Encounters with John Wayne Ch. 31bysurober1©
Author's Note: This chapter contains descriptions of the plot, characters and scenes and a personal review of the 1956 John Wayne movie "The Searchers." If you have not seen this movie and do not want the story revealed to you, then don't read this chapter until after you've seen the movie...it's a great one!
Part 5—Their final good bye? ...almost 2 years after they met
Diana Maitland had gained a little notoriety of her own over the past year because of the nightclub—she had quite a following, and had offers from several other clubs around town to perform for them. A couple of them were from clubs that only catered to the biggest stars, but she turned all the other offers down because she felt loyal to her boss' friend for giving her this break, and he, in turn, rewarded her with very generous pay. She was not interested in concentrating on a career that would put her in the spotlight; the little bit of attention she was getting now was plenty to make her feel appreciated.
She'd tried to start keeping tabs on John Wayne by finding out what movie projects he was involved with and she heard that he'd been finding some different roles. She knew that Ward had delivered her message and she said a prayer that he'd find something that would show what he was really capable of.
At the beginning of March 1956, she received an invitation to a premiere of one of his new movies with a personal message from him:
My dearest Diana,
I have struggled over the last couple years to do what you suggested; to find roles that would make me work harder as an actor than I've ever had to. I've made an ass of myself with one of them—I hope I'll survive the ridicule—but this one I want you to see. I secretly dedicated my performance in this role to you and as a tribute to another good friend of mine who is long gone, and I want you to let me know what you think after you see it. Please come to the premiere and give me your honest opinion. I believe in you...
Capt. Hard Ass
She had to chuckle at how he signed the note. She noticed as she read his note that she didn't feel a stabbing pain as she thought about him—it was more like a dull, bittersweet ache in the pit of her stomach. She missed him and still dreamed about him almost every night, but instead of making her feel sad as she did in the months after he married, now it made her feel warm and she cherished the knowledge that someone she so admired and loved felt the same about her.
She told her boss that Wayne had sent her an invitation to the premiere and asked him if she could accompany him since she knew he was already going. Her boss told her that would be fine with him because his wife had other plans for that evening so she wouldn't be with him, and he jokingly told Diana that he'd rather show up with a beautiful young woman on his arm than an old battle axe like his wife. Diana knew he loved his wife but she kept a tight rein on him, and she looked at her boss and said, "Ooooh, you better hope I don't tell her you said that!" and then they both laughed.
When Diana and her boss arrived the evening of the premiere, she was surprised when several reporters knew her by name and were snapping pictures of her as she exited her boss' car and walked up the carpet to the theatre. They were asking her questions about whether she had any plans to perform at any other clubs and if she'd been offered any recording deals. She just smiled and said she had no plans for anything at the moment.
John Wayne had been watching from just inside the main entrance to the theatre when Diana and her boss arrived. He saw the reporters taking her picture like she was another big star and they knew her name and were asking her questions about her singing career. He noticed she looked a little surprised but remained poised as she headed toward the theatre. He saw she was dressed conservatively in a simple black gown that had a V-cut to the front and back, long, straight sleeves and an empire waist that fitted just below her breasts and angled around to her back at her waist. It showed just a hint of her cleavage and was very flattering to her figure. Her hair was a little longer now than he remembered and she seemed even more beautiful than when he last saw her in person.
He didn't immediately approach her when she came in, as he knew that would attract attention; so he mingled around the theatre lobby, occasionally checking in with his children who had come to the premiere. Pilar had been unable to come because she was only a few weeks away from giving birth to their first child and she was feeling uncomfortable, so she stayed home to rest. He had tried to persuade her to come, thinking that having her there and having to be attentive to her would keep his mind off the fact that Diana was there, and negate any sort of temptation for him to try to be alone with Diana.
He loved Pilar deeply, but he still loved Diana as well, and not only that, he still craved her. He still dreamed of making love to her almost every night and he feared that some night he might say something in his sleep that Pilar would hear and he didn't want to hurt her...she was such a gentle soul and she deserved his complete devotion. He knew no matter how badly he wanted Diana, he could never hurt Pilar that way, and he knew Diana would never let him do that, either. He finally worked up the courage to approach her.
