A PILGRIM’S TALE – Garry Armstrong

Our Arizona vacations were trips back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows.

Those cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoked memories, especially of the John Wayne-John Ford classic Westerns and the areas around Phoenix are similar to some of the areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made many of their iconic films.

In the aftermath of my first Arizona post, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. So now, a few years after the second trip, here it is again. 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 the surrounding areas of The People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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.

I called in a few favors and somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. What felt like an eternity to me, I waited alone on stage for John Wayne to appear. Suddenly, the stage lit up. I froze.

“Hello, Garry!” boomed the Duke in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage. After the greeting,  my TV persona kicked in. I shook hands with my hero, beaming with pleasure.

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

The interview ran long. Towards the end, a press agent 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 crowd dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.

I offered what must’ve been a dumb smile and said, “Good to see you again, Duke.” I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and giggling. I didn’t care. This was the interview I’d dreamed about.

Back in the newsroom, I walked around the newsroom repeatedly asking everyone if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water on my face and get on with my job.

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 so many 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 artifacts.

Ironically, this gesture apparently opened the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, Royalty, Presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers and 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!

STICKS AND STONES by Garry Armstrong

A while back, Marilyn wrote a piece using the word chutzpah. This is a word I’ve badly mangled when I try to say it. It’s just a word, what the heck?

That was my take for many years until Robin Williams and Billy Crystal gave me a proper public whupping for butchering the pronunciation of chutzpah.  I don’t try to say it in public anymore. It’s a word. I respect it because it carries its own meanings and images.

These days, people often use words or phrases without understanding their origin or meaning. I hear political aspirants, celebrities, athletes and civic leaders say things that make me scratch my head and run back to my dictionary.

Words!  They can be powerful tools — used correctly — but dangerous used ignorantly.

I grew up in a home full of books including dictionaries. Huge dictionaries the size of an Austin and, of course, pocket-size dictionaries for all purposes. I always carried one when I worked and I can’t begin to tell you how many time people asked me why — being on television — I needed a dictionary. Or why I cared about spelling or punctuation.

My parents insisted on using proper language and crisp diction. Street slang guaranteed a head slap or a smack. My two brothers and I were warned about using prejudicial clichés. Since my head has never been properly wrapped, I’ve been guilty of violating those warnings because of my warped sense of humor.

Marilyn warns people that I have toys in my attic.  This is true and some of those toys are pretty old.

A friend and I were trading insults the other day. I snapped at him with, “That’s very white of you”.  His smile said everything. Words!  You gotta know who, when, and where to use them. It was the right word for him and would have been deeply insulting for someone else.

When I was 19 years old and worked in a department store in New York. I was the only goy working in the children’s shoe department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a schmuck.

The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me.  It was a word I’d often heard used in friendly banter, but I didn’t know its origin or meaning. It was just a word. What was the big deal?  I was 19 and knew everything.  I used big words — “20-dollar” words — to impress people. People often complimented me, saying I spoke very well.  I didn’t understand the veiled insult behind many of those compliments because apparently, being Black, I wasn’t supposed to “speak well.”

After all, they were just words.

John Wayne, of all people, once commented on words and ethics.  It was film dialogue which still reverberates a half-century later. The 1961 movie “The Comancheros”  had Texas Ranger “Big Jake” Cutter (John Wayne) lecturing his younger sidekick, Monsieur Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman).

Regret asks Big Jake to spin a lie to his superiors to alleviate a problem. Big Jake refuses. Regret doesn’t understand, saying they are just “words.”

Big Jake, with that iconic Wayne frown, says softly, “Just words??  Words, MON-soor, are what men live by. You musta had a poor upbringing.”

Regret looks puzzled, not fully grasping the ethical code of this rough and ready Texas Ranger.  It’s a sublime moment and perfect for the 1960s when youth was defying the older generation’s moral code.

I recalled the scene years later in an interview with John Wayne. He smiled, shaking his head because he was in the middle of on-going national dissent against the Vietnam War.  Wayne was one of the most visible and vocal “hawks” in the Vietnam controversy. He had been ridiculed by strident protesters at a Harvard University gathering earlier that day.

