Tag Archives: John Wayne

The Selling of John Wayne … Smoke … Part 3

15 Jan

the sound of silence / disturbed




When Legend Becomes Fact

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
– From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence / 1962

Some urban legends have been around so long that they have eventually become fact. john-wayne-the-conqueror-poster-2

The Legend:

In 1954, John Wayne starred in the ill-fated big budget movie The Conqueror, (RKO Pictures, Howard Hughes Productions) filmed in the Utah desert.

Location: about a hundred miles from a former Nevada nuclear test site and where wind blown radioactivity had supposedly infected the whole area. Legend has it that this resulted in a large number of the film crew and Stars of the movie dying from various cancers. Nobody challenged this story for decades. By that time, the Legend had become Fact and is still being propagated today. So much so that there still several sources – particularly on the Internet – still propagating this myth. It’s so ingrained by now that I can’t imagine it will be dispelled any time soon.

But it’s not hard to see why this myth is so powerful and durable: As Urban Legends go The Conqueror Cancer Legend is one of the best of all time. It’s ingredients are purely fantastical:

The Top movie Star of the day (and possibly all-time) – Mega Star,
John Wayne;
a bizarre madman genius Movie Mogul Inventor Test Pilot billionaire,
Howard Hughes;
A beautiful tragic femme fatale Star Actress,
Susan Hayward;
a huge, expensive Epic Hollywood production (9 million dollars!!!) that was also a BOMB – about an Historical figure – Mongolian mass murdurer tyrant:
Ghenghis Khan;
Deaths – seemingly many people dying horribly from cancer …

You can’t make this stuff up.

So there it was – just waiting to be explored; exploited; exploded.

And it lived up to the Billing.

The Fact:

Health News Digest
September 14, 2009 / Was The Movie The Conqueror Really Cursed? A Look At Radiation Paranoia By  Michael D. Shaw

Worth a read.

To John Wayne‘s credit, he never bought the bomb theory. He always admitted that his cancers and related illnesses (and eventual death) was directly related to his prolific smoking.

He never copped out.


“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.”
– John Wayne  

The Selling of John Wayne … Smoke … Part 4

The Selling of John Wayne … Smoking / Part 2: The Lighter Side

9 Jan


Yup, John Wayne was definitely a very heavy smoker and made several (TV) commercials, magazine ads, billboards, etc – promoting cigarettes – as did a great many other Movie Stars and Celebrities of his time. Today of course, smoking and tobacco products have fallen into disfavor and any such advertising is now banned.

Despite this, there is still some subtle forms of smoking advertising and promotions that still have a viable market – and which capitalize on John’s enduring Iconic Star Power. One such product is cigarette lighters. Zippo lighters almost seem to have an small industry using John’s image.


Claimed to be John’s lighter. ??

Smoking still obviously has a certain ‘manly’ appeal to some people and many such John Wayne lighters are hot “Collectibles”. Frankly, it’s evident that ANY John Wayne endorsed product/merchandise will eventually – or immediately – achieve Collector and Memorabilia status.









Left: Lighter with the brand from Red River (1948)

Plenty more lighters than I show here …

And finally … if you really need to cut down
on your smoking …


… the John Wayne knife lighter.
Available on Amazon.


30 Dec



Well … my computer finally blew up.
I rode it as far as I could … poor gal.
But it couldn’t take anymore and it was beyond redemption.
For quite a while I had been resorting to ‘computer gymnastics’ to get anything done.
So … today I went out and bought a new motherboard and graphics card.
That’s a big chunk for me – a part-time Greeter at Home Depot.
Rose’s son will assemble all this shortly and we’ll drop in Windows 10.
Hopefully I can get something out right away.
In all this time only one person baled on me.
Can’t blame ’em if nothing is happening?


So thanks for sticking around.
Here’s something interesting to read while you’re waiting:



September 14, 2009

Was The Movie The Conqueror Really Cursed? A Look At Radiation Paranoia


Few environmental myths have stood the test of time better than the notion that a significant number of the cast and crew of The Conqueror (1956) were felled by cancer, contracted as a result of exposure to radioactive fallout.