Diana was standing with a group of different studio executives and their wives, chatting, when she heard his voice from behind her as he walked up to the group and said, "Good evening, ladies and...the rest of you greedy vermin!" This prompted a laugh from the group, and she chuckled herself and turned to look up at him as he walked up beside her. His eyes held a hint of embers as he looked down at her and rumbled deeply, "It's very nice to see you again, Miss Maitland. I'm glad that you've finally come to one of my premieres...I had been told after we met a couple years ago that you were one of my biggest fans, but I don't recall seeing you at any of the premieres before."
"Well, Mr. Wayne," she purred, "I thought since your last movie was so...how shall I put this delicately...let's just say 'different' than what we're used to seeing from you, that I figured this one was bound to be an improvement, so I had to come in hopes that you would redeem yourself." She saw slight anger and embarrassment come into his eyes, and everyone in the group around them snickered softly as she made that barbed remark about the release of his previous movie, "The Conqueror," which was the one she knew he had referenced when he told her he'd made an ass of himself.
He took a deep breath and coughed slightly, then said sarcastically, "Well, Miss Maitland, I appreciate you putting your opinion of that piece of garbage so delicately, and since you think this one's bound to be an improvement, then I'd be honored if you'd sit next to me while you watch it so I can see your opinion first-hand, and you can let me know if I've redeemed myself."
She raised her eyebrows and looked around the group to see the other people's reactions to his invitation for her to sit next to him, and they all looked curiously amused—except for her boss, who was frowning slightly. She figured it was because she had dared to insult John Wayne—however delicately she had put it—and they all wanted to see if she would dare to accept his invitation. "All right, Mr. Wayne. I'll sit next to you to watch, but I have to warn you; it had better be good because I'm not very good at hiding my feelings about most things and I wouldn't want to offend you if it's bad!" This prompted another round of soft laughter from the group.
He scowled at her, but offered her his arm and gestured toward the doors into the theatre. As he escorted her toward the theatre, she noticed that he seemed to have aged a little more than she would have expected in less than 2 years; he also seemed to have gained a few pounds—she figured Pilar must be a good cook, despite her young age. She still remembered the feeling of shock she got when she learned that he had lied to her about Pilar's age. She commented cattily as she felt slight stirrings of jealousy, "I notice your VERY lovely, VERY YOUNG, and very PREGNANT wife is not here this evening...what a shame...I would so like to have met her. I hope she's well."
He glanced down at her with a warning look in his eyes, as if to say the subject of his wife was off limits for discussion, but he noticed she emphasized certain words, especially "very young" in reference to his wife...he'd lied to her when he'd told her Pilar was about her age. Pilar was 10 years younger than Diana and younger than one of his daughters, but what she lacked in years, she more than made up for in maturity. He realized she now knew that he'd lied to her and wondered if she was going to ask him to explain why. He looked at her sheepishly and shook his head as he said, "Yeah, I know. I lied to you about her age...I didn't want you to think me foolish because I had tried to back away from you by claiming YOU were too young for me. I was scared at how much I wanted you and it was the only excuse I could come up with at that moment. Now, please just let it drop, OK?"
She looked at him sarcastically as she shook her head. Then she saw him wave to his son Patrick, who she knew also had a small part in this movie, and she looked up at him and said smugly, "Your son is a very nice looking young man—even more handsome than you. He must take after his mother."
He looked down at her with a frown and said, "You're certainly digging your spurs into me this evening—is there something else wrong?"
She smiled sarcastically as she said, "Other than the fact that I can't find another man to measure up to you to love—no, there's nothing wrong."
Then he dug into her; "Well, it sure hasn't been for lack of looking on your part—just how many men have you gone through over the last year...about 20 or so? And you're telling me there's not one man among them that would be worthy of you? Maybe you've set your standards a little too high, little girl. You shouldn't be comparing other men to me. I'm not perfect, you know."
