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Ronald L. Davis is Emeritus Professor of History at Southern Methodist University, where he was Director of both the Oral History Program on the Performing Arts and the De Golyer Institute for American Studies. He has written many books on the performing arts in America, including the best-seller Hollywood Anecdotes.


Anyone seeking the true "heartland" might well veer toward Winterset, Iowa‘it is not only the setting for Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County but also the 1907 birthplace of John Wayne. An SMU history professor and the author of several books on film, including a 1995 bio of Wayne's longtime buddy John Ford, Davis follows Wayne's trek to Hollywood from high school in Glendale, Calif., to USC on a football scholarship, and then on to his initial film studio jobs and on through his appearances in more than 150 films between 1928 and 1976. In the 1930s, Wayne made scores of grade-B "horse operas" before Ford cast him in Stagecoach (1939), the film that made him a star and "elevated the screen persona that Wayne had developed over the past decade to the level of popular art." During the past three decades, some two dozen books on Wayne have been published. What moves this entertaining biography to a higher plain is that Davis, as the director of SMU's oral history program on the performing arts for 25 years, was in a singular position to document the memories of Wayne's family, friends and associates. He combined more than 65 interviews with extensive research through books, clipping files, printed interviews, film reviews and magazine articles, in addition to major studio production files, Indiana University's John Ford Collection and the papers of Wayne's agent, Charles K. Feldman. The exhaustive yet readable and entertaining result might explain why the back of this book carries rave blurbs by Janet Leigh and other actors and directors who worked with the Duke. Twenty-seven b&w photos. (Mar.)

Since his death from cancer nearly 20 years ago, John Wayne continues to be both praised for embodying traditional American ideals and reviled for archconservative bigotry. Davis (history, Southern Methodist Univ.; John Ford: Hollywood's Old Master, Univ. of Oklahoma, 1995) draws heavily on memoirs and oral histories by relatives, friends, and key filmmakers to explore the man behind the legend. What emerges is a sympathetic portrait of a rather ordinary man who was able to parlay his macho, no-baloney acting style into a screen image beloved by legions of fans who could identify with those very qualities of simple honesty and unpretentiousness. Davis's entertaining narrative primarily covers Wayne's personal life and the day-to-day production of his films, and the extensive use of personal recollections and anecdotes adds considerable dimension to his human side. This nicely complements the standard study, Maurice Zolotow's Shooting Star: A Biography of John Wayne (LJ 3/15/74). Recommended for public and academic libraries.‘Richard Grefrath, Univ. of Nevada Lib., Reno

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