ME AND DUKE WAYNE – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

I liked him so much I named a dog after him. Now that is appreciation.

Our Arizona vacation is a trip back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows. The cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoke memories, especially of John Wayne-John Ford classics.

The locales around Phoenix are similar to areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made some of their iconic films. In the aftermath of two vacations in Arizona, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. If you’ve heard it before, head for the nearest saloon, Pilgrim.

Forty-three winters ago, as I reckon, it was John Wayne versus the anti-Vietnam War crowd at Harvard and surrounding areas of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sunset reflected on the Superstition Mountains

Duke was cheered and jeered as he sat atop an armored “half-track” which moved slowly through the crowd as light snow fell. Some dissidents lobbed snowballs at Wayne as they shouted in derision. The Duke smiled and waved.

At one point, everything stopped as the legendary star hopped out to shake hands amid a flurry of snowballs. It was a bad situation for a reporter attempting an interview.

Me in Arizona

I remember calling in a few favors. Somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. Long moments — to me, it was an eternity — followed as I waited alone on stage. Suddenly, the stage lit up. I froze.

“Hello, Garry!” Duke Wayne boomed in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage and greeted me. My TV persona kicked in as I shook hands with my hero, beaming with a happy smile.

I was oblivious to the cameras and time. Later, I would learn that it was a pretty fair interview with me swapping stories with Wayne including some anecdotes about my stint in the Marine Corps. Apparently, that impressed the Duke. He laughed when I recalled how I’d upset several drill instructors during basic training with my irreverent behavior.

72-GAR-Sunset-Phoenix-01062015_239

The interview apparently ran long because a press agent finally had to pry Duke loose to resume his “march” to Harvard.

During a formal, group interview at Harvard, Wayne singled me out as “his pal and former Gyrene”. I remember basking in the glow of that moment as other reporters glared at me. Later, as the gathering dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.

I offered what must’ve been a broad, idiotic smile and said, “Good to see YOU again, Duke.” I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and laughing. It didn’t matter to me. Back in the newsroom, I walked around repeatedly asking people if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water in my face and get on with my job.

Prickly and then some!

They didn’t get it. I had spent “private” time with the Duke. With Hondo, Sgt. Stryker, Ethan Edwards, Capt. Nathan Brittles, and Rooster Cogburn … among others. Damn, I had swapped stories with the man who really shot Liberty Valance.

Sadly, there were no personal pictures from that memorable day. No autograph. I’d always felt uneasy about asking celebrities for these signatures and autographed pictures. Not asking did open the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, royalty, presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers.

Even Mother Theresa who singled me out from a crowd, chastising me about news coverage. I never figured that one out.

Topping all those memorable days and nights was my afternoon with the Duke. Back here in Arizona, where the Duke galloped through so many westerns, I think maybe … mebbe … I can top that encounter in the future.

That’ll be the day!



Categories: Celebrities, Cinematography, Garry Armstrong, Humor, Movies, Photography

Tags: , , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. The stuff great autobiographies are made of! smirk smirk.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love it! Wonderful stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Covert, even those it’s a “golden oldie”, it rekindles wonderful memories for me. Y’ know, I must’ve been 32 or 33 — with almost 10 years in the biz already –network and top market local TV — when I met the Duke. I’d already met a number of celebs, including LBJ, Peck, Cagney and Katherine Hepburn. When I met “Duke” Wayne, I was a kid — all over again. I couldn’t help myself. Somehow, I carried off the professional exterior in Wayne’s presence — but I was doing my own acting. After the interview, I was gushing like a kid. No excuses.

      Like

      • I don’t blame you one little bit, I doubt I may or may not have been able to keep the professionalism going since it’s difficult when your with someone you like or admire even. Great job acting then! hehe cause you obviously pulled it off.

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  3. Great story.I met him a couple of times,once at Dobe Carey’s wedding, before that on the Carey ranch, and later at one of John Ford’s parties. When I became an English teacher, I had three or four of his grandsons in my senior classes. They were great kids, unspoiled. One of them even bemoaned the fact that he had no family heritage because his grandfather had changed the family name. We all just looked at him in wild surmise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great share, Anonymous. How was Duke during your social encounters? What did you discuss or what did the two of you share in conversations? Very envious, here. Makes me appreciate my one afternoon even more. You’ll do, Pilgrim. By the way, that’s now 46 or 47 winters ago — sure as the turnin’ of the earth.

