Friday, May 18, 2012

When The Legend Became Fact – The True Life of John Wayne: A Review

When The Legend Became Fact - The True Life of John Wayne by Richard Douglas Jensen is really just another attempt by a self-important liberal to destroy the image of John Wayne. Much like Garry Wills’ book, “John Wayne: The Politics of Celebrity,” there is far too much anti-Wayne bias in this book. Like Wills, Jensen relies on undocumented and unsubstantiated claims to support his predetermined goal of damaging the reputation of a dead man who cannot defend himself. In fact, the editorial review of this book states outright that it is a “deconstruction of the mythology surrounding the life” of John Wayne, although, according to Jensen, he does this only to show that John Wayne was a real person – human just like everyone else.

Among the many so-called “facts” (actually unsubstantiated claims) presented by Jensen are that, John Wayne was: a raging violent and abusive man, a wife beater, a child abuser, a severe alcoholic, a petty and mean prima donna, a narcissist, a chronic adulterer, a woman chasing sex addict who bedded nearly all of his female costars (as well as any loose woman he could find), a draft dodger, a manipulative jerk, a chauvinist who beat his lovers, bisexual (with John Ford, no less, as his lover), a cowboy wannabe who could never master any cowboy skills – and hated horses with a passion, and so much more.

Clearly, Mr. Jensen’s “more than 30 years of researching John Wayne” was spent in crafting untruths and outright lies about his subject. I, for one, sincerely hope that he prepares his legal briefs with at least a bit more attention to the truth (Mr. Jensen is, can you believe it, a practicing attorney known as “the Law Guru.”)

Aside from the virtually non-existent editing, poor grammar, poor sentence structure, misspelled words, and overall shoddiness of Jensen’s book (most third grade teachers would cringe while reading it – High School English teachers would give it an F-), Jensen’s book is filled with half-truths, blatant lies, and poorly crafted revised history (and he calls himself an historian!).

Jensen claims that he spent more than 30 years researching a biography of Ben Johnson and more than 30 years researching a biography of Tom Mix (this coupled with more than 30 years – he really likes that number – of researching John Wayne, makes one wonder when he found time for law school!), both of which Jensen claims knew Wayne and had “experienced the darker side of John Wayne” (cue the ominous music). Although it is well known that Johnson knew Wayne, and was a good friend, Mix, on the other hand, didn’t know John Wayne from Adam. Yes, they had met back in 1925-1926, and Mix had spoken with Wayne, promising that he would make Wayne his personal trainer and that he would take him on location during the filming of The Great K&A Train Robbery (which he did. Wayne propped the film and appeared briefly as an uncredited extra – a face in the crowd), Mix never socialized with Wayne, and promptly forgot his promise to hire Wayne as a trainer. The reality was, that Mix only made that promise in order to get some free tickets out of Howard Jones to USC football games.

Jensen, however, fabricates a convoluted story in which Mix pulled strings to get Wayne hired as a prop man, and that Wayne took it as an insult – a grudge that he held against Mix for years. Jensen even includes a fairy tale in which Mix, a former “real life” sheriff caught John Wayne glaring at him, and Mix stared Wayne down with a cold steely-eyed gaze that would send shivers down the spine of the bravest of men. What a load of sheep dip! Mix was only a part-time deputy sheriff in Dewey, Oklahoma, and was described by the actual sheriff as a “show-off.” (By the way Mr. Jensen, Mix was also never a Rough Rider, and actually went AWOL when he was in the Army. Your hero was in reality a poseur and a criminal.)

Interestingly, Jensen states at the beginning of his book that a “flurry of books and articles have been published throughout the past 30 years that have virtually deified John Wayne. Some are so ineptly crafted and so full of unsubstantiated ‘facts’ that it is alarming to the historian in me.” After reading Jensen’s book, my advice to him is “that historian you’re holding hostage inside of you? Let him go! Stop torturing him with your ridiculous revisionist nonsense!”

Jensen claims that this new book of his will cause “new, although unnecessary, furor among the protectors of the John Wayne legacy.” He’s probably right, but not for the reason he thinks. There will undoubtedly be an uproar, but it will be caused by Jensen’s obviously biased and unbalanced review of Wayne’s life. But I do understand why he would put such a statement near the beginning of his book. He does so simply to discount his detractors right from the get go, before they can voice the truth about this book. Typical liberal. Typical lawyer. I would expect nothing less from him.

