Actor. Patriot. Philosopher. John Wayne didn’t just know his way around a six-shooter. He was deadly with his words, too, tossing off bons mots like grenades. While not exactly an American Confucius, Wayne’s nothing if not quotable and a discerning listener could live his life guided by The Duke’s words of wisdom. You can see The Duke’s philosophy in action via AMC’s Fourth of July movie marathon: The John Wayne All-American Weekend. Without further ado, here’s the best of the proverbial John Wayne.
1. “Don’t apologize; it’s a sign of weakness.” — She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
Rarely was the Duke’s guiding ethos of manliness, self-reliance, and bravado distilled into a more perfect package than in his response to the apologies of a woman responsible for a massacre in this classic 1949 Western. Despite his aforementioned secret vulnerability, at the end of the day this is what Wayne was: stubborn, strong, and unapologetic. What’s done is done. Second-guessing is for cowards, not cowboys.
2. “There’s right and there’s wrong. You got to do one or the other. You do the one and you’re living. You do the other and you may be walking around but you’re dead as a beaver hat.” —The Alamo
If nothing else, The Alamo is about drawing a line in the sand by deciding which side you’re on. On and off screen, Wayne saw things in black and white. Here, as Davy Crockett, he stands for democracy and sticking to your principles. A man who values security over morality is a traitor to his self. Tough tonic perhaps but also truly American.
3. “Sorry, don’t get it done, Dude.” — Rio Bravo
Wayne was — in the jargon of contemporary economics — a results-oriented worker. Which is to say that he gets the job done. End of story. Nothing stands in his way, not even, in Rio Bravo, a gang of outlaws who have him outnumbered and outgunned. By hook or by crook, he’ll do what needs doing, as he reminds drunk deputy Dude (Dean Martin) in this quotation. Even with the odds stacked against you, failure isn’t an option. Well put.
4. “I never shot nobody I didn’t have to.” — True Grit
In a perfect world, a gun would never be necessary but Wayne, like Arnold Schwarzenegger , knows that some problems require drastic measures. As Rooster Cogburn, Wayne has seen his share of bloodshed. That’s part of his job. But even at his most brutal, Wayne also recognizes the fine line between a man and a murderer.
5. “All battles are fought by scared men who’d rather be some place else.” — In Harm’s Way
The Duke is vulnerable and sensitive on occassion. That’s what makes him a star. Which isn’t to say that emotions ever overwhelm him or determine his fate. That soldiers get scared isn’t surprising. That they still go into battle is what makes them brave.
6. Pat Wheeler: “A game-legged old man and a drunk. That’s all you got?” John Wayne: “That’s what I’ve got.” — Rio Bravo
This line is really Wayne’s way of saying, “If you’ve got lemons, make lemonade.” He sees people as his supreme resource, and he’s not about to let some scoundrel put him down because one of his cohorts happens to be a drunkards. That snappy retort by the Duke is so notable that Dissent magazine did an entire article around on how it related to Wayne’s vision of democracy. (For real!)
7. “Out here, due process is a bullet.” — The Green Berets
Doing right sometimes means ignoring nettlesome bureaucracy. This is one of Wayne’s most infamous quotations, and it comes from one of his most misguided, reviled films, The Green Berets. The movie is a misguided call to stay the course in Vietnam, and the line brings to mind the troubling vigilantism that’s central to the way Wayne and his characters see the world.
8. “There’s some things a man just can’t run away from.” — Stagecoach
The Duke’s characters are always being pursued — by troubled pasts and, ultimately, by death. That also goes for Wayne’s own life. For decades, cancer pursued him. He beat it once, but, ultimately, the disease came back to defeat him. But he fought back against it until he couldn’t fight anymore, just like Ringo Kid in Stagecoach. Wayne is about facing things with both eyes wide open and both guns blazing.
9. “We brought nothing into this world, and it’s certain we can carry nothing out.” —Red River
The Duke always strips life down to its essentials. In Red River, the iconic actor plays a cattle driver making due on the frontier. A true spartan individualist, Wayne’s character see his life as enriched by the certainty of death. Indeed, the above statement would sit well with such esteemed existentialists as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Sometimes, the sentiment doesn’t seem as harsh when said with a drawl.
10. “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.” — The Shootist
That’s the Wayne philosophy in a nutshell, and it’s fitting that it comes in his last movie. Why was he like this? Was it a result of childhood beat downs after being named “Marion”? Who knows and, more importantly, who cares? In his final role, he’s, appropriately, a dying gunslinger, a man at the end of his tether who still hangs onto his principles. Say what you will about the Duke and his philosophy, but he stuck by it till the end.