John Wayne bought the Alamo myth. Then he sold it to a generation of moviegoers.


Before I read a single word about the Alamo or visit the historic mission / battlefield, I saw John Wayne’s movie about it.

As a child growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, Wayne’s 1960 magnum opus – his directorial debut – seemed strangely inevitable; one of those lavish war epics (like “The Great Escape” or “Doctor Zhivago”) that appeared periodically on network television and inevitably took place in two parts.

In Wayne’s world, Alamo’s defenders were noble martyrs for the cause of freedom, fighting valiantly to the death against the forces of a monstrous Mexican dictator (General Antonio López de Santa Anna).

There was no hint in the film that their rebellion against Mexico was largely an attempt to preserve slavery. You have no idea of ​​the shady history of its most famous characters (James Bowie, for example, was a slave trader and a con artist).

You have the dramatic image of William Travis drawing a line in the sand, despite the lack of evidence that he ever did such a thing. You have the equally dramatic picture of Davy Crockett (as portrayed by Wayne) fighting to the death, despite historical accounts that he surrendered to Mexican soldiers.

On ExpressNews.com: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick admits he asked the State Museum to cancel the ‘Forget the Alamo’ book event

While it really took a village to spread all of the fictionalized lies that define the Alamo and the Texas Revolution, Wayne took the stray, apocryphal bits of mythology that had accumulated for over a century, brought them to life. displayed on the big screen and enveloped them in its ultra-patriotic aura.

Although the film only made an average box office and received scathing reviews, it cemented an Alamo narrative that Texas outsiders cling to with a stubbornness to come and take it.

This stubbornness was exposed last week, when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick hosted an event scheduled for Thursday night at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, featuring Chris Tomlinson and Bryan Burrough, two of the authors (with Jason Stanford) of the compelling new historical patch, “Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth”.

Patrick, a member of the museum’s board of trustees, tweeted Friday that “this blunt rewrite of TX history has no place” at the Bullock.

The Lieutenant Governor’s censorship movement was disgusting, but not really surprising. He’s a self-described John Wayne fanatic who keeps a collection of memorabilia from The Duke – including items from “The Alamo” – in his office on the Capitol. To him, Wayne is Davy Crockett, and Wayne’s film is the definitive 13-day siege tale.

The authors of “Forget the Alamo” are aimed directly at Wayne’s film. They point out that Wayne tried to turn Alamo’s story into a parable of the Cold War that equated Santa Anna with the leaders of the Soviet Communist Party. This drove him “far from the truth and beyond much of the myth.”

Where Wayne failed as a historian and film writer, however, he succeeded as a provider of agitprop.

The writers of “Forget the Alamo” write that Wayne’s film “marked a turning point in how the Alamo was viewed, what it symbolized, a kind of American strength, especially military strength.”

On ExpressNews.com: Podcast: Debunking the Alamo Myth

In a June 28 interview on Express-News’s Puro Politics podcast, Tomlinson said that during the writing process, he and his fellow co-authors opened a bottle of wine one night and watched the film together. from Wayne’s Alamo.

“We were just amazed at the absolute invention of much of the story,” said Tomlinson.

For Wayne, Alamo’s film was the project of a lifetime, something he spent over 10 years trying to make it happen.

Filming the movie was something of a goddamn affair. On the first day of filming, British actor Laurence Harvey, who played Travis, had a gun shot to his foot.

That same day, Harvey told a reporter, “Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here myself. But I am here and I must make the most of it.

Richard Widmark, who played Bowie, tried to get out of the movie but found himself legally forced to hang on.

The budget jumped to a staggering $ 12 million, including $ 350,000 for a replica of Alamo that Wayne had built near Brackettville.

“Legend has it that Wayne was drunk at the Menger Hotel for most of the writing of this screenplay, which makes sense when you think about it,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a lousy movie. It really is. “

A week before its premiere on October 24, 1960 at the Woodlawn Theater (programmed by Wayne to increase Richard Nixon’s chances of victory over John F. Kennedy in that year’s presidential election), Wayne wrote an op-ed in the San Antonio Express to explain what the film meant to him.

Wayne predicted that his film would help the Battle of Alamo “become a symbol that the love of liberty and liberty is not dead.”

“It’s the only great inspiring story we have left that isn’t a make-believe movie,” Wayne said.

Like all the moviegoers he misled with “The Alamo,” Wayne bought the myth.

[email protected] | Twitter: @ gilgamesh470

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