Lunches with John Wayne

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  • During ‘True Grit' filming, his dad was star's local escort
    By Caitlin Switzer - Telluride Daily Planet

    It was 39 years ago, but Phil Martinez recalls that morning like yesterday.

    “I woke up to go to school, and there was John Wayne, eating huevos rancheros and drinking coffee at the family breakfast table!” Martinez recalled. “I went running into the bathroom, because I just had my pajama bottoms on. When I peeked out the door, he saw me and said, ‘Come here, young'un.'”

    The 14-year-old Martinez was awestruck, but managed to collect himself long enough to come out and talk to the movie star, who had come to Ouray to act in the Western “True Grit,” which was then being filmed in Ridgway.

    “He said, ‘Your daddy and mom have been so kind to me, you and your best friend can have lunch with me every day,” Martinez said. “So I went and got Butch Clark, who was non-believing. We went that day - all we had to do was run down to the end of the block, because they had the whole block set up for the cast and crew. There was John Wayne, sitting at a table with two empty chairs. He said, ‘Come on boys.'”

    The two teens were allowed to eat with Wayne each day during the filming of “True Grit” on the condition that, each day, they bring a child from a different class at school to share the lunch.

    “We got to pick the kids,” Martinez said. “Some were kindergarteners, some were second graders. Our whole school was abuzz! Everybody was excited -‘True Grit' was the talk of the county.”

    A native of Ouray, Martinez was able to meet the famed Western star because of his father's second job - although a miner by day, the elder Martinez worked as a deputy police officer by night, and had been assigned to escort Wayne and his entourage around town.

    “It was just his bodyguard and a couple of buddies,” Martinez recalled. “He was the biggest star of the movie, but he was the only one who stayed in Ouray - the others all had to be flown in each day from Grand Junction because this town was just too small for them.”

    Wayne, however, stayed at the Twin Peaks Motel.

    “My father had to walk around with him and keep everybody away,” Martinez said. “His favorite spot was The Outlaw - back then it was more of a bar, with pool tables - he loved to play pool with the locals, with anybody who was of age and would play with him. He played five dollars a ball, and his favorite game was eight-ball.”

    The great star turned out to be a regular guy, Martinez said.

    “Sometimes he would peel off his hat and take off his wig,” he laughed. “And he would put back good, sizeable amounts of bourbon.”

    Today, Butch Clark lives in Grand Junction and fabricates nuclear power plants, and Martinez himself still lives in Ouray, where he owned and operated his own popular restaurant (Bombie's Bus) for a number of years. He holds degrees in business management and administration and journalism, and has also served as manager of the Ridgway Farmers Market and has hosted local senior lunches. However, he most recently returned to the job he held after finishing school, the job his father also held by day.

    “I am mining up at Yankee Boy,” Martinez said. “I mined after college, and wanted to do it again for the novelty of it. It's primarily a silver mine, but we are mining for gold because it pays a lot more. I went underground today - I love it.”

    And of course, at 53, he has seen his fair share of the movie “True Grit.”

    “If I said I had seen it less than 35 times, I would be lying,” he said. “I am a John Wayne fan anyway, so Ms. Penny (Scoggins, Martinez' partner) and I watch it twice a year - we have seen it 24 times since we have been together.”

    When it comes to his favorite John Wayne movie, Martinez admits that it is a toss-up between “True Grit,” “The Shootist,” and “Cowboys.”

    From Wayne, Martinez said he learned “selfness.”

    “That's not selfishness,” he explained. “It's selfness - he was himself, on or off screen. He was a regular guy, fun-loving and smart. Of course he was the size of Shaquille O'Neil, just a little shorter. But he was true to himself. He loved his country - he was very patriotic. And I think one thing that really shined from him was that he loved everybody. He gave everybody a slice of the mustard. He was a positive entertainer, and a positive person.

    “I think he was a true American,” Martinez said. “He touched a lot of people in the best way he knew.

    “If True Grit comes on tomorrow, I will watch it again.”

  • I read somewhere that Wayne. who loved chess, would play a game with anyone who would send him a postcard with the first move on it. Whether true or not, it's been one of my greatest regrets that I never tried it. Don't have true grit, I guess.:broken_heart: