It was August 1, 2003 when TCM first began the annual tradition of “Summer Under the Stars'” with a 12-film salute to Jimmy Stewart. On Wednesday, August 1, TCM will kick off their 10th annual month-long daily salute to iconic film stars with a 24-hour marathon saluting the movies of John Wayne.
In addition to Wayne, who’s been on the list before, among the other 30 actors honored this year are 14 who’ve never been part of the annual celebration. Among those new to the 24-hour marathon treatment, Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Quinn, Van Heflin, Eva Marie Saint, Lionel Barrymore, Tyrone Power, Jeanette MacDonald, Lillian Gish, Freddie Bartholomew, James Caan Kay Francis, Warren William, Toshiro Mifune and Johnny Weissmuller.
First things first, though. When TCM begins this year’s “Summer Under the Stars”, it’s The Duke, himself, John Wayne who’s front and center. With a career that spanned six decades–from his first uncredited film appearance in 1926′ s “Brown of Harvard” to his mega-successful final role in 1976’s “The Shootist”–it’s interesting that TCM has chosen to begin their movie marathon with a selection picked right from the middle of Wayne’s popularity. At 6 a.m./5 a.m. central, it’s “Flying Leathernecks” from 1951. Directed by Nicholas Ray, who would go on to write “Rebel Without A Cause”, Wayne co-stars alongside Robert Ryan, Don Taylor, Janice Carter and others in this tale of arial squadron leader Major Daniel Xavier Kirby (Wayne), who leads his men into the historic WWII battle at Guadalcanal. Look for Milburn Stone in a small uncredited role as a Fleet Radio Operator. Although this is a war picture and not one of Wayne’s westerns, just a few short years after appearing with Wayne in “Flying Leathernecks”, Stone would co-star with yet another legendary western actor. From 1955 until 1975, Stone starred as Doc Adams alongside James Arness in CBS’s venerable TV western, “Gunsmoke”.
TCM turns back the clock a bit with their next Wayne offering with 1939’s “Allegheny Uprising” at 7:45 a.m./6:45 a.m. central. Directed by William A. Seiter (“Roberta” & Laurel and Hardy’s “Sons of the Desert”), Wayne is cast as Jim Smith, who, with the help of a few men, infiltrates an illegal trade between dishonest Callendar (Brian Donlevy) and a tribe of Indians. George Sanders and Claire Trevor co-star. Popular character actor, Chill Wills is among the supporting cast.
At 11 a.m./10 a.m. central, TCM presents 1948’s “Red River” with then-relative newcomer, Montgomery Clift staring alongside Wayne as directed by Howard Hawks. Wayne plays a cattle rancher, who on his way to Texas with his ranch hand (Walter Brennan) finds an orphaned by named Matthew. Fast forward a few years, and Clift plays Matthew, the now-adopted son of Wayne’s Thomas Dunson. In the wake of the Civil War, the men struggle to maintain their ranch. As Matthew matures, he and his adopted father butt-heads over the the handling of the cattle, with Dunson going so far as to set out to kill Matthew. There’s also a love interest for Matt in Tess Millay (Joanne Dru). In an attempt to dissuade Dunson from carrying out his plan to murder Matt, Tess offers the ultimate sacrifice. The two men battle it out, and in the end, work things out. Harry Carey and Harry Carey, Jr. also appear in the film.
The westerns keep coming at 1:15 p.m./12:15 p.m. central with 1956’s “The Searchers”. Directed by frequent Wayne director, John Ford, this one features our star as a Civil War veteran who spends years looking for a young niece (Natalie Wood) who’s been captured by Indians. As the years pass, it becomes evident that there’s more to the story than the hopeful return of his niece. Harry Carey, Jr. again plays a supporting role, as does his real-life mother, former silent film star, Olive Carey. The film also stars Jeffrey Hunter, Ward Bond and Vera Miles. Keep an eye out for Ken Curtis as yet another “Gunsmoke” star sidles up to The Duke.
As TCM’s marathon reaches the half-way mark, director, Howard Hawks is back at the helm with 1959’s “Rio Bravo” at 3:15 p.m./2:15 p.m. central. Perhaps one of Wayne’s oddest casts, this one boasts everyone from the usual suspects of Harry Carey, Jr. and Ward Bond to Walter Brennan, Angie Dickenson and stranger still, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson. When Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne) captures the brother of a local bad guy, the enlists the help of a rag-tag team (Martin, Nelson and Brennan) to hold him there.
