John Bernard Books was perhaps one of the best characters to ever stride the silver screen, brought to life with an unapologetic honesty by John Wayne it shows a transition from an older time to this that we now call the modern era. It takes place at the end of the Victorian Era, mentioned in passing in a newspaper that Mr. Books is reading occasionally throughout the movie. And also mixed throughout the movie is his credo.
“I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”
How much simpler would the world be if we could all live according to this simple code? Do no wrong to others, speak no wrong to others, keep your hands off of others. Of course in the words of J.B. Books it is implied that those that do these things are very likely to receive a significant physical chastisement, but as I said this was set at the cusp of the modern age.
If you’ve never seen the movie by the way, I recommend it highly. The Duke plays the part of a man dying from cancer with grace and sober dignity, and with the air of a man that had beaten back cancer a few times and knew that one day it would come for him. He also played the part with an inherent toughness, because lets face facts that’s how we all know the Duke.
John Wayne isn’t a granite figure of a man, his a character carved from good old American Hickory, they didn’t really sand him smooth when they were finished carving, and for that mater they didn’t bother to take the bark off either. The line quoted above was from a script, but it could have very easily come from him. He was once asked about his philosophy for life and said: “I’ve always followed my father’s advice: he told me, first to always keep my word and, second, to never insult anybody unintentionally. If I insult you, you can be goddamn sure I intend to. And, third, he told me not to go around looking for trouble.”
I’ve gotten in trouble here and there for having a similar philosophy.
He’s something that’s hard to classify in this day in age, a glorious anachronism I suppose. He didn’t serve in the armed forces, he was 34 with a family when WWII started and served in movies and not in the armed forces, but he played characters from every branch of the armed forces, and there are very few Marines who haven’t seen him play Sgt Stryker in the Sands of Iwo Jima.
Personally I look past Books and Stryker and even the incredible job he did playing Rooster Cogburn to a gruff old man named Wil Andersen that had a herd of cattle he had to get to market. The west had taken his own sons, he could see their headstones from his porch, and the men of the area were off chasing a gold rush. That left him with a bunch of boys that were all he could hire to step up to a man’s job. He taught them cattle and he taught them the lessons of life along the way. It was one of the movies that the Duke’s character died in, and knowing that he was likely to die he still looked the bad guy in the eye and told him straight up: “I’ve had my back broke once, and my hip twice, and on my worst day I could beat the hell out of you.” I won’t tell you what happens next, if you haven’t seen the movie, check it out.
He lived his life as John Wayne, but he never changed it legally and used his legal name in legal and business matters, and perhaps one of the most profound things ever said by Marion Michael Morrison was this: “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”
© 2009 – 2020, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.