wayne reportedly smoked six packs of smokes each day!

I don't even think that my parents at their weakest ever smoked that much...

John Wayne was survived by his third wife, Pilar Pallete, as well as five of his seven children, some of whom entered the acting industry themselves.  

Now, you would think that John Wayne was a man who lived as though he had no regrets, and had everything that he could have ever wanted out of life.  But one regret that he did have was the fact that he could not service his country in the military.  I already noted that he was rejected from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1924, but did you know that John Wayne wanted to serve in World War II?

When American forces entered combat, John Wayne wanted to serve his country and defend it from those who threatened to take away America's freedom.  Problem was that he was in his mid-thirties at the time, and was considered to be too old to embark in combat.  He wanted to join the battle alongside John Ford's military unit, but the movie studio that he was assigned to did not want to let him go.  And, on one hand, I could understand that because World War II was a very deadly war, and there was no guarantee that Wayne would come out of the war in one piece.  Republic Studios threatened Wayne with a lawsuit if he broke his contract to fight in the war, and reportedly even intervened in the Selective Service process, which further served to keep Wayne from the lines of combat.

It would end up being Wayne's biggest regret...being unable to service his country during times of war.  I think maybe that's why he decided to tour army bases and hospitals at the tail end of World War II.  I think maybe that's why he opted to take on roles in which he played the hero.  It was because he was trying to live out his fantasy of servicing his country the best way he could.  Many sources close to Wayne - including his third wife - stated that he felt that being unable to take part in combat was the most painful experience of his life, and maybe by showing his patriotic spirit, he could see it as making up for that lost experience.

He may not have been a war hero...but he was a Hollywood legend.  And, on June 11, 1979, we were all forced to say goodbye.

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