Close-Up: Ethan and Patrick Wayne on John Wayne
by Scott Holleran
John Wayne
© 1978 David Sutton MPTV.net
April 20, 2007

Actors Patrick, 67, and Ethan Wayne, 45, recently talked about working with their father, screen legend John Wayne, in advance of the most comprehensive screening series of John Wayne pictures since the actor died on June 11, 1979.

Several of the Duke's movies have been selected for screening at the Newport Beach Film Festival in Orange County, California, near what was once John Wayne's coastal home in Newport Beach. The motion pictures—among them are Rio Bravo, The Searchers and The Quiet Man—are presented in honor of the centennial of John Wayne's birth.*

Box Office Mojo: Why did you decide to participate in a film festival?

Ethan Wayne: It's a venue that I thought really fit. They'll show his movies on the big screen in the city where my family lived and we can get in front with the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. We had started talking [at the Balboa Bay Club, where the Duke was a member] about [logistics] for the hundred year events and the city [of Newport Beach] was really excited to do something to recognize his birthday. Then, [city manager] Homer Bludau brought in Gregg Schwenk from the [Newport Beach] Film Festival and Gary Sherwin from the [Newport Beach] Conference and Visitor's Bureau and it sort of took off from there.

Box Office Mojo: So the idea was born of John Wayne's roots in the city of Newport Beach?

Ethan Wayne: Right.

Box Office Mojo: You're an actor by profession—?

Ethan Wayne: —I've been in a couple of TV shows. I was on a soap opera called The Bold and the Beautiful and I had a TV series called The New Adam-12 for two years and I've done various episodic television shows that you've probably seen, like Suddenly Susan and Knight Rider and, going way back, B.J. and the Bear. It was exciting When my father died, I was 17, and I did stunt work. A guy named Gary McLarty—a stunt coordinator—hired me [for stunt] work on The Blues Brothers back in Chicago. Gary's still around—he's a great guy—he worked with my dad on McQ and a number of other films.

Box Office Mojo: Were you in McQ with your dad?

Ethan Wayne: No, but I was there on the set. I was in Big Jake and Rio Lobo. I had an actual part in Big Jake.

Ethan Wayne and Patrick Wayne on John Wayne's boat The Wild Goose
Photo credit: © Scott Brinegar
Box Office Mojo: You were little Jake.

Ethan Wayne: Yeah.

Box Office Mojo: Bobby Vinton played your dad.

Ethan Wayne: That's right. It was fun. My dad was there, Maureen O'Hara was there, Bruce Cabot was there—all the stunt guys I knew were there—my brother Patrick was in it, my brother Michael was producing it, so it was a really fun place for me to be at eight years old.

Box Office Mojo: When and why did you stop acting?

Ethan Wayne: After one of those TV shows became popular in Europe, I had an opportunity to go to Europe and I could work for three to six months, see the world, come home and invest my earnings and that's what I did. Right around that time, my brother Michael died and I was asked to step in [at Wayne Enterprises]. But I've continued to go to an actor's workshop in L.A. My brother Patrick's had a much larger career than I've had.

Box Office Mojo: Patrick, how about your acting?

Patrick Wayne: I'm not pursuing a career. If somebody asks, I'm always open. But I've [already] had 40 films, five TV shows, done theatrical engagements and I put three kids through college.

Box Office Mojo: What was it like growing up as John Wayne's son?

Ethan Wayne: My life was normal. We went to Sears and my dad drove a station wagon. Yeah, we had a nice house on the water, but, when you're a kid, you don't really know that. I do remember going to a friend of mine's house and his mom said 'go get the mail,' and there were something like three envelopes in the mailbox—and that struck me because we would get bags and bags of mail. We had three guys at my house full-time just answering mail with my dad. He answered every letter. I said: 'dude, that's all the mail you get? You should see what we get!' I was pretty free as a kid. I would come and go as I pleased. I rode my bike everywhere. I went to a public school. I had the same issues any kid does.

John Wayne in The Shootist
Box Office Mojo: Patrick, you worked with the Duke in pictures for many years. What's a common misconception about your dad's work?

Patrick Wayne: That he wasn't really an actor. He had a craft and he was a professional performer and a person that, over the years, developed his craft and he became richer and more complex actor and reached a high point in The Shootist.

Box Office Mojo: Is there a common misconception about your dad's political views?