Certainly, all the elements of a good story are there. Several above ground atomic tests were run at Yucca Flats in Nevada from 1951–1953, including 11 in 1953 under the name “Operation Upshot-Knothole.” The movie was shot from May-August of 1954 in Snow Canyon State Park, located 11 miles (18 km) northwest of St. George, Utah. As luck would have it, Snow Canyon is 137 miles (220 km) downwind of Yucca Flats. To make matters worse, uncredited producer Howard Hughes shipped truckloads of dirt from the site back to the studio for reshoots.

The movie premiered on February 22, 1956 in Los Angeles, and less than seven years later, director Dick Powell died of cancer. After Powell, several of the leading actors succumbed to cancer, as well. There was Pedro Armendáriz, who killed himself in June of 1963, rather than live with his terminal diagnosis. Agnes Moorehead was the next star of the film to die of cancer, in April of 1974. She was followed by Susan Hayward (March, 1975) and John Wayne, who first contracted lung cancer in September of 1964 and finally died of stomach cancer on June 11, 1979.

Public interest was piqued by an article in the November 10, 1980 issue of People magazine, in which it was stated that “Of The Conqueror’s 220 cast and crew members from Hollywood, an astonishing 91 have contracted cancer.”

The article quoted Dr. Robert C. Pendleton, director of radiological health at the University of Utah: “With these numbers, this case could qualify as an epidemic. The connection between fallout radiation and cancer in individual cases has been practically impossible to prove conclusively. But in a group this size you’d expect only 30-some cancers to develop. With 91, I think the tie-in to their exposure on the set of The Conqueror would hold up even in a court of law.”

This sounds impressive until you do some basic research. According to the National Cancer Institute, at the time the article was written, the overall incidence of being diagnosed with cancer in a person’s lifetime (age-adjusted) was about 40%. As it happens, this number still holds today. Thus, in a cohort of 220 people, 88 would be diagnosed with cancer at some point.

I have no idea how Pendleton came up with his “30-some.” If anything, given the heavy smoking habits of many in the movie business at the time, including Dick Powell, Agnes Moorehead, Pedro Armendáriz, Susan Hayward, and John Wayne at five packs a day, 91 is completely within the expected range. The only “astonishing” thing is that the People article did not mention the smoking habits of any of the deceased stars.

Bruce Church is a health physicist based in southern Utah, who had been involved with the testing program for years, and has done his level best to act as the voice of reason on the issue. Church told me about plaintiff’s attorneys going door to door, trolling for clients in the St. George area in the late 1970s, paving the way for a series of ultimately unsuccessful lawsuits, filed on behalf of the so-called “downwinders.” He likes to remind those interested in these matters that since 1950, Utah has had one of the lowest cancer mortality rates in the country. Moreover, Washington County—supposedly ground zero for the fallout—has one of the lowest cancer mortality rates in the state.

Much was made of an article entitled “Childhood leukemias associated with fallout from nuclear testing,” which appeared in the February 22, 1979 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The study spoke of a 2.44 times increase in mortality between the high-exposure and low-exposure cohorts, within the high fallout counties examined. Again, this sounds impressive as long as you ignore the fact that even with this increase, the mortality rate was just slightly above the rate for the entire United States.

As you might expect, this significant qualification is infamously not cited in the dozens of web-based references to the study. And, given that the research effort set out to examine “high fallout” counties to begin with, it is quite suspicious that this group had to be parsed into low and high cohorts, which would only serve to magnify the effects observed. Further studies would continue to bear out negative or de minimis findings.

However, as regular readers of this column are aware, all the science in the world cannot trump emotionalism and politics. Thus, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA)—passed in 1990—provides for money (typically $50,000) to be paid to victims of certain cancers, who simply have to prove that they lived in a list of counties during a particular time period.

