From the messy desk of Paul Levine...
Ouch. That'll teach me.
I messed with John Wayne, and his fans are not happy.
In a blog entitled "Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and My Dad," I thought I was writing a paean to actor Jimmy Stewart, who distinguished himself in World War II. In fact, he won two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the French Croix de Guerre. In a nutshell, Stewart was offered cushy stateside service but chose to pilot combat missions over Germany. He started the war as a private, ended as a colonel and later became a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve.
Then I waded into dangerous territory. I called John Wayne a "pretend hero" who was content to make war movies and allow Republic Pictures to seek deferment-after-deferment for him. All of which is true.
Perhaps I underestimated the symbolic importance of the actor to many people. Or maybe I just don't get it. Now, I can understand hero worship of AUTHENTIC World War II combat veterans like Audie Murphy, Jimmy Doolittle, and Pappy Boyington. I appreciate the celebrities who valiantly served, instead of seeking deferments. Besides Stewart, I could point to Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Rod Steiger, Kirk Douglas, and so many more.
But here are some of the blasts I took from readers over on my Facebook Author Page.
Martin Williams: "What a prick." (That got four "likes.")
Liam O'Flaherty: "Talk all the trash you want. John Wayne would have slapped the taste out of you and your Daddy's mouth." (Two "likes.")
Actually, Liam, in real life, Wayne had trouble in a fistfight/wrestling match in Mexico with the much smaller Budd Schulberg, author of "What Makes Sammy Run?" and screenwriter of "On the Waterfront." To be fair, both men were stinking drunk at the time, a not-uncommon event for either.
Scott Redfield: "Paul, you completely miss the impact that John Wayne had in inspiring the young people in the U.S. during the war. You owe him an apology."
Actually, I think Scott is right. I missed that point, and I'll apologize just as soon as Wayne apologizes for supporting the Vietnam War.
Douglas R. Colley: "A nobody making controversial statements just to gin up interest in himself."
Gee, I thought I was ginning up interest in Jimmy Stewart.
Dennis Neyland: "I'll never buy any book you write." (Two "likes.")
Another reader chastised me for not enlisting after the September 11 attacks. Just what we needed in Afghanistan and Iraq. A 53-year-old private!
But the 9-11 reference makes me think of another hero. Pat Tillman.
He gave up his football career. He gave his life. Nothing pretend about him.