He was stopped just before they got to the door to go into the theatre by some well wishers and she stood back as he greeted them and thanked them for coming, and they got stuck there and had to wait as he continued to acknowledge well wishes as a stream of people were entering the theatre doors.
She was glad for the break because she had no idea how she was going to respond to what he said about her not comparing every man she met to him. Until he'd said that, she hadn't realized that that was what she'd been doing all along...she'd never find another man like him...he was one of a kind. And she knew he wasn't perfect...but he stirred her heart and soul—and that was what she needed, even if only slightly—from any man. Then she frowned and laughed quietly as she realized he'd still been keeping tabs on her somehow...he knew how many men she'd seen in the last year!
When they finally made their way into the theatre, she was embarrassed because everyone was clapping for him and probably wondering why he was walking in with a woman who was obviously not his wife—except for the group they had been talking to before they came in. He moved to one of the rows that had been reserved for the cast and crew and showed her to the seat next to Ward and then sat beside her on the end.
Ward introduced her to his wife sitting on the other side of him, and she could tell from the look on her face that Ward had told his wife about her and Wayne. Ward's wife, Mary Lou, smiled at her sympathetically as she said it was very nice to finally meet her. Diana looked at Ward and said quietly, "I ought to punch you again—you promised you wouldn't tell!"
Ward jokingly put his hand on his upper arm as if to shield her from punching him, and whispered, "I didn't mean to—I told her that I was checking up on you for 'a friend,' and after we were married, she figured out who that friend was because Capt. Hard Ass kept bugging me to keep checking up on you! So, if anyone deserves to be punched, it's him!" Several people around them turned to look as all four of them—Wayne, Diana, Ward and his wife, all started laughing softly. They all calmed themselves down as the lights were dimming and movie was about to start.
The premiere that night was for "The Searchers." She'd heard what the basic premise of the movie was, and so she dedicated herself to watching every subtlety of his performance rather than just the movie as a whole. Since Ward was also in the movie, she paid attention to his performance as well. She noticed many things about Wayne's character right from the start that she didn't think other people caught on to at first.
Right away, in the opening scenes, she noticed the way his character, Ethan Edwards, and his brother Aaron's wife Martha related to one another, and she leaned toward him and whispered, "What's with Ethan and Martha?"
He looked down at her with his eyebrows raised and whispered back, "You noticed! That's me and you," he stated with longing in his eyes. She blinked her eyes a few times and smiled softly and looked back at the screen.
When she saw the scene where Ward's character, the Rev. Captain Samuel Johnston Clayton of the Texas Rangers, arrived to deputize some men, including Ethan, to go after cattle rustlers, she watched with interest as the Rev. Clayton stood sipping some coffee and saw Martha lovingly pulling Ethan's uniform coat and hat out of a chest to bring to him. And then Rev. Clayton tried not to pay attention as Ethan gently kissed her good bye on her forehead. She glanced over at Ward and they both grinned knowingly, then she looked at Wayne and they smiled softly at each other.
She picked up on hints early on that Ethan was a very dark, twisted man with an intense hatred for Indians and possibly also a wanted man, since he had disappeared for 3 years after the end of the Civil War before returning to his brother's ranch with a lot of newly-minted gold coins. Ward's character even had a line that said something about Ethan resembling descriptions of some wanted criminals. At this point in the movie, it seemed Ethan's only redeeming quality was his secret love for Martha and his affection for his nephew Ben and nieces Lucy and, especially, Debbie...might she have been his daughter rather than his niece? She asked Wayne this, and he frowned and looked at her and said as far as he knew, she was just his niece, but then he raised his eyebrows as he thought about that.
She had trouble with the relationship between Ethan and the young Martin Pawley. According to the story, Ethan had rescued Martin as a baby after his parents had been killed in an Indian massacre and brought Martin to be raised by his brother and Martha. Now that Martin had grown up, his features reflected the fact that he was part Indian himself and Ethan treated him with disdain because of that. She tried to bear in mind the fact that it was obvious Ethan hated Indians and it made her wonder where that intense hatred came from, especially when she realized a little later that he seemed to know quite a bit about Comanches and how they live.
