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.


  1. I read this review with interest, mainly because it bears no relationship to the book that I just read. I thought the book was a serious, diligent examination of the Duke's life, and the 22 pages of footnotes was pretty compelling. You're attack on the writer isn't fair. The book is well-written and I thought he did a good job.

  2. While you may have thought that the book was a serious, diligent examination of the Duke's life, I simply cannot get past the fact that Mr. Jensen is simply wrong in many things that he puts forth in his book. I have been researching John Wayne's life and career for many, many years and I have been collecting not only his films and other memorabilia, but also information in the form of documents and interviews directly related to him. Many of Mr. Jensen's "facts" and simply not facts at all, and in many cases they are flat out wrong. He may have 22 pages of footnotes, but that does not mean that he has interpreted the research correctly, nor does it mean that he has relayed that information correctly. And from what I can see, Mr. Jensen's "facts" do not jibe with the documented evidence.

    1. I disagree. The footnotes are from direct quotes from the Duke's family, friends and many of them are from legal documents. Nowhere in the book does Jensen say Duke was gay, in fact he makes it plain that he was not gay. He questions Ford's motives, especially since Maureen O'Hara was so insistent that Ford was a bisexual. He got that from O'Hara. He also has many direct quotes from Aissa and Pilar Wayne (and many other people) directly discussing the Duke's temper and his drinking and his hitting and screaming at them. And many of the facts are double verified. Some of his footnotes have multiple sources, which makes them stronger for me. While I didn't like some of what I learned, I didn't think it was an attack on my favorite hero. It humanized him for me. Also, Jensen didn't say the the Duke's dad was violent, he makes it clear it was his mother. I think he's entitled to his interpretation, and I think in most cases he was justified in his interpretation. I think you're entitled to your opinion as to the book, and we can disagree. Personally, the book answered alot of questions I had about John Wayne.
      And, to be honest, many of the facts you've listed on your blog are incorrect. If you'd footnote your facts, then I can compare your facts. Jensen documents that his version is correct. So, perhaps his research and your research will arrive at a "truth," but in cases where someone has documented with a footnote, I'll tend to believe the footnoted version. That's just my opinion.

  3. Well, Auld Shatterhand (nice name by the way, used to belong to an old trapper of the early 19th century by the name of Tom Fitzpatrick), I am afraid that I will still have to disagree with you about the quality and veracity of Mr. Jensen's book, as well as your claim that "many of the facts [I've] listed on my blog are incorrect." You also state that you would like footnotes, some sources for what I say. Well, rather than produce a very lengthy article here, I'll limit myself to one instance in which Mr. Jensen couldn't be farther from the truth if he tried. Specifically, his version of the initial meeting between John Wayne and Tom Mix, and the extent and content of their relationship. You claim that Mr. Jensen provides thorough footnotes in his book. I will say that there is no one alive who knew Wayne and Mix during that time period. However, John Wayne did speak about his meeting and relationship with Tom Mix, and his words were recorded. So here, are John Wayne's own words, as recorded in a 1971 interview, on this subject:

  4. Q: We'll start by talking about how you got your first jobs in movies. I believe it had to do with Tom Mix. He helped you get a job.

    Wayne: Oh, yes. He didn't intentionally help me but in those years, football was just starting to become very popular on the coast because we were getting nationally recognized teams. Naturally, the motion picture business was affected by it. One of the men, Tom Mix, wanted to get a box. So he called Arnold Eddie, who was in charge of getting employment for the students, who said, "You can sure get the box but you'll have to put a couple of fellows to work that you may be watching out there." And Tom Mix said, "Fine."

    We were sent out to the studio and Mr. Mix met us and took us into his dressing room and he said, "Just a moment. I want to get ready. I'll show you how I work out." And we sat in the room and looked at the books around, the volumes, Tom Mix in Europe, Tom Mix in this place, you know, Tom at Harvard, you know, the whole thing around the wall. And he was a very pleasant man. And he then called us out and he had a trainer and they went through a workout and he boxed with a fellow and he said, "I have to keep in condition for my pictures." Which he most certainly did. And he said, "We're going to Colorado to make Great K & A Train Robbery," I think it was, and he said, "I'm going to take you fellows along and we'll run every morning and we'll get ourselves in shape," and he says, "It'll be good for you and it certainly won't hurt me.

    So this sounded great. A vacation in Colorado and everything. He says, "In the meantime, I'll call Mr. Marshall"


    So in the meantime he called George Marshall, who is a very well-known director now in our business who was in charge of the western lot at that time, and he said, "I want these boys put to work here," and he said, "Then I'll take them when we go on location."

