John Wayne & Maureen O'Hara
Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne in Bodie Thoene's favorite John Wayne movie, "The Quiet Man."

What I Learned from John Wayne

John Wayne taught Bodie Thoene how to write real characters by showing the truth of their lives.

In the late 1970s I came to work at John Wayne’s Batjac Productions after writing “The Fall Guy,” the autobiography of Chuck Roberson, Duke’s stuntman and dear friend.

Duke loved Chuck’s book, wrote the foreword and told me with a laugh, “You’ve got all the good stuff in Chuck’s book! There’s nothing left for me to tell!”

Truth is, there was plenty more John Wayne had to tell! There was lots he had to teach me! I was an eager learner, soaking up the lessons of great storytellers and filmmakers who were part of the Batjac team.

I was also a new, too-exuberant Bible-thumping Christian who came down way too heavy on ‘preaching’ sometimes in my work.

Duke took me aside one afternoon and kindly corrected me: “Bodie, you can teach folks what they need to know as long as you let them experience it through a great story.”

He was talking about writing real people; about their lives being the message. He was saying create great and worthy characters with heart.

He was teaching me about a team of anointed writers and directors and actors and musicians who express the perfection of their truly beautiful CRAFT — like those who built the Temple of Solomon.

I think we can see the results of love and true team CRAFTSMANSHIP in Duke’s movies. All the best qualities of the human heart are lived out in the characters he portrays. He wanted characters in his movies to be REAL, not just REEL!

There is not one movie where we don’t experience heroism and deep faith through the life of an ordinary person overcoming great conflict. John Wayne movies are life lessons in standing up for right and serving God and country through living courage!

What did I learn from John Wayne? We either strive together as writers and artists to build creative cathedrals which give glory to God for all generations or we are satisfied to put up creative church event tents with flat flannel board portrayals of the Truth.

Portraying great human courage which perseveres in the face of impossible odds draws in readers and moviegoers no matter what their faith may be. People are changed by great personal stories. Jesus knew all about reaching hearts through great storytelling … we call His stories parables.

The thought of preaching to the choir to “get their business” is building on a foundation of sand. Sunday school flannel board stories are not wanted by anyone. Jesus warned that building anything less than HIS BEST will fall in the first big wind.

We maybe only get one chance in a generation to create a beautiful story about a life drawn from scripture. That’s the sad part about failure.

Such powerful, incredible, spirit-filled, UNSTOPPABLE people lived in the beginning of the church. They were REAL. Like us. Story telling in novels or on film still has this maxim: Show, don’t tell.

Truly I believe something great for God’s Kingdom is being formed and created now.

Whether in novels or film or music, God wants us to BUILD CATHEDRALS.

My prayer for everyone on the team is to GO FORTH in their calling and create beautiful, life-changing films that these faith stories deserve.

Raymond St. Jacques, Aldo Ray, and John Wayne in “The Green Berets” (1968). Wayne’s company Batjac Productions made this movie and he was one of the producers too. Unaccredited photo courtesy of IMDb.
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Bodie Thoene and her husband Brock are co-authors of more than 70 works of historical fiction. Over 35 million of their bestselling novels...
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