“Words, dammit,”  Wayne looked at me, both angry and sad. “My words! No damn Hollywood script. I have as much right as those damn college kids.”  Wayne was fuming. The Hollywood legend collected himself as I redirected the conversation to my time as a Marine. I had enlisted in 1959, fired up by the “Sands of Iwo Jima.

“Words. Good words,” I said to Wayne who smiled broadly.

Today, words are often tossed around loosely on social media with little regard to truth or the repercussions of ill-advised words. We have a president who uses words without a thought in a daily barrage of tweets. Our media is engaged in a daily war of words, ignoring crucial issues facing our nation and world. Those of us of a certain age shake our heads as we watch young people immersed in tweets rather than a direct conversation with friends in the same room. Words have become an endangered species.

I remember the good old days when I and friends went face to face with verbal jousts like “Your Mother wears combat boots!”

Words!  I love’em.

WORDS CAN NEVER HURT YOU – GARRY ARMSTRONG

A while back, Marilyn wrote a piece using the word chutzpah. This is a word I’ve always badly mangled when I try to say it. It’s just a word, what the heck? That was my take for many years until Robin Williams and Billy Crystal gave me a proper public whupping for butchering the pronunciation of chutzpah.  I don’t try to say it in public anymore. It’s a word. I respect it because it carries its own meanings and images.

These days, people often use words or phrases without understanding their origin or meaning. I hear political aspirants, celebrities, athletes and civic leaders say things that make me scratch my head and run back to my dictionary.  Words!  They can be powerful tools used correctly. They can be dangerous used in ignorance.

I grew up in a home full of books. Including dictionaries. Big ones and pocket dictionaries. My parents insisted on using proper language and crisp diction.  Street slang guaranteed a head slap or a smack. My two brothers and I were warned about using prejudicial clichés. Since my head has never been properly wrapped, I’ve been guilty of violating those warnings because of my warped sense of humor.

Marilyn warns people that I have toys in the attic.  True.  Some of the toys are very old.

A friend and I were trading insults the other day. I snapped at him with, “That’s white of you”.  His smile said everything. Words!  You gotta know who, when, and where to use them.

Way back in olden times, I was 19 years old and worked in a department Store in Hempstead, New York. I was the only goy working in the children’s shoe department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a schmuck.

The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me.  It was a word I’d often heard used in friendly banter, but I didn’t know its origin or meaning. It was just a word. What was the big deal?  I was 19 and knew everything!  I used big words, “20 dollar” words to impress people. People often complimented me, saying I spoke very well.  I didn’t understand the veiled insult behind many of those compliments.

After all, they were just words.

John Wayne, of all people, once commented on words and ethics.  It was movie dialogue but still reverberates a half century later. In the 1961 film, “The Comancheros,”  Texas Ranger “Big Jake” Cutter (John Wayne) is lecturing his younger sidekick, Monsieur Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman). Regret asks Big Jake to spin a lie to his superiors to alleviate a problem. Big Jake refuses. Regret doesn’t understand, saying they are just “words.”

Big Jake, with that iconic Wayne frown, says softly, “Just words??  Words, MON-soor, are what men live by. You musta had a poor upbringing.”  Regret looks puzzled, not fully grasping the ethical code of this rough and ready Texas Ranger.  It’s a sublime moment and perfect for the young 1960’s when youth was defying the older generation’s moral code.

I recalled the scene years later in an interview with John Wayne. He smiled, shaking his head because he was in the middle of on-going national dissent against the Vietnam War.  Wayne was one of the most visible and vocal “hawks” in the Vietnam controversy. He had been ridiculed by strident protesters at a Harvard University gathering earlier that day.

“Words, dammit,”  Wayne looked at me, angry and sad. “My words! No damn Hollywood script. I have as much right as those damn college kids.”  Wayne was fuming. The Hollywood legend collected himself as I redirected the conversation to my time as a Marine. I had enlisted in 1959, fired up by the “Sands of Iwo Jima.

“Words. Good words,” I said to Wayne who smiled broadly.

Today, words are often tossed around loosely on social media with little regard to truth or the repercussions of ill-advised words. We have a president who uses words without thought in a daily barrage of tweets. Our media is engaged in a daily war of words, ignoring crucial issues facing our nation and world. Those of us of a certain age shake our heads as we watch young people immersed in tweets rather than direct conversation with friends in the same room. Words have become an endangered species.