Patrick Wayne: That he was a rubber stamp conservative. He would listen [to other viewpoints] and he was an independent thinker. For example, he supported returning the Panama Canal [to Panama, in opposition to Ronald Reagan and other prominent conservatives]. He came from very humble beginnings and he really appreciated that if you were willing to do the work, you could become successful in America. He had a great love for this country. He loved the opportunity the country offers everyone who's willing to work and he loved being able to apply himself to work.

Box Office Mojo: John Wayne played hard, too, right?

Ethan Wayne: He did but he didn't play hard seven days a week. He was on location and he'd have to go to dinner with everybody, people in town, the producer, some guy he brought, a banker, local people, those who own the ranch we were working on—so he had to go out and be with those people. Then, when he'd go out, they'd want to have fun with him so he have to be fun. This was during the Twenties, Thirties, Forties and Fifties, and smoking and drinking was common. But it wasn't his daily ritual; socializing and entertaining was part of his job.

Patrick Wayne: The drinking is exaggerated. He got credit of alcoholic proportions. When he was younger, it was their habit to party and carouse. That was the time. Yes, he was a drinker, but he didn't drink every day.

Box Office Mojo: What's the top misconception about being John Wayne's son?

Ethan Wayne: I don't know. That you're rich.

Box Office Mojo: Patrick?

Patrick Wayne: The positive aspects far outweigh the negative. Early on, as I was going out to pursue an actor's career, I was really just [regarded as] John Wayne's son, not Patrick Wayne. There's an expectation, a predetermined mindset, just a natural human tendency—we all do it, if there's a brand out there—to look for that [comparison]. But you start working and performing and people start to see your movies and you get your own credit and reputation, and it starts to go away—not completely. And who would believe John Wayne would be as popular 27 years later? There is still that presence and I'm living in the shadow of it, I do today, and I did then, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks and, obviously, we're using the benefits to find a cure for cancer.

Box Office Mojo: And make money?

Patrick Wayne: Sure. There's profit from his DVDs and his movies. Our main thrust is to raise money for cancer research, but there's a business you need to create to make money from John Wayne's name. We're trying to limit and control the John Wayne name so it's attached to things of quality and keep the legend of his name [attached] to the things he valued and this requires work. You have to watch out and do due diligence and that takes time and money. We're very serious about what we put his name on but we're not afraid of controversy. We live in a world where you cannot please everybody. I wouldn't say I would categorically rule out anything but it's how something is handled. The Coors thing was a tough one because he wasn't a beer drinker. But most people liked it. I'm very proud of my father and working with his name.

John Wayne in True Grit
Box Office Mojo: What's the most valuable advice your dad gave you as an actor?

Patrick Wayne: He wasn't a person to give advice. Most lessons were by example. He came to work prepared, he knew his lines and he was ready. That's an important lesson especially if you choose to work in action pictures. When I did the Sinbad screen test, I asked to train because I didn't have any experience in sword fighting and I knew that you can't learn as you're doing it. They finally agreed to it and it made all the difference. On The Comancheros with my dad I had to do a horseback riding scene and, when the dailies came back, they looked awful. I didn't look good on the horse, though I knew how to ride. My dad came back and said 'you're going to ride a horse and look good doing it if you're going to be in this business.' Now, I'd grown up riding horses with films, but there's a difference between knowing how to ride a horse and looking good doing it and I was supposed to be a Texas Ranger. Riding a horse [properly] means spending a lot of time—it's a combination of weight and balance and you have to kind of roll. We shot the sequence again and everything was fine. It was a conscious effort to make it look natural—and it doesn't happen in an instant.

Box Office Mojo: Ethan, what's the most valuable advice your dad gave you as an actor?

Ethan Wayne: He never gave me advice as an actor. Not that I remember.

Box Office Mojo: What's the most valuable advice your dad gave you as a dad?

Ethan Wayne: I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with him both on the set and off, in great circumstances. A third of my life was at home and a third was on the Wild Goose [the Duke's yacht] and a third of my life was on location, so, that's probably more time than most people get to spend with their dad. We were traveling, working, exploring Alaska or Mexico so, for me, I don't remember one or two things he said to me. I just remember being with the guy and absorbing his outlook on life. He was older at that point. He was in his sixties, so it was a different experience than my older brother.

