Page 25


BOOKS & THE CULTURE / Pilgrims Progress Garry Wills on Big JohnS Cinematic Empire BY KAREN OLSSON JOHN WAYNE’S AMERICA. By Garry Wills. Simon & Schuster. 380 pages. $26.00. The town of Brackettville is on U.S. Highway 90, between Uvalde and Del Rio, and seven miles to the north of it, surrounded by . more or less nothing, is the “Alamo Village Movie Location”a long drive way, a gravel parking lot, various small buildings, and a gift shop. At Alamo Village you can pay more money than it’s worth \($6 the pamphlet you’re given at the entrance, “an exact replica of the most famous Texas shrineTHE ALAMO.” \(A. warning on the same pamphlet reads “THIS IS A MOVIE Wayne filmed his 1959 movie The Alamo, Alamo Village Movie Location consists of two sets: a replica of the Alamo, reconstructing what the mission supposedly looked like in 1836, and “the Village,” an old West town used by various post-Wayne movies, TV shows, and commercials. The location perseveres as an odd entertainment industry backwater: when I visited last January, the entry gate attendant said the site had just recently hosted a Chinese movie crew, whose apparent inexperience in handling dynamite had become a cause for concern after explosions took out windows in a few nearby houses. The Wayne aura also perseveres. Although it’s been almost forty years since Wayne made The Alamo, you still meet people in the area who proudly remember his arrival, who were cast in the movie as extrasor so they claim. Almost twenty years after his death, Wayne remains a mainstream icon, as Garry Wills describes him in John Wayne’s America. Onscreen he embodied ideals of masculinity and patriotism and self-reliance that fans like Richard Nixon and Newt Gingrich took to heart. In A John Wayne conjunction with the directors and writers who were his collaborators, John Wayne the man was a maker of legends: legends about America and its imperial mission, but first and foremost the legend of Wayne himself. More so than .other actors, Wayne came to represent the Frontiersman. He not only played Davy Crockett, writes Wills, “he entered the company of those who actually lived on the frontier.” There’s proof in Brackettville. At one end of the village portion of “Alamo Village,” in a small adobe house, is the “Museum of the Old West and John Wayne.” Photographs of Museum of Modern Art/Film Stills Archive the movie and of Wayne on the set are hung on the walls, while display cases contain nineteenth-century-looking objects, including rifles, wagon parts, glass jars, wooden boxes, books. Nothing indicates whether most of the objects are actual period artifacts or movie props, and one suspects there are some of each, mixed together. As he explains in his introduction, Wills’ intent was to write not a biography of John Wayne the man so much as a history of the idea of “John Wayne”: a consideration of how, in the process of trying to make successful movies, the actor, his directors, and 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 10, 1997