I remember the good old days when me and friends went face to face with verbal jousts like “Your Mother wears combat boots!”

Words!  I love’em.

BUT WORDS CAN NEVER HURT YOU … BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn recently wrote a piece using the word chutzpah which I’ve always badly mangled in pronunciation. It’s a word, what the heck? That was my take for many years until Robin Williams and Billy Crystal gave me a proper public whupping for butchering the pronunciation of chutzpah.  I don’t try to say Chutzpah in public anymore. It’s a word. I respect it because it carries different meanings and images.

These days, people often use words or phrases without understanding their origin or meaning. I hear political aspirants, celebrities, athletes and civic leaders say things that make me scratch my head and run back to my dictionary.  Words!  They can be powerful tools if used correctly. They can be dangerous if used in ignorance.

I grew up in a home full of books, including dictionaries. Big ones and pocket dictionaries. My parents insisted on using proper language and crisp diction.  Street slang guaranteed a head slap or a smack that stung. My two brothers and I were warned about using prejudicial clichés. Since my head has never been properly wrapped, I’ve been guilty of violating those warnings because of my warped sense of humor. Marilyn warns people that I have toys in the attic.  True.  Some of the toys are very old.

A friend and I were trading insults the other day. I snapped at him with, “That’s white of you”.  His smile said everything. Words!  You gotta know who, when, and where to use them.

Way back in olden times, I was 19 years old and worked in a department Store in Hempstead, New York. I was the only goy working in the children’s shoe department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a schmuck.

The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me.  It was a word I’d often heard used in friendly banter, but I didn’t know its origin or real meaning. It was just a word. What was the big deal?  I was 19 and knew everything!  I used big words, “10 dollar” words to impress people. People often complimented me, saying I spoke very well.  I didn’t understand the veiled insult behind many of those compliments.

After all, they were just words.

John Wayne, of all people, once commented on words and ethics.  It was movie dialogue but still resonates more than half a century later.

In the 1961 film, “The Comancheros,”  Texas Ranger “Big Jake” Cutter (John Wayne) is lecturing his younger sidekick, Monsieur Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman). Regret asks Big Jake to spin a lie to his superiors to alleviate a problem. Big Jake refuses. Regret doesn’t understand, saying they are just “words.”

Big Jake, with that iconic Wayne frown, says softly, “Just words??  Words, MON-soor, are what men live by. You musta had a poor upbringing.”  Regret looks puzzled, not fully grasping the ethical code of this rough and ready Texas Ranger.  It’s a sublime moment and perfect for the young 1960’s when youth was defying the older generation’s moral code.

I recalled the scene years later in an interview with John Wayne. He smiled, shaking his head because he was in the middle of on-going national dissent against the Vietnam War.  Wayne was one of the most visible and vocal “hawks” in the Vietnam controversy. He had been ridiculed by strident protesters at a Harvard University gathering earlier that day.

“Words, dammit,”  Wayne looked at me, angry and sad. “My words! No damn Hollywood script. I have as much right as those damn college kids.”  Wayne was fuming. The Hollywood legend collected himself as I redirected the conversation to my time as a Marine. I had enlisted in 1959, fired up by the “Sands of Iwo Jima” script.

“Words. Good words,” I said to Wayne who smiled broadly.

Today, words are often tossed around loosely on social media, sometimes with little regard to truth or the repercussions of ill-advised words. We have a President who uses words without thought in a daily barrage of tweets.  Our media is engaged in a daily war of words, often ignoring crucial issues facing our nation and world.

Those of us of a certain age shake our heads as we watch young people immersed in tweets rather than direct conversation with friends in the same room. Words have become an endangered species.

I remember the good old days when me and friends went face to face with verbal jousts like “Your Mother wears combat boots!”

Words!  I love them.

BATTLING CATERPILLARS WHILE REMEMBERING THE DUKE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was in the middle of shares about our battle with a gypsy moth caterpillar invasion. It’s awful! And, I’m still filled with welts and bites from a confrontation with the caterpillars two days ago. What to do??