Box Office Mojo: What was your dad's outlook on life?

Ethan Wayne: He was basically a good person. He loved his family. He loved animals and he cared about his friends.

Box Office Mojo: Was loyalty one of his virtues?

Ethan Wayne: Loyalty, yes. But I don't want to sit here and say it was honesty and courage—it is all those things—but it's a different way of getting it into somebody. Most [kids] are told [about those virtues] in a certain way, but I was able to experience somebody being that way. I also saw him vulnerable because he was older and he was having some health issues. That was tough growing up—and difficult to watch.

Box Office Mojo: Who owns John Wayne's movies?

Ethan Wayne: Batjac owns some films but the majority are owned by the studios. We've established relationships with different studios and we have a number of different partnerships. We're working on a really neat project right now with Paramount.

Box Office Mojo: Are you an expert on his movies?

Ethan Wayne: No. You get to know them. I look back on his earlier films and I see him when he's younger and he hasn't fit completely into his groove yet and I'm able to just see him as a guy who has a job, just working.

John Wayne at the helm of his yacht The Wild Goose.
© 1978 David Sutton / MPTV.net
Box Office Mojo: What's your favorite non-Western John Wayne picture?

Patrick Wayne: Sands of Iwo Jima. I like his character [Sgt. John Stryker] and I think he was very realistic. But I haven't seen it in years.

Ethan Wayne: I like Reap the Wild Wind and Wake of the Red Witch because I grew up on a boat and my dad loved being on the ocean. Those are both kind of boating films so for me, they're awesome.

Box Office Mojo: Is heroism part of your dad's appeal?

Patrick Wayne: That's an interesting question. I think it's more about the person than about the character. My father was the paradigm for the anti-hero in The Searchers. But in the last frame of the picture, he redeems his character so everyone loves him. There's something about his presence, there's some quality about him that, even when he's playing a curmudgeon, he's likable.

Box Office Mojo: Did you know director John Ford?

Ethan Wayne: He was my godfather. I was three and he was, like, one hundred [laughs]. I remember John Ford as a gruff old dude but most of those guys were.

Patrick Wayne: John Ford was my godfather, too. I worked for him more than I did for my dad. John Ford was a well-read guy, he was very artistic and very acerbic, and it was great. I was like his little hobby, his little pet.

Box Office Mojo: Describe the cancer research.

Patrick Wayne: There's the John Wayne Cancer Institute and then there's the Foundation that supports cancer research, not just the Institute. We have the Foundation because we want to be in control of the money—that way, we have the ability to support other worthy cancer research.

Box Office Mojo: Why should today's moviegoer see a John Wayne picture on the big screen?

Ethan Wayne: It's an experience. I think that, no matter what your generation, if you look back and watch John Wayne movies—because I do it every once in a while—within two minutes, I'm gone in the movie, I'm not thinking about anything else and I've just disappeared into that movie. It doesn't always happen, but it happens a lot.

Patrick Wayne: They still seem to want to see a John Wayne movie and that's amazing. He still has some resonance and visibility two generations removed from the height of his popularity. I'm just amazed—and proud, really.

Box Office Mojo: What is John Wayne's greatest performance?

Ethan Wayne: To me, his greatest role was being a great dad. As far as movie roles, there are so many that I like, it's hard to put a finger on. I don't know. It changes, for a few months, I'll love this and then it changes. For me, it's different, it's my dad.

Patrick Wayne: The Searchers is certainly an incredible performance. But I love Red River. He was a very attractive guy, he stayed in character from beginning to end, he was a human being in it, and it's a great setting. I also like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and I think he really captured the feel of a guy 30 years older than he was.

Box Office Mojo: Do you think John Wayne's been given his due as an actor?

Ethan Wayne: What else do we know him for? If Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg watch John Wayne films before they go shoot something, there must be something good about those films, whether they're watching John Ford's direction, John Wayne's performance or the combination of the two.

Patrick Wayne: There's something unmistakable and indelible and, in these troubled times, maybe, when there's so much questioning about what we're doing, there's something reassuring—a moral clarity—about him.

John Wayne Official Web Site
Newport Beach Film Festival
John Wayne Cancer Foundation
Team Duke (athletic support for cancer research)

Index of Interviews by Scott Holleran

* Note: The author is scheduled to host several screenings during the John Wayne Centennial.

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