RECA has paid out over $1 billion so far, and has produced bountiful results for many Utah-based politicians. Following the old adage that a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing, this bounty paid on cancer has simply reinvigorated all the mythology: If victims are being compensated, the story must be true!

Yet, science has garnered some victories. Bruce Church was one of the prime movers in setting up the Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP) started in 1981, and now boasting 29 stations that ring the test site area. Data is made available to any interested party, and the monitoring stations are often managed by local high school science teachers.

One such station manager, Jack Heppler, was successful in convincing at least two movie production companies that there was no danger whatever in filming in the St. George area. Heppler also worked his magic on calming the locals as well as easing the minds of families interested in moving to the region.

Church recommends the Smithsonian affiliated Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, as well as the online Atomic Archive as excellent resources. I would add Church’s site to this list.

As to The Conquerer, the only real curse was its script and the miscasting of John Wayne in the lead.


Is there anything that Howard Hughes touched that didn’t achieve extraordinary dimensions???
Either great or bad?


Moving ahead …

The Selling of John Wayne … Smoke … Part 1

24 Dec

sunday morning coming down / kristofferson

“Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire”, the old saying goes.
And sometimes death.


Smoking Roulette / Image from the NET


Smoking is a lot like Russian Rollette.
You know there’s a bullet in there.
But you’re gambling that it doesn’t have your name on it.

It’s a hell of a gamble.
A gamble that John Wayne lost.


20 cigs per pack

       John Wayne’s smoking exploits are as Legendary as he is. I’ve seen several different claims as to how much he smoked: 4, 5, 6 and 7 pack of cigarettes a day! Most claim 6 packs a day. I refuse to believe 7 because 7 packs of cigarettes a day is 7 x 20 cigarettes = 140 cigarettes in a 16 hour day (8 hours for sleep) – or 8.75 cigarettes an hour – which would be smoking 1 cigarette about every 7 minutes. That seems impossible. Even for John Wayne.

I was a heavy smoker myself for quite a while – 2 packs of Canadian cigarettes a day – 25 cigs per pack. So I have some experience with this thing. When I finally quit, I coughed up tar for 6 months. Smoking is an extremely insidious addiction. Before I started smoking I very rarely caught flu or even a cold. After I started, I caught everything. Smoking seriously damages and devitalizes your whole immune system. Don’t do it.


So lets’ see … John smoked 6 packs a day x 20 cigarettes per pack = 120 cigarettes a day.

Could you smoke this many cigarettes a day?

Assuming John Wayne couldn’t smoke while he was asleep (?) and assuming he slept about 8 hours a day, that’s 120 cigarettes divided by 16 hours = he smoked about 7.5 cigs an hour. That’s a lot. But possible.

These are all Guesstimates, of course, but you get the picture: John was an outright addict.

And even though John grew up in an era where smoking was portrayed as being debonair, sophisticated, suave and ‘cool’, it must have been very difficult to be around him due to this excessive smoking – even if you were a smoker yourself. And I’d guess it would pretty well be impossible for a non-smoker.


Strangely however, in most of his Westerns, John seems to smoke very little. ? Guns and Booze are plainly evident. But not cigs. ??? But it surely wasn’t hard to catch him smoking ‘off camera’. Yet he rarely brought it to film. And even then, it didn’t seem overdone.

john-wayne-smoking-3 john-wayne-smoking-4 john-wayne-smoking-5 john-wayne-smoking-6

In advertising, John, of course, wasn’t the only celebrity who endorsed smoking. Dozens of Actors, Actresses – and even Athletes and Doctors endorsed smoking in that era. Magazine ads, TV commercials, radio ads, billboards … you name it.




I’m feeling a little Turkish today …


There’s controversy over how John ultimately came down with Cancer – due to a film location that had been used for nuclear bomb testing.
I’ll cover that next.