Then, I noticed a message from my friend John Wayne Hawthorne. A reminder that the Duke, John Wayne, passed into legend 37 years ago yesterday.

books and the duke

My pal, “JW”, first consoled me about my battles with the caterpillars and warned me to be careful. I was grateful for the sympathy and support because battling caterpillars doesn’t seem very heroic. Then we talked about our hero. The conversation allowed me to mentally time travel back to 1974 when I met Duke Wayne. I’ve told the story a zillion times but it’s nice to retell on this day of the bugs invasion.

John Wayne was here for a visit to Harvard. It was still a time of unrest about the Vietnam War. Duke was unpopular with the liberal Cambridge crowd because of his hawk stance on Vietnam. Wayne and his entourage were pelted with snowballs as he approached Harvard Square. It was pandemonium.

I called in some chits and managed to get Duke to meet me and my crew inside a small theater.

Lights were turned on to brighten the empty stage. I eyed Duke at one end of the stage and mumbled nervously to my cameraman. Jim, my “shooter”,  whispered for me to stop acting like a wimp and just walk to center stage. I walked towards my mark and noticed Duke in that familiar rolling gait ambling towards me. He waved and smiled.

“Garry”, he said loudly, “Good to see ya, again”.

I gulped and heard myself say, “Good to see you again, Duke”.

The rest was surreal. The interview went well and wound up with the obligatory cutaway and setup shots. Duke waved as he walked away saying, “Great seeing you, again, Garry”. I swallowed hard, then waved. I recall mentioning to Duke that I’d enlisted in the Marine Corps back in 1959. He seemed impressed. Maybe that got me some points. I’m not sure.

I’d see Wayne later again at a mass interview and he singled me out as a Gyrene, offering a wave and a salute. I savored that moment.

john wayne the duke

If Duke were around today, maybe he would round-up Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr, Ward Bond and some of the other fellas and we’d run these damn gypsy moth caterpillars out of town. Hell, maybe even Liberty Valance might throw in with us.

We wouldn’t burn any daylight with these critters.

No sir, sure as the turnin’ of the earth.

THE DUKE AND GARRY: A PILGRIM’S TALE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

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.

72-Gar-Phoenix-Mountains-01062015_031

The locales around Phoenix are similar to areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made some of their iconic films.

In the aftermath of my first Arizona post, 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-one winters ago, as I reckon, it was John Wayne versus the anti-Vietnam War crowd at Harvard and surrounding areas of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

72-GAR-Phoenix-Mountains-01062015_061

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 snow balls 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 snow balls. It was a bad situation for a reporter attempting an interview.

72-GAR-Phoenix-Mountains-01062015_056

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

72-GAR-Sunset-Phoenix-Cactus-01062015_202

“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 pseudo 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. 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.

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.

72-Garry-Photog-MAR-Phoenix-011216_011

Sadly, there were no personal pictures from that memorable day. No autograph. I’d always felt uneasy about asking celebrities for these artifacts. Ironically, this gesture apparently opened the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, Royalty, Presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers and even Mother Theresa who singled me out from a crowd, chastising me about news coverage. I never figured that one out.

72-GAR-Sunset-Phoenix-Cactus-01062015_215

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!

REVISIONIST HISTORY AND RACISM – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond

by Scott Allen Nollen

Three Bad Men

As big a fan of these three men as I am, there is a level of revisionist history that is impossible for me to accept.

I had to stop reading the book. At least for a while. It’s a temporary interruption I’m sure, but I needed to back off from Three Bad Men. I need to take a few deep breaths and calm down before continuing.

This book chronicles the lives and friendships of John Ford, John Wayne and Ward Bond. Two great actors and one extraordinary director. It’s an interesting read. I have been reading, as is my habit, slowly, savoring. I was enjoying it.

Until I got to the section in which the author claims Ford used Stepin Fetchit and other minorities to “slyly mock America’s racism”.

That’s absolutely untrue.

What I see — and have always seen — is the perpetuation of racism by Pappy. As much as I love John Ford’s westerns, there’s no escaping the racism in his films.

They were still calling Woody Strode “boy” as late as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Even considering his belated attempt to make reparations with Cheyenne Autumn, it was much too little, way too late.

I’ll get back to the book in a while, when I have calmed down a bit. Right now, I’m sorry. I simply can’t continue reading it.