      Like

  4. You had such presence of mind. I’d have been tongue-tied, awed into absolutely silence. I am a generation too young to have grown up with “The Duke” (apologies to his later work) but my father admired John Wayne greatly. The man epitomized everything manly to my father I think. Among Pops’ favorite movies were: The Quiet Man, The Angel and the Badman, True Grit and a bunch of others. I inherited Pops’ ‘library’ of VHS tapes of John Wayne films. I’ve discovered for myself how versatile John Wayne was through the benefits of channels like Turner Classic Movies and so on. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience in meeting a true hero.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Melanie. Maybe you have to be of a certain age to appreciate my awe. Drifting aside for a moment, I was pondering the absence of larger than life celebs at this year’s Oscars which underwhelmed me. I recall all the old award shows where we laughed at Bob Hope’s corny jokes and looked for famous faces in the audience like — Wayne, Fonda, Douglas, Peck, Lancaster, Cooper, etc. The “newbies” were Newman, McQueen, Eastwood. Those were the days when our movies stars were American “Royalty”. Just another old Pilgrim venting here.
      Back to Duke: He was a better actor than many realize or appreciate. Critics were quick to dismiss his films as “..just another Wayne oater or adventure flick”.
      I had arguments with friends in college. They were agog with foreign films — the Brit “kitchen sink”, The French “new wave” and Italian “Neo-realism”. I stood my ground with the old style westerns, war flicks, film noir and romantic dramas. I still stand that ground.

      Like

  5. Wow, now you’re really basking in the eternal sunshine of that moment of glory! And there’s me thinking I’d read a story about your dog Duke…. Sorry for this lack of info on my part 😉
    I’ve read this tale the first time and although I know nothing about this star from ‘then’ nor about anything you did in your working time, I very much liked and appreciated it. I AM interested in people’s life and often I learn stuff about them which later on explains certains things because I see the ‘leading to’ or understand their perspective.
    Enjoy your few days of hols. Thanks for sharing! Wouff…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kiki, thanks. Glad to know this is your first read. It’s a re-post by Marilyn. I sometimes think these stories have seen daylight too often and then comes a ‘first timer’ like you, Kiki, and I realize some of my stories still have ‘legs’. Good for me know and I’m grateful. You don’t want to be that oldtimer, guilty of repeating his stories til eyes glaze over. The Duke Wayne encounter still makes me tingle with youthful glee even though I’m way older than Rooster Cogburn now. Kiki, thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I still revel in that story Garry. You made me feel like I was there too.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leslie, thanks. I still love the Duke Wayne story and its inedible memories. I can still see Duke ambling across the stage and greeting me. Pardon me to hell, Baby Sister, for still feeling the glow of that long ago encounter.
      Leslie, the other night I was re-watching “El Dorado” with Duke Wayne and Robert “Mitch” Mitchum. Privately, I was thinking — “Hey, Garry. You spent time with those two guys.” Privately, I felt very special. Like I was an insider. Just my own little fantasy, of course, but it has legitimacy because I DID spend with the two gents. Hey, I also spent time with Christopher George who played the young villain who “…got played by an old, one armed gunny”. George played ‘Nils___” the slitty-eyed gunslinger hired by top villain, “Bart Jason” played by Edward Asner. George also played the vengeance seeking gunman, “Dan Knowdeen””, in “Chisum”. You might remember him as star of the old TV series, “The Rat Patrol”. Better stop here before I go on about some of the other fellas.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think that’s the allure of your stories. You give us some insight into their personalities and they seem like genuinely nice people we all would love to know.
        Leslie

        Liked by 1 person

        • Leslie, I have an on-line pen pal in Arizona. He’s also a movie maven, particularly westerns. He’s known character and stunt actors you’d know from TV and movies. We share stories like two kids with baseball cards. I’ve reaped benefits from the on line friendship. My friend is also a prolific author (Leslie, I see you smiling) and has written books on Robert Mitchum’s westerns and a bio on character actor Richard Jaeckel. He’s quoted me, given me “acknowledgement” credit and “thanks” in his introductions. It’s such a great ego boost. I’ve never had my name in print before. Yes, Leslie, another reason to get it done, I know.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. great story Gareee , you’ll have to visit the site of the Quite Man in Ireland, be blessed

    Liked by 1 person

    • BW, We DID visit “The Quiet Man” site in 1990 when we toured Ireland on our Honeymoon. It was, maybe, the most memorable moment of our bliss-filled journey through many small villages in “the old country”. We have pics of Marilyn and Me in Cong where “Young Sean Thornton” found his roots and his true love. We walked across the rocks to the Thornton’s cottage which was still in good shape. Lots of Guinness, Irish Coffee and Lamb consumed in our 2 week visit. Many Pubs visited, songs and tall tales shared for the Honeymooners. And, BW, ’twas there that I learned of my Irish roots. TRUE! We have a piece in Marilyn’s blog that tells the WHOLE story with pics.
      BTW: I was 48 when I learned of my Irish roots.

      So, who’s now ..the best man in Innasfree??

      Liked by 1 person

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