A Resonant Legacy
“ As Captain Jake Cutter famously says in 1961’s The Comancheros, “Words are what men live by...words they say and mean.” Though spoken by one of his characters, this quote could have just as easily come from the mouth of the real Duke. That’s the case with many of the most memorable lines from my father’s films. Whether intimidating, profound or just plain funny, the dialogue uttered by John Wayne characters consistently contains greater truths that resonate long after the end credits roll. In the following pages, we’ll look back on the greatest words ever spoken by the men my father brought to life in hopes of finding not just what they meant in the context of the characters and John Wayne’s career as a whole, but also the way in which they—like my father—continue to resonate with millions of fans today.” —Ethan Wayne
Here’s Where We Start… 100 Greatest Lines Ranked and Rated...
100 “Time to bed down. Hope you don’t mind sleepin’ on the same desert with me.” —A LADY TAKES A CHANCE (1943)
Love is a lot like livestock: It’s a naturally wild thing, and sometimes, even if you think you have it under control, it takes you on an unexpected ride. And as Molly J. Truesdale (Jean Arthur) learns in the 1943 film A Lady Takes a Chance, sometimes love and livestock work in tandem. Bored on a bus trip to the West Coast, the curious city girl decides to check out a rodeo and quickly forgets her suitors back home when handsome cowboy Duke Hudkins (John Wayne) gets bucked from a bronco and lands on top of her. Later, after taking turns charming each other, it’s only fitting that Hudkins suggests bedding down on the desert ground together— after all, their fateful first encounter took place there.
97 “You let me worry about that, Green Beret. You’re what this is all about!” —THE GREEN BERETS (1968)
By the time John Wayne had secured special presidential permission to direct and star in 1968’s The Green Berets, his mission statement for the film was crystal clear. After the climactic mission brings about the death of Sgt. Peterson (Jim Hutton), who had been watching over young Hamchunk (Craig Jue), the boy asks Duke’s Col. Kirby what will happen to him now that he is orphaned again. Placing a green beret on Hamchunk’s head, Kirby tells the worried youngster that he’ll be taken care of because he is, after all, “what this is all about.” Capping off the passion project, this memorable line was John Wayne’s way of speaking directly to the audience what was truly at stake in Vietnam.
96 “Stop yammerin’ about shooin’ horses—that’s no way to talk to a girl. Talk to her about HER. And marry her...and do it quick!” —ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947)
In many ways, John Wayne’s gunslinger Quirt Evans in 1947’s Angel and the Badman is just as notorious as the film’s title suggests. However, when it comes to charming women, Evans isn’t so bad after all. As he tries to impart some wisdom to “dim-witted” Nelson (Marshall Reed) with the above line, Duke’s character reveals himself to be a thoughtful conversationalist. Elsewhere in the film, Evans is perhaps best described by Bradley (Olin Howland): “He’s closed the eyes of many a man...and opened the eyes of many a woman.”---
93 “George, a wonderful thing about Alaska is that matrimony hasn’t hit up here yet. Let’s keep it a free country!” —NORTH TO ALASKA (1960)
In the Henry Hathaway-helmed 1960 film North to Alaska, marriage is on the mind of Duke’s gruff prospector Sam McCord— and he frequently claims to want no part of it. After his mining partner George Pratt (Stewart Granger) learns that his fiancée Jenny (Lilyan Chauvin) has quickly moved on and married another man, McCord does his best to cheer up his friend. He makes wisecracks about the idea of marriage, and he even hires a prostitute, “Angel” aka Michelle (Capucine), to distract George. The irony here, though, is despite celebrating the fact that he’s in a “free country” earlier in the film, McCord is the one who ends up unable to shake the idea of settling down with Michelle.
92 “I’m sorry, gentlemen, I’m not built for waiting.” —THE FIGHTING SEABEES (1944)
Independence—and at times, the impatient, stubborn sort—is a quality that marks many of the men John Wayne portrayed throughout his career. In the 1944 World War II film The Fighting Seabees, Wedge Donovan is one such character who insists on taking action whether he’s been given a green light or not. After his construction unit is denied the ability to defend itself in the event of Japanese attackers, a frustrated Donovan defies official orders from the U.S. Navy and leads his civilian crew in stealing weapons. The rash plan backfires in tragic fashion, though, as it ruins the Navy’s carefully plotted sneak attack and leads to the deaths of many of Donovan’s own men. Willing to comply with the Navy following the incident, Donovan helps form the first Construction Battalion, nicknamed the “Seabees” as a play on the group’s initials. Perfectly encapsulating the character’s brash instinct to act before he thinks, this bit of dialogue reveals to viewers the qualities necessary to be a true leader in a time of war. Donovan, the first to admit he’s “not built for waiting,” quickly learns just how crucial it can be to lack the virtue of patience in such a dire time.---
90 “Doesn’t matter what the people think. It’s what you think, Grant.” —HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962)
When John Wayne’s Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman speaks these words in How the West Was Won (1962), the never-say-die spirit found throughout the epic film is perfectly embodied. When the newspapers criticize his handling of the Battle of Shiloh, Gen. Grant (Harry Morgan) tells Gen. Sherman, “Win or lose, tomorrow, I intend to resign.” Sherman refuses to allow that to happen, though, and does his best to inspire Grant to keep doing what he believes to be right, despite what others might think. In a historical context, had the settlers opted to listen to the warnings of the countless naysayers who tried to stop them in their quest to settle the West, America as we know it would be a very different place. It just goes to show that when spoken with the authority of a John Wayne character, a seemingly simple string of sentences like this can have a major lasting impact.
See the full countdown and what was ranked #1 in The Official John Wayne Collector’s Edition, Volume 44!