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John Wayne’s son to showcase memorabilia on ‘Western Icons’ marathon

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John Wayne, with son Ethan aged 6, on the set of True Grit, in 1968. John Wayne, with son Ethan aged 6, on the set of True Grit, in 1968. (photo courtesy of Phil Stern)

To honor the 111th anniversary of his father’s birth, Ethan Wayne - son of legendary actor, John Wayne - is currently hosting a 10-day marathon of classic westerns, presented uncut and commercial-free on HDNet Movies.

The ‘Western Icons’ marathon began on May 18 and continues through Sunday, May 27. A 24-hour Memorial Day marathon of the films will begin at 6 a.m. on Monday, May 28. Two films in the series are shown nightly, beginning at 7 p.m.

“We’ve got some classic westerns that people probably haven’t seen for a while,” Wayne told me during a phone interview.

HDNet Movies’ “Western Icons with Ethan Wayne” lineup features movies starring John Wayne, including “The Undefeated” (1969) and “The Alamo” (1960) – the latter also directed by Wayne.

Other titles in the marathon include “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” (1957), “High Noon,” (1952) starring Gary Cooper, and “Two Road Together” (1961), directed by Maine native John Ford and starring James Stewart.

“I’ll share some behind the scenes stories about the making of the movies and we’ll have some rare artifacts and memorabilia related to the films and some of the actors who were friends with my father,” Wayne said.

Among the actors represented in this classic western retrospective are screen icons Clint Eastwood, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Paul Newman and Kirk Douglas, with whom John Wayne exchanged funny letters and telegrams.

Ethan Wayne, who frequently accompanied his father to the film set, says he has fond memories of those days.

“Seeing these characters in the films, who were either family friends or my father’s longtime co-workers, is a unique experience to have had,” he said. “My dad kept me close to him when he was working. Looking back on those experiences now – in my mid-50s – they’re priceless to me.”

As a child, Ethan appeared in two of his father’s movies – “Rio Lobo” in 1970 and “Big Jake” in 1971.

“The fact that I can now watch those movies and see me with my Dad and my brother (Michael Wayne), who was also producing (“Big Jake”), it’s hard to explain to people how much that means,” said Wayne.

Ethan Wayne manages John Wayne Enterprises in Newport Beach, California. The company offers a variety of products bearing his father’s name, ranging from leather and knives to glassware and spirits. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of John Wayne-related products goes to fund research for the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. John Wayne fought cancer on and off for 15 years. He beat lung cancer in 1964 but died of stomach cancer in 1979.

“The research institute in Santa Monica is responsible for some groundbreaking technology,” Wayne said. “They also train surgeons to become specialists in non-invasive neurosurgery, breast surgery, melanoma, or other fields. There are 160 graduates of that program. We’re getting ready to send out four grants now to our surgical fellows. We support them because you never know where another piece of the puzzle will come from.”

More information on the John Wayne Cancer Foundation can be found at www.JohnWayne.org

According to Wayne, a new John Wayne online store will be open by the end of May at www.JohnWayne.com.

“Three words that come to mind when you think of my father are ‘timeless,’ ‘authentic,’ and ‘quality,’ Wayne said. “He was a craftsman in the truest sense of the word and his craft was storytelling on film. To take those values and translate them into something people might want without feeling like he’s being exploited, is challenging.”

Wayne said “Duke’s Bourbon” has been a bestseller for the company and a new tequila bearing his father’s name will be available soon.

“Those were his main drinks,” he said. “When we’d go out on location, I would load the car with all of the items he would want for the next three months. That would range from the type of work gloves and shoes he would wear to the cases of spirits he would bring with him. We try to bring things to market that he appreciated in life that also share the craftsmanship he appreciated.”

John Wayne also greatly appreciated his fans, according to Ethan.

“We moved from Los Angeles to Newport Beach when I was born,” he said. “It’s a place he had been visiting since he was in high school. He had friends and relationships here and it was a place where he could relax and be comfortable. He could go to the grocery store or to Sears and not be bothered.”

According to Wayne, his father never refused a request for an autograph or a moment of interaction with a fan.

“He answered every piece of fan mail that came in,” said Wayne. “He was very grateful to the fans who allowed him to continue the work that he loved to do. He coached us about that too. He’d say ‘These are the people that I work for and if they want a minute with me, I’m going to give it to them.’”

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