TCM offers the lighter side of Wayne with 1963’s western/comedy, “McLintock!” at 5:45 p.m./4:45 p.m. central. Directed by popular TV western director, Andrew V. McLaglen, “McLintock!” pairs Wayne with frequent co-star, Maureen O’Hara, Stephanie Powers and his real-life son, Patrick Wayne in this tale of a rich cattleman who not only has to content with his recently returned daughter (Powers), his estranged wife (O’Hara) and a host of greedy land-grabbers. The stellar cast also includes Chill Wills, Jerry Van Dyke, Edgar Buchanan, Strother Martin, Gordon Jones and an absolutely stunning Yvonne De Carlo, just two years before she’d star as TV’s Lily Munster.
At 8 p.m./7 p.m. central, Wayne stars as a soon-to-be retired Army Captain who, in his last days in command, struggles to prevent an Indian attack in 1949’s “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon”. The film gets its title from the fact that pretty Olivia Dandridge (Joanna Dru) wears a symbolic yellow ribbon in her hair, but for which suitor? Is it Lt. Clint Cohill (John Agar) or Lt. Ross Pennell ( Harry Carey, Jr.)? Integral to the sub-plots throughout, Ben Johnson plays Sgt. Tyree, a southern soldier who scouts the area for trouble, reporting back with his findings throughout the film. “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon” was the second in what has become known as director, John Ford’s ‘Calvary Trilogy’. Unlike the other two, “Fort Apache” and “Rio Grande”, “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon” is notable for having been filmed in glorious Technicolor, the previous and latter ‘Calvary Trilogy’ films were not.
Temporarily taking a break from westerns, but sticking with director, John Ford, TCM’s next film present Wayne as war hero. At 10 p.m./9 p.m. central it’s 1945’s “They Were Expendable”. Based on real-life accounts, Wayne co-stars with Donna Reed, Robert Montgomery, Ward Bond, Jack Hold as stories of those who manned American PT Boats in defense of the Philippines during WWII. Among the film’s more than 100 cast members, keep a keen eye out for a certain boat crew member as actor-turned prolific writer/director/producer, Blake Edwards makes a brief appearance in a brief, uncredited role.
Another WWII story, 1951’s “Operation Pacific”, directed by George Waggner and airing at 12:30 a.m./11:30 p.m. central, finds Wayne sharing the screen with Patricia Neal, Ward Bond and Phillip Carey. Carey would go on to star as Asa Buchanan in the popular ABC daytime drama, “One Life To Live”. Wayne plays Lieutenant Commander Duke Gifford. Following the death of his chief officer (Bond), inherits a submarine plagued with problems. Adding to his worries is the fact that when ashore, he’s trying to win back his estranged wife. Neal made it no secret that she and Wayne didn’t get along during the filming of “Operation Pacific”, as noted in her 1988 autobiography, “As I Am”. She did, however go on to say that during their subsequent re-teaming during 1965’s “In Harm’s Way” that Wayne had “mellowed a lot”.
At 2:30 a.m./1:30 a.m. central, TCM plays it for laughs once again with another rare comedy from the heroic actor when they present 1953’s “Trouble Along The Way”. This one re-teams Wayne with his “They Were Expendable” co-star, Donna Reed. The two play feuding former marrieds fighting over custody of their daughter (Sherry Jackson) while Wayne, as college football coach Steve Williams is also struggling to keep his tiny Catholic college’s football program afloat. Charles Coburn is quote amusing as Steve’s boss, Father Burke. Look for James Dean in an uncredited role as a football fan at one of the games. Listen for Merv Griffin, who lends his voice as a football announcer.
TCM wraps Day 1 of “Summer Under the Stars” with the 1944 western, “Tall in the Saddle”. Still a relative newcomer, Wayne plays Rocklin, a young ranch hand who arrives in a small western town to find the man who hired him has been murdered. Adding the potential of romance to the story, just as he arrives, so does the beautiful young woman who’s set to inherit her recently deceased uncle’s fortune. When Rocklin hears that there are those who plan to keep the young woman from her rightful inheritance, he rises to the challenge of defending her. More drama comes when he’s fingered for the murder of her uncle. Ward Bond is once again featured alongside Wayne, as is western film icon, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes.
If you’ve enjoyed this story about John Wayne and TCM’s ‘Summer Under the Stars’, be sure and subscribe to my National TCM by clicking the ‘Subscribe’ tab located just after my brief bio at the end of this article. Be sure and check back tomorrow, when I cover Day 2 of TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” tribute to Myrna Loy.
In the meantime, check out ALL of my National Columns, as well as my Nashville-based Celebrity News Column via the links below:
CLICK HERE for my National Turner Classic Movies Column
CLICK HERE for my National CMT Column
CLICK HERE for my National Daytime TV Column
CLICK HERE for my National Pretty Little Liars Column
CLICK HERE for my Nashville Celebrity News Column