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Tony Grist

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American Artist [May. 14th, 2007|09:11 am]
Tony Grist
I was wrong about John Wayne. He didn't dodge WWII on the strength of a football injury. The truth is he was exempted from service on the grounds of age (he was 34 at the time of Pearl Harbour) and because of  family commitments. No shame in that. Of course he could have got round the ruling easily enough- and in fact he tried- only not hard enough. That's what he reproached himself with afterwards- not having tried hard enough.

Poor John Wayne. He was a sissy at heart. I'm convinced of this. He was a very delicate artist- look at the grace with which he moved, look at the understatement he brings to all his best roles, look at the fine and sensitive business with which he creates character- the fumbling with the glasses in My Darling Clementine, the right hand grasping the left elbow as he walks off into the desert at the end of the Searchers, consider the intelligence with which- if caught off guard- he could discuss the craft of acting. But America- Bitch mother that she is- insisted on him being a Man- meaning all that two-fisted, raw-steak eating, whisky drinking  machismo he fell into in later life. He wasn't alone. American artists of all types keep being squeezed into this mould. 

Want a list? Here, have a list.

John Ford
Howard Hawks
William Wellman
John Huston
Sam Peckinpah
Ernest Hemingway
Charles Bukowski
Hunter S Thompson
Norman Mailer
Jackson Pollock
Jim Morrison
Snoop Dogg

And that's just off the top of my head.

Why do so many American artists end up as alcoholics? Because they're running scared. Because they're afraid they're going to be exposed as the sissies they are. 

In any other society Wayne's reasons for staying out of uniform would have been accepted as perfectly honourable. In every other society the artist is valued for being an artist and isn't also expected to out-drink, out-fight, out-fuck every man in the bar.  Only in America do artists  feel compelled to turn themselves into dicks.

[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2007-05-14 11:10 am (UTC)
You left out Humphrey Bogart and Jason Robards (Both married to the same actress by the way; not at the same time of course.)
At the risk of calling a kettle less than white; your own 'ahem' artists, don't stand up to scrutiny on the alcohol front either; Hmmm now. let's see.......... Burton, Behan, Thomas and that's just at the Western edge of the Sceptered Isle.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-14 11:44 am (UTC)
Oh yes, the list could have been a whole lot longer.

A lot of British and European artists have had problems with alcohol- I wouldn't deny that- but there's a whole masculity package (booze, violence, sex, chest-beating and muscle-flexing) that's peculiarly American.

Though it does intersect with an Irish package that has similar features.

I think the difference could be that the Irish substitute religion for the chest-beating and muscle-flexing.

There was also a pan-national culture of artistic booziness that flourished in the 1950s which had a lot to do (I reckon) with the post-World War II blues.
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[User Picture]From: jubal51394
2007-05-14 12:05 pm (UTC)


And the women a cross between Mata Hari and the virgin mother.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-14 12:26 pm (UTC)

Re: Yes...

"Mata Hari and the virgin mother"- I'll have to think about that...
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[User Picture]From: jubal51394
2007-05-14 01:04 pm (UTC)

Re: Yes...

It's easy. We have to look like a porn star and behave like a saint.
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[User Picture]From: zeeshanmn
2007-05-14 12:06 pm (UTC)
I would agree with what you say, specially when you mention Jim Morrison in your list.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-14 12:28 pm (UTC)
I love the Doors.....
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2007-05-14 12:30 pm (UTC)
In every other society the artist is valued for being an artist and isn't also expected to out-drink, out-fight, out-fuck every man in the bar. Only in America do artists feel compelled to turn themselves into dicks.

Well, let me see. There's Peter O'Toole, there's Richard Burton, there's Laurence Olivier. All wonderful actors. Peter O'Toole admits he has been in rehab, Richard Burton was a drunk and Laurence Olivier had strange sexual preferences.

You are the master of sweeping statements, aren't you?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-14 12:48 pm (UTC)
The sweeping statements are quite deliberate. I'm hoping to stir debate.

There was a whole generation of post-war British and Irish actors- Burton, Reed, O'Toole, Harris- who embraced the bar-fly lifestyle and underperformed in consequence. It's as if they were setting out to negate their talent. I attribute this to guilt at having "missed out" on WWII.

But they're a blip. British actors traditionally like a drink, but that's the only generation that set out en masse down the road to self-destruction.

Olivier is a mystery. He seems to have covered his tracks very well. Was he straight? Was he gay? Was he bisexual? Nobody seems to know for sure. I suspect that- like many actors, like the better-documented Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers- he didn't know who he was when he wasn't putting on a funny voice and wearing a putty nose.

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[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2007-05-14 01:29 pm (UTC)
This was true of most actors - regardless of country of origin. The more effective they are, the less identity they actually have. I use the past tense of the verb as there are many modern day actors - even, heaven forfend, Americans who are not especially heavy drinkers but who manage to perform their craft rather successfully - George Clooney comes to mind.

Today, the wretched excess brigade seems to be over run by music players with England's very own Pete Doherty at the bottom of the heap.
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[User Picture]From: creakiness
2007-05-14 01:30 pm (UTC)
I've been wondering about something like this. On the art forums I read, when ever someone brings up the topic of fighting everyone seems to jump in with how much they love to fight, and how they only go out on the town for this purpose. It'll then go into a lot bragging about how many arms, legs, and jaws they've broken. I not sure how much of it I believe, but you would think it's like Fight Club or something. The biggest tough guys of the bunch always seem to end up being Canadian.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-14 01:54 pm (UTC)

Also a little alarming.

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From: senordildo
2007-05-14 11:53 pm (UTC)
I remember reading how on the set of the Alamo Wayne would shout at his actors "Walk gracefully damnit! Like me!"
I'm sure that masculine guilt plays a large part in the massive alcoholism of American artists, but on the other hand, artists have a propensity for substance abuse and being difficult. John Ford and John Huston both had nothing to be ashamed of during their WWII service--they both just liked booze. Nor am I so sure that Wayne was a macho man because America insisted on it--it did, but I think he quite liked being one. Had he really wanted to, he could have taken different roles (Henry Fonda helped invert his screen image by playing cold, psychopathic villains), but he had a pretty square, neo-chivalric conception of the sort of roles he wanted to play and of the Western--he criticized Clint Eastwood and Sam Peckinpah for not meeting his genre standards, and The Shootist might have been a much better film if the Wayne hadn't insisted on reworking the original part to match the persona he spent his lifetime building up.

P.S. Henry Fonda starred in My Darline Clementine, not the Duke. Perhaps you meant She Wore a Yellow Ribbon?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-15 08:14 am (UTC)
Ach- *slaps wrist*- of course I meant She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.

Wayne was offered a role in Blazing Saddles. He told Mel Brooks (in so many words) "I can't be in your movie becasuse it's too dirty, but I'll be first in line to see it."

I'va always wished he could have worked with Peckinpah. William Holden was magnificent in The Wild Bunch, but just imagine if that had been Wayne playing Pike Bishop!

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From: philtration
2007-05-19 04:31 am (UTC)
And what about the long list of British rock stars?
Surely you could wirte an entire book about them with Keith Richards and Keith Moon having a chapter all their own.
Was their a point to this other than "Americans are assholes while we are so much better"?
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