Local Author Writes the Ultimate John Wayne Quote Book

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Mark Orwoll, author of the just released book “John Wayne Speaks.”

Mark Orwoll has been an enormous John Wayne fan since childhood, so it isn’t surprising that he would write a book about the Duke, one of the most celebrated Hollywood actors.

But the 26-year Pleasantville resident didn’t pen a biography or delve into Wayne’s personal life. Orwoll strictly focused on the larger-than-life figure’s quotes and lines from his voluminous filmography in his book, “John Wayne Speaks,” that is scheduled for release by St. Martin’s Griffin this week.

Despite being deceased for more than 40 years, Orwoll believes that John Wayne remains a highly appealing actor and person because he was such a strong and versatile performer who stood out in voice and stature.

Along with his many westerns, people sometimes forget Wayne played a leading man during his earlier career and appeared in lighter films as well, he said.

“There are a few actors who have the ability to project the sense of authority, of understanding, and yet also are not braggadocious, they’re not Sylvester Stallone, let’s put it that way,” Orwoll said. “They are reluctant heroes, and I think John Wayne definitely falls into that camp. He does not walk into a room and says, ‘Hey, everybody, look at me.’ In fact, he does exactly the opposite.”

Orwoll brings in the famous lines, the obscure and everything in between, often prefacing them with context and sometimes including them with dialogue from another actor. Each John Wayne quote is annotated with a footnote, and the reader can look in Appendix B to find in which movie the line was spoken.

“Honey, this is strictly from Brooklyn, but why don’t you dance with the guy that brung ya?” he stated in the 1944 film “The Fighting Seabees.” Or this gem from “True Grit” in 1969, in which Wayne captured the Oscar for best actor: “I know him – well. I shot him in the lip last August over at Winding Stair Mountains. He was lucky that day, all right. My shootin’ was off.”

Orwoll divided each of the 19 chapters by category of quotes, such as How to Woo a Gal, In Service to His County, which centered on patriotism, war and life in uniform, and Make Mine a Double. There is one chapter near the end that includes John Wayne quotes from interviews, speeches and public appearances.

What’s fascinating about Orwoll’s work, in which he watched every one of Wayne’s 173 credited roles that spanned 50 years (although the early Wayne movies were silent films), is what is not included in the book. There are perhaps dozens of lines that have been attributed to Wayne over the years, even though he never uttered them, Orwoll said.

There’s no “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” or “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” Wayne happens to be in that small pantheon of famous people where his name evokes a certain mythology.

“I’m going to guarantee you that any quote in here could be attributed to a specific movie,” said Orwoll, a former editor at Travel + Leisure for 30 years who is currently a freelance travel writer. “I felt like I had to do that for John Wayne fans, and for myself. Enough of these made-up quotations.”

Orwoll believes John Wayne fans will enjoy the book and people who love Hollywood, particularly its Golden Age after World War II. He said many teenagers and younger adults are familiar with Wayne through their parents or grandparents.

In fact, Orwoll contacted Brian Downes, who runs the John Wayne Birthplace Museum in the actor’s hometown of Winterset, Iowa, that he had written the book. Downes wrote back, “Does it include the quote ‘Life is tough, it’s tougher if you’re stupid?’”

“I wrote back (that) John Wayne never said that,” Orwoll recalled. “He wrote back a one-sentence response: ‘Send me the book.’”

For Orwoll, some of his favorite John Wayne movies were from the heart of his career, including “Fort Apache,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and almost anything else directed by John Ford.

He doesn’t apologize for enjoying the actor’s work, even though he acknowledges some of the movies would never be made today. Orwoll, who identifies as a liberal Democrat, also doesn’t get into Wayne’s politics.

“If you’re not able to separate an artistic product from the actual human being’s history, who created it, then you’re going to have a lot of wonderful artistry in this world that is off-limits to you,” Orwoll said.

He also made sure to credit the screenwriters who wrote the lines.

What turned out as  “a contagion-inspired compendium” while being homebound during the pandemic has received strong feedback.

“I’m very proud of the book,” Orwoll said.

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