When the men took off to go find the stolen cattle, Ethan made his brother stay home, and there was a shot of Ethan as he rode away in which Martha and Debbie were shown watching him lovingly—she nudged his arm and whispered, "See?" Then it was discovered that it wasn't cattle rustlers they were after, but instead a trap set by a band of Comanches to lure most of the men away from their homes so the Indians could attack—as Ethan had suspected. When most of the men headed back to the Jorgensen ranch, whose cattle had been stolen since it was the closest, she noticed that Ethan had a very scared look on his face as he tended to his horse before trying to head back to his brother's ranch. Young Martin took off back to the Edwards' ranch right away despite Ethan's warning that the horses needed rest and grain.
It ended up being Ethan's brother's ranch that the Indians attacked, and in an attempt to save the youngest girl, Debbie, they sent her out to hide in the family cemetery plot. The little girl was shown crouching on her grandmother's grave—Ethan's mother—when the Comanche chief Scar finds her; they killed Ethan's brother Aaron and nephew Ben, and Martha—the woman he loved—and took his nieces...or daughters...she kept wondering about that. Now Ethan had even more cause to hate Indians. When Ethan got to the ranch to find it burning, the only person he called for was Martha; he picked up a piece of clothing that looked like a blue dress that Martha had been wearing, and then looked inside the building he found it in front of. His body was in silhouette, and she couldn't see his face at all—only his body language could portray what he saw and felt; it was obvious to her that he'd found Martha.
As soon as his brother, his nephew and Martha were buried, Ethan took off to chase down the Comanche tribe that had killed them and taken Lucy and Debbie; he even walked away before the burial service was over, barking painfully at Rev. Clayton to "put an Amen to it!" Through most of the rest of the movie, Wayne portrayed Ethan with increasing anger and pain, with an occasional spurt of a twisted sense of humor—like his interactions with a crazy, old character named Mose Harper, his amusement over Martin's accidental acquisition of an Indian wife and some of the insulting, but humorous remarks he made to different characters.
But he showed some real sparks of genius in his acting in some of the more painful scenes, like when he left Martin and Lucy's boyfriend Brad Jorgensen to chase a group of Indians whose trail had split up, and he followed the trail of a group of them into a narrow canyon. When he met up with Martin and Brad again, he rode up on his horse, dismounted quickly and stumbled slightly as if in shock and sat down heavily, then took out his knife and was digging it into the dirt. He looked slightly dazed and when he saw Brad and Martin looking at him, he made a remark about the trail leading off somewhere, and he continued to look distracted as they asked him more questions; then Martin asked him if he'd lost his Johnny Reb coat, and Ethan said he must've but he wasn't going back for it.
Diana glanced at Wayne and leaned over to whisper, "Something bad happened in that canyon, didn't it?"
He glanced at her with his eyebrows raised, then frowned and whispered back, "You'll see." He was amazed at how she was picking up on everything he did.
It was revealed in the next scene that Ethan had found Lucy's body when they'd split up and that he had wrapped her in his coat and buried her. When Brad asked for details about what had happened to her, Ethan's agonizing reply and the look of torture on his face brought tears to her eyes, and she couldn't stop herself from grabbing Wayne's hand tightly and looking at him. He looked at her, frowning slightly, and smiled sadly like he appreciated her acknowledgment of his ability to move her. She held onto his hand through the rest of the movie.
And then Ethan turned around and did something that shocked her; Brad got so upset at hearing Lucy was dead that he grabbed his gun and got on his horse to ride down into the Indian camp he had discovered to try and kill the Indians by himself. Martin tried to stop Brad and then go with him, but Ethan tripped Martin to stop him from getting to Brad, letting Brad head down into the camp by himself and to certain death. She gasped lightly, and glanced at Wayne trying to figure out if Ethan did that out of meanness or mercy; meanness if he thought Brad was just being stupid—mercy if he felt sorry for Brad because he thought Brad loved Lucy so much that Brad didn't care if he died. She leaned toward Wayne and asked him about that and he said he didn't know because he'd never thought about that.