And Jensen does not find himself content to simply spread lies and false rumors about John Wayne, as he also sets his sights on telling lies about his family as well. There is no evidence that John Wayne’s father, Clyde Morrison, ever owned his own drug store (as Jensen claims), and in fact, there are those who knew him who insist that he did not. There is also no evidence that Wayne’s father beat his wife (as Jensen claims).

Jensen also claims that Clyde not only owned his own drugstore, but also purchased a nice two-story home while in Iowa, but later lost it, and never owned another home. In reality, he did not purchase a home in Iowa, but did when the family moved to Glendale. It was that home that he eventually lost. Jensen also claims that the Morrison’s were actually quite well off, as evidenced by Clyde purchasing a farm in California. Sorry Mr. Jensen, that “farm” was actually purchased by his father. Not by Clyde. When the farm failed, he sold it and moved into Glendale (not Burbank), where the family lived from 1916 until 1930 (Wayne until 1925), when Clyde moved to Long Beach. Check the censuses Mr. Jensen, they are online you know, and easy to check. And in case you’re wondering, Mr. Jensen, this is known as research. Just saying.

I could actually go on and on and on, quite literally writing a book of my own pointing out the glaring inaccuracies and untruths found in When The Legend Became Fact – The True Life of John Wayne, but I think I have made my point quite well by now. If you’re looking for a good book about John Wayne, I would heartily recommend John Wayne: American by Randy Roberts and James Olsen, or There Rode A Legend by Jane Pattie and Wilma Russell, or any number of other great books about John Wayne. But stay away from Richard Jensen’s book. Stay far away. And as a fan and researcher of John Wayne for the better part of 50 years (top that Mr. Jensen!), that is my advice to anyone looking for a book about John Wayne.

But wait, there’s more! 

In case you have never heard of Richard D. Jensen before today (and by all that is right in the universe I do hope you have been spared), allow me to tell you a little bit about the author of When The Legend Became Fact – The True Life of John Wayne.

Richard D. Jensen
Richard D. Jensen is the author of 10 books including the one reviewed here. His other books include “The Nicest Fella - The Life of Ben Johnson: The World Champion Rodeo Cowboy Who Became an Oscar-Winning Movie Star”, “The Amazing Tom Mix: The Most Famous Cowboy of the Movies”, and “Agricultural and Animal Sciences Journals and Serials: An Analytical Guide” (riveting, I’m sure). According to Mr. Jensen’s “Bios” (assumedly written by him), he is not only an award winning author, but he is also a trial attorney known as “The Law Guru,” and he has been practicing law in Alabama for 13 years, since 1995. His web site is called “The Alabama Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer.” Maybe it’s just me, but when the terms “Guru” and “Sex Crimes” are used together, it kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies. 

Mr. Jensen’s “Bios” also state that he is not only one of America’s most respected and notorious defense lawyers, but he is also a former police officer, a former counsel to the Baldwin County Democratic Executive Committee, a former member of the Baldwin County Local Emergency Planning Commission, a former Democratic Party candidate for the Alabama State Senate, a nationwide trial lawyer instructor, a former cowboy and rodeo rider, a former award winning professional actor (with 35 years experience – and was almost cast as the Lone Ranger), a former horse wrangler (with more than 30 years experience throughout the west and southwest), and he spent 30 years researching John Wayne, 30 years researching Tom Mix and he also spent 30 years researching Ben Johnson. That’s like over 150 years combined experience with just one guy! I must admit that I was quite surprised that I did not read in any of his “Bios” that he also singlehandedly won World War 2, the Korean War, Viet Nam, and had been named Emperor of the World for Life. I guess he was probably too busy with the whole Sex Crimes-Law Guru thing or something.

Online reviews of Mr. Jensen’s other books include such stellar praise as “…poorly written…”, “…horrible book…”, “Full of typos, repetitive sentences and editorial freedoms that seemed suspect if not downright wrong”, “Several pages simply list episodes of different TV shows…”, “…poorly written and edited…” “….virtually unedited….”, “…I learned little…that I couldn’t have figured out without thirty minutes on Wikipedia…”, “…Stay away from this book…”, and “…A lot of repetition…”. 

‘Nuff said.