When I think of movie icons, one name stands out above so many others…John Wayne. From the time I was a kid, we watched a lot of John Wayne movies in our house. It was a different time then. Westerns were on the television sets of most homes. And among Westerns, John Wayne was the King of the Cowboys. I have watched every one of his Westerns, and most of his other movies, because I just always liked John Wayne…all of our family did.
We were so excited when John Wayne came to Casper, Wyoming for the filming of “Hellfighters” in 1968. My parents were never star struck type of people, but when it came to John Wayne’s movie being filmed partly in Casper…well, that was something entirely different. They took the family…minus me unfortunately, because I was at a slumber party…to the airport to see him come in. It was a really big deal for our little town, but even more so for my sister, Cheryl. John Wayne has always been a big hero to Cheryl, and at fourteen years of age, she was so excited to finally have the opportunity to meet him. When her chance came, however, she couldn’t seem to speak loudly enough for him to hear her. Finally in a last ditch effort, she pulled on his jacket…because she couldn’t reach his shoulder to tap him on it. She said, “Mr Wayne…Mr Wayne.” When he felt that tug on his jacket, he turned around, and was a little bewildered for a moment, then he looked down at Cheryl and said, “Oh!! There you are!!” She was so short, that he had completely missed her. She got his autograph, and I found myself really wishing I had just skipped that slumber party…ever since that day. My parents also took us out to the highway where you could see the actual filming taking place across the river. It was amazing, but in my mind, nothing like the opportunity my sister got to actually meet this amazing actor.
John Wayne passed away on June 11, 1979, and I can still see that moment quite clearly. I was at my in-laws house, and we were all watching television, when the bulletin flashed across the screen. It felt almost like being kicked in the stomach. I couldn’t believe it was real, because John Wayne had been so much a pert of my life, that he was almost like family, and now there would be no more new movies with John Wayne. A great actor was gone. I know that all of my family felt the same way, as well as a lot of other people. I felt like television had reached a turning point, and it wasn’t a good thing. I think I was right in that too, because most of the shows and movies of today don’t even come close to being the classy kinds of shows of the John Wayne Era. Those days are gone forever, like actors of the class and caliber of John Wayne.