John Wayne remains a cultural force almost 40 years after his passing

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In an age in which pop culture icons seemingly have the shelf life of a loaf of bread, John Wayne is very much the exception.

The legendary Western film star died nearly 40 years ago but remains a formidable presence in American life, serving as the embodiment of masculine individualism. Farmington Museum curator Jeffrey Richardson, who has delivered presentations on a wide variety of Western subjects all around the country during his career, said every time he talks about Wayne, he usually does so to a large, rapt audience. In his estimation, the Duke has lost hardly any of his star power.

"He's almost as big a star today as he was 50, 60, gosh, 70 years ago," said Richardson, who will discuss Wayne's legacy in his "God Bless America and John Wayne" presentation at 3 p.m. Saturday, November 10th 2018 at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St., as part of the Curator's Choice Lecture Series.

Richardson characterizes Wayne as "a movie star like no other," and that explains why he remains such a cultural force in this country. There were plenty of other big Hollywood stars from Wayne's era, Richardson noted, including such esteemed, beloved actors as James Stewart and Clark Gable. But even though they are remembered fondly and continue to be held in high regard, they can't begin to approach Wayne's immortal status, he said.

Just how far reaching was Wayne's influence? Richardson likes the relate a story from the fall of 1959, when Nikita Khrushchev accepted President Dwight Eisenhower's invitation and became the first Soviet head of state to visit the United States. Khrushchev had two requests — demands, actually — before he agreed to the visit.

First, he wanted to visit Disneyland, which had opened only a few years earlier.

Second, he wanted to meet John Wayne.

Ultimately, the visit to the amusement park was scrapped. But arrangements were made for Khrushchev and Wayne to get together and have a few drinks — a meeting that, by all accounts, overjoyed the famously dour Soviet premier and erased any disappointment he may have suffered by missing the opportunity pose for a photo with Mickey and Minnie.

Richardson laughs when he talks about the surreal nature of Khrushchev's request. After all, Wayne was well known for the depth of his anti-communist, anti-Soviet feeling, and McCarthyism had had a major impact on the American political scene for much of the decade, resulting in the blacklisting of dozens of Hollywood writers, actors and directors.

And yet, there was the Duke, bellying up to the bar, knocking back a few and sharing some yuks with the same Ruskie who had vowed to bury the West during a speech a few years earlier.

"It just shows you John Wayne's appeal," Richardson said. "His aura, his legacy when he was alive went beyond the United States. He was the embodiment of the United States and continues to be so. That's why we're still talking about him."

By Mike Easterling, Farmington Daily Times - Read the complete article at: 1924766002