Men Like This Never Die

I just recently watched (for at least the 10th time) THE SHOOTIST, starring John Wayne. What a perfect way for an iconic star like him to end his career, going down in a shootout and (in the movie) at the turn of the century, a time when the era of the “wild west” was coming to a close and civilization and the telephone and electricity and automobiles began to take over the “Old West.” It was as though John Wayne himself was walking into history in that movie, leaving us a lasting legacy of the western hero. In the movie he is a gunman dying of cancer, and not long after that movie was made, John Wayne really did die of cancer. I’m sure he knew he had it even when he was making the movie. Even more touching and ironic is the fact that the movie also starred James Stewart and Lauren Bacall, two more of the biggest movie stars of all time who were also being ushered out of their prime movie-making careers when they made THE SHOOTIST.

And then there is Ron Howard, the other major star in THE SHOOTIST. He represented the future of movie making, a young man who grew up during the best years of making western movies and then moved on into the future of new genres and into producing and directing his own movies.

THE SHOOTIST represents all that is John Wayne, all that represents the closing era of big westerns, and is a fitting farewell to one of movie-making’s greatest stars. I always cry at the end of that movie, because to me it represented an honorable and touching “good-bye” to a great man and the biggest star of westerns we have ever had – or ever will again. What I like most about the westerns of the 1950’s through the 70’s is the way producers and directors of the time used real western landscapes as a backdrop for those movies – the “real’ west, usually Monument Valley or the Rockies and other beautiful landscapes of America’s West. It’s a land I love with all my heart, and the one thing that modern western movie-makes forget to include. It’s those grand western landscapes that made so many of the old westerns so great and gave movie-goers the “feel” of the West. Anyone today who films a western should remember that the scenery behind the story is vital to making a good western.

I try to get the same thing across in my books, and apparently I do a decent job of it because I get so many comments about how the readers can picture the landscape and feel as though they are right there with the story characters. That’s because I have traveled the West for a good 30 years now and have visited just about every location I have written into my stories. To say it’s a “ big country” is an understatement. I wish everyone who has never been “west” could go and see just how huge it really is out there. It’s so grand that it makes your heart swell with pride in America. To me the Old West represents the spirit of individualism, pride and independence our forefathers instilled in us as Americans. May such things always live on in our hearts and the hearts of our children and grand-children. Being American is uniquely wonderful and a privilege, and we need to preserve the freedom of the individual spirit this country represents.

Someone like John Wayne represented that “big country” and that American pride and individualism. I think he is still out there riding the prairies, plains and through the mountains. Men like that never really die.


  1. Well said.

    BTW, have you been to the Yukon and Alaska? When I was reading Where Heaven Begins, I could see everything since you used such vivid description to bring the setting alive. Now I wanng go there!

  2. I watched The Searchers not long ago. Another great western with John Wayne. Another of my favorite "big" western movies is "How the West Was Won." It's also a loooong one, but whenever it's on I seem to have to watch it.