To Be Ugly and Strong Like John Wayne

John Wayne

He didn’t walk, he ambled.

He had “swag” before the stupid word was invented.

For over thirty years in Hollywood film, John Wayne was the American icon of rugged masculinity and the consummate good guy. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin ordered Wayne’s assassination as a result of his frequently-espoused anti-communist politics.


Before dying of stomach cancer Wayne requested his tombstone read “Feo, Fuerte y Formal”, a Spanish epitaph for “ugly, strong, and dignified.”


My dad, a roughneck country boy in his own right, has an obvious man crush on John Wayne. Growing up, whenever a John Wayne movie was found on the old movie channels, pops was transfixed instantly like a moth to a flame. He’d seen every one of the Duke’s movies 23 times…at least.

The modern movie stud is a little more metro sexual and sanitized. You wouldn’t want them to have your back in a bar fight anymore than you’d want SpongeBob Squarepants to cater your dinner party. Bradley Cooper is a good actor, but don’t tell me you see him taking on Iran’s Ahmadinejad in a heated war of words.

To be sure, there were always the more domesticated winky eyed Cary Grant’s and James Stewart’s on the scene. But they were nicely balanced by the rough and tumble Rooster Cogburn. That leather face and razor wit. If you were the bad guy, he felt just as comfortable cracking a joke at you as shooting you.

Your choice.

So here’s to a simpler time. Where the line between good and evil was drawn with thick black paint. Simpler is not synonymous with dumber. We like our heroes to be a little more twisted and torn nowadays.  Like the modern Christopher Nolan protagonists, Batman and SpiderMan wrestle with their darker tendencies while fighting for good.

But maybe we need a straight shooting straight talking Cowboy who will open up a can on society’s evil degenerates and restore order and justice for the victims.

I believe one day we’ll get that. 

But here’s to the late John Wayne and the era of manliness that died with him. Where real men protected women with strong hands, fought injustice with a fierce chivalry, and rode into the sunset of uncertainty with boldness.

When I grow up, I want to be “ugly”, “strong”, and “dignified” like that.

Bryan Daniels

Author: Bryan Daniels

I am a follower of Jesus, a husband to Jessica, and a father of three boys: Josiah, Gideon and Judah. I teach high school math as a job, read reformed theology as a hobby, and write this blog just for kicks. With the rest of my time I coach football and track.

17 thoughts on “To Be Ugly and Strong Like John Wayne”

  1. Yes the trouble is that I have with this is America is wether they like it or not responsible for producing the world’s biggest and mist adored …hypocrites! Sorry is that a little too salty should I go with actor as hypocrite is too biblical? Tough cookies! What is so heroic about wandering around toy land pretending to be shot? And what guidance to you get from panicky little half truth writers selling your soul down the old swans mate? I mean as Christian men should live without lying to one another…I mean is there no fun in that for some people? Nope I am afraid the stars of this world don’t really do it for me. I think they work for thier own stomachs. Peace.

  2. John Wayne was a man of a different era, a time when men (and women) of Hollywood had real character, much more than you see today yet that is also true in this world. I find it sometimes absolutely necessary to take the time to dive into a fantasy–whether that be a great book or a good movie.
    But this post is supposed to be an acknowledgement to a great man, so I’ll tip my hat to John Wayne.
    Oh, one more thing; I have a two inch difference between leg length that makes me limp rather than Walk–could this be considered my ‘swag’? 😉

  3. I used to like Steven Seagal movies, because the bad guys always got what they deserved at the end of the movies. And what about that no-nonsense, go-ahead-make-my-day Harry Callahan? He was fearless. Dirty. But fearless. He didn’t play by establishment rules, but he always got the bad guys too.

      1. I use, “Go ahead, make my day” a lot! Of course, I don’t own a gun, nor would I use one if I had one. I just like the sound of it.

      2. Besides his spaghetti westerns, I think my favorite movie of his is Grand Torino. That was awesome!

  4. Yes! My grandfather was a huge fan of John Wayne. He used to say that they were the only two men alive who could kill 10 Germans with one bullet. One of my nicknames for my son is “Duke”, partially in memory of my grandpa, but there’s a part of me that wants my boy to have the same rugged, godly masculinity of the great actor.

    Great post, Bryan.

  5. I grew up on John Wayne movies, thanks to my Grampa and my parents. I love The Duke! I, too, am mesmerized the second I see his face on tv, even to this day. Thanks for sharing!

  6. A huge problem in Asia right now (especially my home country Korea) is the neo-feminization of men. I think men can be all shapes and sizes, but this gender-neutralizing undercuts our unique roles and makes us less human, not more. It also defeats the real purpose of feminism, which was to affirm our individual value. I foresee there might be a backlash a decade from now where “manly” men will return, but it won’t be balanced as usual. People are predictable. 🙂

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