‘Beau John’ — The untold story of John Wayne’s last film project

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A trim 71-year-old John Wayne stands confidently atop a giant boulder in the Alabama Hills west of Lone Pine, California circa August 1978. The future Congressional Gold Medal recipient was on location filming a series of Great Western Savings and Loan Association commercials with cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Image Credit: DukeWayne.com forum / LasBugas collection
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In a letter previously unseen until now and dated June 22, 1978, John Wayne demonstrates his remarkable wit in a typewritten exchange with “Beau John” script writer Buddy Atkinson. Wayne’s recent open heart surgery in Boston had been complicated by a debilitating bout with hepatitis which hindered further development of the ultimately abandoned film project. Image courtesy of Morgan Atkinson [Buddy’s son] and Stella Atkinson Berrier [Buddy’s widow]
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Renowned gunfighter John Bernard Books [John Wayne] teaches 21-year-old wayward young man Gillom Rogers [Ron Howard] how to properly aim and squeeze a Colt .45 pistol in a lobby card for Don Siegel’s “The Shootist,” a fine turn of the 20th century Western released to cinemas on August 20, 1976. Image Credit: DukeWayne.com forum / LasBugas collection / Paramount Pictures
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The Duke, only a month shy of his 70th birthday, demonstrates genuine affection for youngest child Marisa Wayne outside a USC celebrity baseball game in Los Angeles on April 17, 1977. Photography by Ron Galella / WireImage
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John Wayne and secretary-companion Pat Stacy demonstrate their affection for each other at a private party hosted by Henry Kissinger at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills on May 19, 1977, just a week shy of the legendary actor’s 70th birthday. Photography by Ron Galella / WireImage
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While his legion of fans consider John Wayne to be the ultimate cowboy, the actor felt much more at ease sailing the seven seas. Here he is captured aboard his prized Wild Goose yacht in February 1978. The coffee mug appears to be a memento from the Duke’s 1967 Western, “The War Wagon.” Photography by Al Satterwhite
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Having lost much of the excess weight that plagued him throughout the 1970s, the Duke cuts an imposing yet personable cowboy profile on the set of “Oscar’s Best Actors,” an ABC documentary broadcast on May 23, 1978. Image Credit: ABC Photo Archives
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About three months after John Wayne was supposedly cleared of cancer, he went in for an exploratory gallbladder operation and learned that the “Red Witch” had returned with a vengeance. Here he is on January 10, 1979, the day before the surgical procedure, aboard the Wild Goose delivering what would become his final on-camera interview with ABC News reporter Barbara Walters for “The Barbara Walters Summer Special.” Image Credit: ABC Photo Archives
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Displaying a courageous smile, the Duke wears his beloved USC Trojans football cap on March 17, 1979 on the patio of his Newport Beach home. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” protagonist had lost an alarming amount of weight and would pass away just three months later on June 11, 1979, at the UCLA Medical Center. This photo also appeared on the cover of Look magazine. Photography by Patrick Jarnoux / Paris Match

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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