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Holy Christmas, it's John Wayne: 'Christmas with the Duke' marathon rides on AMC

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Saddle up, pilgrims! Beginning at 10 a.m. EST on Christmas Eve, AMC is presenting a two-day marathon sampling John Wayne's best latter-day Westerns. Within an astounding 167-film canon, the American institution appeared somewhere in the neighborhood of 87 Westerns in his remarkable 50-year career on the big screen.

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Known as "The Duke" by his army of aficionados, the late actor is still going strong some 34 years after his death from the ravages of stomach cancer. Believe it or not, in 2013 Wayne placed No. 6 on the annual Harris Poll of America's favorite living or deceased actors. He is the only actor to remain firmly ensconced on the list every year since the poll originated 20 years ago. No other major entertainment personality of the era comes close except Elvis Presley.

In chronological order, the Wayne films scheduled for holiday consumption are Rio Bravo, Howard Hawks' sharp rebuttal to the anti-McCarthy High Noon, the demythologization of the cowboy hero in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the epic How the West Was Won (sadly, Wayne is barely featured during the Civil War segment), the hilarious Taming of the Shrew homage in McLintock!, the traditional family vs. evil landowner plot ably depicted in The Sons of Katie Elder, Hawk's successful reimagining of Rio Bravo as El Dorado, the devastating Lincoln County War with Billy the Kid suspiciously thrown in plot of Chisum, the brutal coming-of-age The Cowboys, the vastly underrated Cahill: United States Marshal, mirroring much of the star's real life parental absence, and the 6'4" giant's brilliant final screen epitaph, The Shootist. Set your DVRs to zoom past those pesky commercials.

While the programming choices are perpetually vulnerable to debate – no trace of Wayne's renowned Stagecoach, Red River, John Ford's cavalry trilogy, Hondo, The Searchers, True Grit, or even the Christmas-themed 3 Godfathers – AMC's final contenders should perfectly illustrate exactly why the Duke's legacy transcends most of his contemporaries.

Of course, his natural acting technique has been derided by critics for over three quarters of a century. However, examine any of the 10 movies showcased and see if his genuine charisma doesn't leap off the television screen. Stints as an apprentice propman and stuntman in his journeyman years enhanced the Duke's supreme knowledge of what constituted a good film. You really believe he is the genuine article.

If you're not convinced to take a gander, take a look at the veritable laundry list of classic Hollywood stars populating the Wayne films: Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Dean Martin, Gregory Peck, Lauren Bacall, Richard Widmark, Robert Mitchum, Maureen O'Hara, Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Richard Boone, Bruce Dern, James Caan, Ed Asner, Rick Nelson, Ron Howard, and more. Still analyzed in film schools, vintage directorial masters such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Henry Hathaway, Mark Rydell, and Don Siegel are represented, too.

In the teaser advertising the marathon, AMC shrewdly marketed the Duke's humorous line delivery of "Holy Christmas!", uttered after a bucking mule and a strategically fired shotgun thwart Cahill's plans to frighten his teenage sons into turning themselves into the law while digging up stolen loot in a spooky graveyard.

Remember in the late '90s and early '00s when TBS used to air Christmas and Thanksgiving Western marathons alternately featuring Wayne and Clint Eastwood? While that's inexplicably a relic of the past, let's applaud AMC for having the guts to revive the glorious tradition. No two ways about it, they're introducing the Duke to a new tech savvy generation of fans.

“Christmas with the Duke:” The Complete Dec. 24 – 25 Schedule (Eastern Standard Time)

  • 10 a.m. – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance [1962, costarring Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin, and Vera Miles]
  • 1 p.m.How the West Was Won [1962, costarring Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark, George Peppard, and Carroll Baker]
  • 4:30 p.m.Chisum [1970, costarring Ben Johnson and Forrest Tucker]
  • 7 p.m.Rio Bravo [1959, costarring Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, and Angie Dickinson]
  • 10 p.m.Cahill: United States Marshal [1973, costarring George Kennedy and Neville Brand]
  • 12:30 a.m., Christmas Day – The Shootist [1976, costarring Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, and Richard Boone]
  • 2:45 a.m.McLintock! [1963, costarring Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers, and Yvonne De Carlo]
  • 10:30 a.m.Rio Bravo [encore screening]
  • 1:30 p.m.The Cowboys [1972, costarring Bruce Dern and Slim Pickens]
  • 4:30 p.m.Cahill: United States Marshal [encore screening]
  • 7 p.m.El Dorado [1967, costarring Robert Mitchum, James Caan, and Ed Asner]
  • 10 p.m.The Sons of Katie Elder [1965, costarring Dean Martin and George Kennedy]
  • 1 a.m.How the West Was Won [encore screening]

DON'T GO ANYWHERE YET! John Wayne had no plans to retire after "The Shootist" opened to excellent reviews but slow box office receipts in August 1976. After open heart surgery in late spring 1978, the Duke was determined to begin work on "Beau John." He went to impressive lengths to secure the project, actually buying the film rights via Batjac, the first time that had happened since he unsuccessfully bidded for "True Grit" 10 years earlier. The legend also had plans to reunite with one of his recent costars. Little has been known about the unfinished film until now. To learn more about the one project that gave Wayne some much needed hope during his final days, head on over to "'Beau John': The Untold Story of John Wayne's Last Project."

Twitter: To interact directly with author Jeremy Roberts, follow @jeremylr

Exclusive Interview: Burly character actor Gregg Palmer appeared in an impressive six films with John Wayne. By far, "Big Jake" contains Palmer's best work with the towering legend. In it, the 6'4", 300-pound Palmer memorably plays a vicious machete-brandishing villain who threatens his grandson's life with near deadly results. In the words of fan Tom Horton, Palmer was one of the nastiest bastards to ever fight Duke. In a just released two-part interview (Part One is "The Man Who Killed John Wayne's Dog..."), the gentle giant relives his friendship with Duke and remembers his 30-year career alongside some of the greatest actors in Hollywood.

Exclusive Interview No. 2: Steve McQueen's distinguished biographer, Marshall Terrill, recently took time away from his busy schedule to clarify whether John Wayne knew McQueen. Fortunately, the King of Cool's widow, Barbara Minty, had the answer. Keep reading as Ms. McQueen recounts the hilarious tale of what happened when a likely inebriated Duke and her husband wound up at the same Hollywood awards ceremony in the late '60s.

Exclusive Interview No. 3: Starring James Drury in the title role, "The Virginian" is the third-longest running and first 90-minute western in prime time television. A humble, genuine cowboy in real life with intense passions for writing and flying, the octogenarian speaks eloquently in a new feature about his unexpected encounter with the iconic John Wayne, whether he had a role model in mind for his characterization of The Virginian, the 50th anniversary of his namesake series, and why he will always appreciate his fans. Click on either installment link above to begin the enlightening ride.

Exclusive Interview No. 4: Oscar winner Lee Marvin made many a cowboy hero quiver in their dusty boots, including drinking pal John Wayne in "The Comancheros" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." In Part One of a just-released interview entitled "Battle Scars and Violent Interludes: Point Blank with Lee Marvin's Biographer", author Dwayne Epstein focuses on Marvin's World War II experiences, revealing why he believes Marvin suffered from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He also presents the chilling tale of a Silver Star recipient and future Marvin co-star who briefly wound up in a California mental hospital, and much more.

Further Reading: The strikingly stone-faced Charles Bronson appeared in an impressive 160 television and film productions, and he never really received proper credit for his understated acting and screen presence. To read a special, in-depth birthday profile detailing exactly who the "Death Wish" star was behind his tough guy persona, featuring anecdotes from costars such as James Coburn, James Garner, Tony Curtis, actress Lee Purcell, and Elvis Presley's Memphis Mafia, head on over to the following link: "A Face Like An Eroded Cliff..."

*****CLICK HERE to get your free email subscription to Jeremy Roberts’ regular column. Authentic interviews, original commentary, news, and reviews from the wide world of pop culture will be delivered directly to your inbox. And whether you enjoyed or disliked this article, don't hesitate to leave a comment below to join the discussion. Thanks!

© Jeremy L. Roberts, 2013. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in full without first contacting the author. Headlines with links are fine. In addition, posting any links to Twitter or Facebook is sincerely appreciated.

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