‘I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne. I know him well. I’m one of his closest students. I have to be. I make a living out of him.’ In Scott Eyman’s biography John Wayne: The Life and Legend, these words, uttered by ‘Duke Morrison, aka John Wayne’, serve as an epigraph. They are a curious mixture of the frank and the evasive, a combination of the certainty and doubt that characterise the man at the centre of this long, detailed study.
John Wayne occupies a special place in cinema history. His name is synonymous with the western and its place in American culture and mythology, and with a screen presence that spilled over into the political realm. He died in 1979, but he still heads a longstanding list of all-time box office stars, having been listed in the Top Ten on twenty-five occasions.