Review: The Young Duke

January 8th, 2010 | by Sqotty |

Too anyone who knows me, it will come as no surprise that I am a big (and I do mean BIG!) John Wayne fan. My in-laws are no exception to this. Indeed, they delighted me the last couple of holidays with some delightful John Wayne related gifts, and this year was a big surprise in that they gave me a copy of The Young Duke: The Early Life of John Wayne by Chris Enss and Howard Kazanjian for Christmas (among other fun things!). I breezed through the book, preempting the novel I had just started.

This is a new biography on the Duke, and contains reprints of several articles and interviews written during John Wayne’s life, as well as numerous photographs. That alone makes this book worth picking up.

Any John Wayne fan knows a lot of his life during his film career, and even a bit about his growing up and how he got into film in the first place. Enss and Kazanjian give more depth to the fractured family life that Duke Wayne grew up with and dealt with during his adult life.

What I found most interesting in this new biography is how the list of “supporting” people in Duke’s life impacted his personal life and his career, from his early mentorship with John Ford and his many years of work with the great Yakima Canutt, and how Wayne and Canutt developed new stunt techniques for choreographing fight scenes during their stint in ’30s B-westerns. There are anecdotes about many other film legends, such as Harry Carey, Tom Fix, and many others. Plus a look at Wayn’e marriages, including his tragic and stormy union to Chata Baur.

There is one major error in the book, and that is when it covers the House Un-American Activities Committee. Enss and Kanajian incorrectly assert that Harry Carey, when he testified before the HUAC, he did so before Joseph McCarthy, and stated he headed the committee. Harry Carey died in 1947, several months after McCarthy was elected to the U.S. Senate. Prior to 1947, McCarthy served as a circuit court judge in Wisconsin. As a U.S. Senator, he would have no direct involvement with the HUAC as that was a committee of the House of Representatives. Add to that the fact the McCarthy was relatively unknown until 1950 when he made the Wheeling Speech concerning the communist infiltration of our government.

Aside from that serious factual error, and some poor proofing (which is a nitpick), Enss and Kazanjian have produced a very fine biography of Duke Wayne and The Young Duke well worth reading.

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