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Here’s My Answer—John Wayne

Last month in MODERN SCREEN those four kids of mine raked me over the coals pretty well. Actually, they were fairly mild coals, I suppose, because they’re all sensitive kids, and I don’t think they’ve ever thought of saying anything that would hurt me. Sometimes they’re even too good to me. Like Toni telling that story about my kicking the shirts downstairs and then saying she’s sure I’m cooler these days. The truth is, if the same thing happened today, I’d still send them down the stairs. Harder!

But still, they did a lot of talking about their old man, and I figure it’s a pop’s perogative to get a few licks in about this family business, too. So here goes.

No matter what they say, I was an average father, I guess. Michael came first and I took him in stride. Till he crossed me up. I always thought he was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen, and my pride didn’t wear off any with the years. By the time Michael was five, I was still bragging a blue streak about my son’s flawless appearance. And one evening when I was with a gang of friends and the conversation turned to children, I couldn’t restrain myself. “Well, all I have to say,” I said, “is that Michael was the world’s handsomest baby.” To prove it I dragged out an old reel of film featuring Michael’s crawling days. It went over like a lead balloon.

The film started, and this creature with big ears came crawling toward the camera. Halfway across the lawn, he found the dog’s old bone and began chewing on it. He wasn’t at all the way I remembered him. I stopped the film, and after that I didn’t brag any more.

But not because I couldn’t have. When Michael started school we were afraid he wouldn’t adjust. With Toni only sixteen months younger, we’d been at him all the time with don’t, don’t, don’t, so that he wouldn’t set a bad example for his sister. So the first day he went to school I talked with the Mother Superior. (I’m not a Catholic, but my kids are and I always wanted them in Jesuit Schools because they give such a great education.) “This boy,” I told her, “may be shy with the other youngsters. He’s very sensitive and may not mix well.” The Mother Superior laughed. “Look out the window,” she said. And there was Michael in the midst of a knot of other boys, hamming it up—the center of attention.

But my proudest moment where Michael was concerned happened when he was still knee high. He had come home from school wearing angry scratches across his face, and that evening his mother told him to report what had happened to me.

“Well,” said Michael, “some boy at school scratched my face.”

“He did, huh?” I said. “And what did he do when he got up?”

“He cried,” said Michael. I stopped worrying.

Michael takes over

When his mother and I separated, it was Michael who had to take over as the man of the house. The other kids would kick up their heels and Michael would say “This is the way we do it,” and the rest of them would snap to attention. He’s always been the mainstay, so much so that Toni didn’t even get a crack at being a lead mare. By now, of course, they’re all on their own, but Michael was boss man when it counted.

But a long time before that, when Michael was a baby, my only worry about being a father was the chance that I might have a daughter. What could I do with a girl? All my family had been male—except my mother of course—but I mean that I had no sisters, and didn’t know how to treat a girl. When they’re little they’re so fragile and ribbonish and that kind of thing. And then Toni came along and I learned how wonderful a daughter can be.

She’s not the only one who remembers the first time I saw her in lipstick—and that evening she came down the stairs in her first formal! My little girl—well, you know how sentimental a father can get. But the biggest shock was the one she gave me six months ago. She told her mother about her engagement and her mother told her to talk to me about it, and Toni said, “Oh, he won’t care.” I sure do. I was stunned when she said she wanted to marry before she finished school, but then, what can you do? You either agree or they get married anyway. I asked what they intended living on, with Don just starting out, and she said he had a lot all paid for and they’d build a house. I pointed out that with Don working eight hours a day and studying at least four, it would be rough on her. But I don’t think it matters too much. Getting your feet wet in trouble early in life never hurt anybody. It’ll probably turn out to be good for both of them.

Come to think of it, she’s always surprising me, one way or the other. A few years ago, when she was in school, she did a skit in which she played a Northern girl who’d visited the South and come home with a phony accent. It was done on a bare stage and it was the difficult kind of comedy that a professional actress would hesitate to do. She was really funny, and that was the first time I ever knew she had the makings of an actress. And I guess it was the only time she ever tackled anything on a stage. She’s never been interested.

Pat’s interested in acting, of course, but I wouldn’t say that that’s it for him, for sure. I told him the first important thing for him to do is finish his college, then learn to be a man. Associate with kids his own age and grow up with them, and not be forced into the position where he’s a little boy everybody’s protecting. When he’s done those two things, then he can decide if he wants to become an actor. Right now, it’s just something easy for him. He has tremendous powers of concentration. One time when he was to appear in public I told him they might ask him to speak. He asked my advice and in the middle of a mob of people I rattled off some suggestions. An hour later he repeated them verbatim, when I myself had forgotten what I said. . . . That’s why it’s such a snap for him to memorize lines. But that’s not the most important thing in the world—to have an easy talent. A while back Pat got an award as an up-and-coming future star, and I went to see him receive it. Afterwards everyone told me I sat there beaming like a locomotive headlight. Well, I suppose I did. But it wasn’t so much the award itself that I liked. It was the way Patrick moved when he went up to receive it. The pride in his walk, the way he handled himself.

No, I wouldn’t be so surprised if Pat changed his mind and went into business, like Michael. I couldn’t tell yet whether he has Michael’s cracker-jack mind for that kind of thing, but he sure has the money sense. Funny—Michael paid me back for the car I gave him, even though he didn’t have to. But Pat—well, I’m not looking forward to it. I’m certainly not adjusting my budget expecting a cent from Patrick. That boy—he’s close with a nickel. On the other hand, it has its advantages to have a rich son. If I ever go broke, he’s the one who’ll keep me from the poorhouse.

For a while he talked about possibly entering the priesthood, which is fine with me, or he might even want to go into some sport professionally. Patrick lettered in football and track and wrestled inter-school. Michael loves sports, and it was too bad about that allergy. The school doctor told me if it were his son he wouldn’t allow him out there. But he was great at boxing. Got in the ring once with Jersey Joe Walcott. Just sparring, thank God, but he went a round with him anyway. The other kids are awfully proud of him for that. Toni played volley ball and basketball at school and Melinda—well, Melinda devotes most of her energy to eating.

Melinda is a doll. She’s the most affectionate little girl I’ve ever known. She has a great way with people. Her feeling for people is what’s going to count in life with her.

Yeah, I know she’s been complaining about not getting a car. That’s a problem. Because I’m not with them all the time it’s been difficult to restrain myself from spoiling them. I want to make up for it by giving them everything. But if I do that, I don’t know how they’ll be when they get out in the world on their own. So I make them wait a while. That’s not so rough. Besides, even that depends on their interpretation of the word “wait.” To them it means waiting for the next birthday or Christmas, and waiting for something darned expensive. When I was a kid, “wait” meant five years sometimes, even if it was for an overcoat.

Dad’s a pushover

Frankly, I’m a big pushover. They don’t have to think up tactics to get around me. I never did with my own father, when I was a kid. Except that one time. I was about nine, I guess, and I wanted a bicycle for so long that it hurt. Christmas Eve my parents asked me, thinking I still believed in Santa Claus, to write the old boy a letter about what I wanted. So I penned a masterpiece. I wrote Santa that the only thing I really wanted was a bike. That I knew things were tough, but if he couldn’t leave the bicycle, he might as well not leave any of that other stuff. It would only be wasted because I didn’t want that childish sort of thing. Well, my father took one look at that letter and flew out of the house. I think he got the shop owner out of bed, but the upshot was that I got my bicycle. Now, my kids ask for things straight from the shoulder, and if I say no, they know they’ll have to wait. There’s no subterfuge with them.

Anyway, that’s what I always figured. Till I saw what they said in this magazine last month. Now I’m not so sure. That “l’ll-Get-A-Job” bit of Toni’s—you don’t by any chance suppose that could have been—a tactic, do you?

They’re wonderful kids

But I don’t have to worry about any of them. They’re all healthy, and they’re all honest. I don’t think one of them knows how to tell a lie. My father made sure of that with me, and I have with them. And it really doesn’t matter so much what I give them or don’t give them—there’s not much chance of their being spoiled. Their mother has done a wonderful job with them, and they help by teasing the first one that gets out of hand. They kid Patrick about his acting, ask to see his profile in a good light. And Toni doesn’t stand a chance. Her husband and his family fill her up with all sorts of compliments. Tell her she’s beautiful and intelligent and sweet, and when she walks in the front door here on a cloud, the rest of them yell, “Come on in, beautiful!”

I get a slightly different treatment, of course. When I walk in, it’s “Welcome home, Hairless!” And when I get a compliment from one of them, it’s something like “Gee, Dad, you even dig bop talk! For a father, you’re not exactly square!” Square! If anything, those four have trouble keeping up with their old man.

At least, they had. From now on, times are going to change. I’m saving my strength. In about fifteen years from now, it’ll be Aissa’s (my new baby) turn to write for MODERN SCREEEN. Something on “My Poor Old Daddy, John Wayne,” no doubt. I’m going to leave myself a little energy for answering that one good and proper, too!



John Wayne will soon appear (as himself) in RKO’s I Married A Woman.



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