The Selling of John Wayne … Smoke … Part 2

The Selling of John Wayne, Part 4 … A beer with John …

14 Dec

john prine / how lucky

A beer with John …


I’m guessing John’s first beer endorsement was Rheingold Beer.
Introduced in 1883, Rheingold Beer was an American product
created in New York (1950 to 1960).
Shut down in 1976. Revived in 1998.


Beer and guns go together. Right?


beer-barBud was next …



Then Coors … with cars



Beer and cars go together. Right? Vrooom Vrooooomm !!


john-wayne-beer-steinsMein Stein


Coming … John’s guns

The Selling of John Wayne, Part 3 … “Leave the bottle”

5 Dec

storms never last / allison moorer

John Wayne / The Hard Stuff

“Life is hard. It’s even harder if you’re stupid.”
– John Wayne


I don’t know when John Wayne was first approached to sponsor Whisky,
but it was obviously a natural fit.
Like spurs on a cowboy boot.



Just in case you didn’t get that.


john-wayne-bourbonDuke Bourbon / 88 proof




Duke Brandy


Cheers !


Real Men bond with booze.







John has a beer …

The Selling of John Wayne, Part 2 …

1 Dec

ain’t nothin’ to me / johnny winter

Drinking … Canadian Style 

Much of my ’70’s is kinda hazy. We drank and doped without moderation. For whatever reasons, I felt compelled to run that gauntlet. Some of the people I did this with aren’t around anymore. And although I don’t advocate or recommend such an experience, I have no regrets. And I know that some of the survivors are still practicing that lifestyle. Sometimes a deathstyle.

In Canada, Booze, in the ’70s, was legal, very available, and cheap. I could go into any local bar with just $5 in my pocket and drink all night – and still often have enough money left to take a taxi home. Draft beer was only 10 cents a glass. 10 glasses of beer for a dollar! Insane.

I eventually got over all this and stopped drinking (and doping). Along with the substances most of my so-called friends also disappeared. Our whole relationship revolved around drinking and substance abuse. So when I stopped it all, I didn’t fit there anymore.

I walked away. Without regret.


Glass of Canadian Draft Beer 1970 / 1980


Glass of Canadian Draft Beer 1970 / 1980
One minute later.



“I never trust a man that doesn’t drink.”
John Wayne

John Wayne and Booze

John Wayne’s general movie image is that of a man who liked a drink and it’s generally believed that in his real life he was a fairly heavy drinker – part of the the Manly Arts – along with guns, fighting and smoking. Yet it appears he was a man who could hold his booze and who was not a drunk or an alcoholic. His sons, Patrick and Ethan say that his hard drinking image was exaggerated and not a problem – and that he didn’t drink every day and could do without it. Yet in another article son Michael says “He liked to drink. I once saw him drink a bottle of tequila before a meal, and a bottle of brandy after a meal. ???

I figure John was a guy who liked and appreciated a good drink, but could handle it.

And there is at least one telltale movie scene that attests to this – in his last Western The Shootist. It’s the final shootout scene – which takes place in a saloon no less – John strides up the bar and announces: “This is my birthday. Give me the best in the house.” In the movie, it was also his death day. ‘One for the road’.






John Wayne IMBD Trivia

  • Produced and starred in a 1940s radio show about an alcoholic detective titled “Three Sheets to the Wind“.
  • His favorite drink was Sauza Commemorativo Tequila, and he often served it with ice that he had chipped from an iceberg during one of his voyages on his yacht, “The Wild Goose“.
  • He once made a cameo appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962). In episode, The Beverly Hillbillies: The Indians Are Coming (1967). And when asked how he wanted to be paid, his answer, in return, was “Give me a fifth of bourbon – that’ll square it.”.
  • His image appeared on a wide variety of products including: 1950 popcorn trading cards given at theaters, 1951 Camel cigarettes, 1956 playing cards, Whitman’s Chocolates and – posthumously – Coors beer. The money collected on the Coors beer cans with his image went to the John Wayne Cancer Institute.


The Selling of John Wayne, Part 3 …
“Leave the bottle”

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