    George Marshall said, fine, and he arranged for us to meet the head of the property department and they finally put us on the swing gang, which is a-group of young fellows that follow the set director around and put the furniture where he wants it, pick it up at the rental houses and put it on the stage.

    A couple of days later, I was walking across the lot with a chair on my head or something and Mr. Mix came through the gate in a beautiful locomobile of his and I said, "Good morning, Mr. Mix." And he looked over in my direction without a slightest bit of recognition and says, "Hello, and went on his way. And that's the last time that I ever had any contact with Mr. Mix. He completely forgot us.

    But I'm grateful that he arranged our first job anyway, at the studio.

    Source: The Reminiscences of John Wayne(1985), in the Oral History Collection of Columbia University.
    Interviewee: John Wayne
    Interviewer: Mr. Higham
    Date: July 6, 1971
    Place: Burbank, California

    Not quite the same as imagined by Mr. Jensen, is it?

  5. I think the problem here is you haven't read Jensen's book. I think you read the part that was free on Amazon's website. Jensen's book is footnoted. He lists sources. One of the things he talks about at length is how often John Wayne told inconsistent stories about events in his life, trying to create his legend. You got me thinking, so I did some research on George Marshall. Marshall never worked at Fox Studios, where Mix was that year. He worked at Pathe' and then at Universal. So, either John Wayne mis-remembered or made it up. I then re-read Jensen's chapter on that and then read Jensen's Tom Mix book's chapter on that -- and I also read Paul Mix's chapter on that in his book -- and the point is made in all that there were many different versions of what happened and all of the versions were told by the Duke. So, I think if you actually read Jensen's books you'd see he has a point.

    1. I admit that I read only the preview of Jensen's book, but at the same time, since I did find errors in the preview, doesn't it follow that the rest of the book will contain errors as well? If I come across the book, I will read it. But I will not buy it, simply because I will not willingly pay for something that I know to be wrong or inadequate. All in all, from what I did read, Jensen's book seems to be another book in the same of vein of Garry Wills' book - an attempt to tear down the image of John Wayne by using innuendos, half-truths, lies and shoddy research.

    2. I'll give you 5 to 1 that "Auld" IS the author of that ridiculous book. And you are ENTIRELY correct that you can judge a book by its first chapter or two. The Amazon "Look Inside" feature is one of the best consumer protection innovations, ever, in the world of publishing. If the author doesn't have enough pride to get it right at the start of the book, why should we suffer more just on the (very small) chance it will ever improve.

  6. I'm confused now about George Marshall. I came up with what seems to be evidence of Marshall working for Fox in the 1920s, then switching to Pathe in 1928. Fox created this poster of George Marshall . Turner Classic Films says on their website that George Marshall "in 1925 was put in charge of the entire shorts output for Fox studios. After performing similar duties at Pathe in 1928-29, he returned to features in 1932." Is this a matter of controversy, too? Is it generally agreed that Wayne and Mix met at Fox Studios in 1927?

    1. John Wayne met Tom Mix on the Fox lot in 1926. This much has been established and in not in dispute. According to Mr. Jensen (and Auld Shatterhand), the circumstances surrounding that meeting, and the result of that meeting are in doubt. Both disagree with the account given by Wayne himself, whom I would believe to be the ultimate authority of what did and did not happen in his life.

  7. How dare these guys with funny names question the honor of America's greatest hero!(Marion's not too funny for a cowboy) the Man who took Iwo Jima, then stormed Normandy Beach and almost won Viet Nam then rid Hollywood of those nasty un-American writers and movie commies who created him. Talk about a Busy life. Gad you cleared up that Tom Mix stuff. It comes second only to how Wayne managed to miss any real combat or wear a real uniform in a real war. I know, that terrible ankle problem. But it's ok, his two sons went to Nam, where their father insisted other men's sons( men of his generation who really saw war) go right in, singing about fighting men from the sky. John Wayne the ultimate authority of what happened? Want to hear my account of how I seduced Sofia Loren and saved the world from the Aliens?As soon as I sober up enough.

  8. Bitter and ignorant is no way to go through life, runner. ;-)

    "By the start of World War II Wayne had been suffering for years from a badly torn shoulder muscle incurred in a body surfing accident that cost him his football scholarship at USC in 1927. He also had a bad back from performing his own stunts during ten years acting in “B” Westerns. Moreover, he suffered from a chronic ear infection, resulting from hours of underwater filming on Cecil B. De Mille’s Reap the Wild Wind in 1941. Had Wayne actually undergone a pre-induction physical, he might indeed have been classified 4-F.:

    Possibly you would have had him in uniform for WWI at the age of ten, or sign up as a private for Korea in his 40s, or Nam in his 50s or 60s?

    No, I don't believe you seduced Sofia Loren, but I can well imagine that you're a drunk. ;-)