He doesn't look 100 percent fit, but pretty good for someone who has survived blows that would have flattened lesser men.
Now, on the lawn of his house by the water's edge, John Wayne sits in the late afternoon sun, sipping a cool drink, occasionally waving to yachtsmen who call out greetings, now and again glancing across to the study where secretaries are vainly trying to cope with the avalanche of mail that is still coming in following his heart surgery two months ago.
A big man, Wayne. Duke to everyone, even those who do not know him. A 6-foot-4 leftover from the great days of the screen giants. And still the most distinctive silhouette in movies.
He was a name when most of today's stars were still crying in their cradles. And not even he knows how many movies he has made -- for nobody kept track of the two-reelers he did before breaking into features. One thing he does know: It's 52 years since he first appeared on the screen (in "Brown of Harvard") and 40 since John Ford lifted him from the B-picture treadmill and put him into "Stagecoach."
In the house behind him is the trophy room, stacked with memorabilia, awards, pictures and plaques. His Oscar is there (for "True Grit") and his huge collection of Indian dolls.
The day after he came back here from the hospital, hundreds of small boats passed in line at the foot of his garden to welcome him home -- a display of genuine affection for a legendary star that was both touching and fitting. For Duke Wayne is the last of a kind.
"Yeah, that was pretty nice," he says huskily. "And you just wouldn't believe the letters." He motions toward the study. "We got four secretaries handling the mail. They've opened 100,000 so far. And I can take you back and show you boxes with 50,000 more. Isn't that something?
"I was lucky. I know the man upstairs had a lot to do with it. And I had the best goddam medical team in the country. Before they started they said: "We don't know how much this is going to improve your condition.' And I just said, 'Hell, I don't expect miracles.' After all, I'd already been through as big a one as you can ask with the cancer thing (he had a lung removed in 1964). So I was prepared for, well, the ultimate victory.
"I'd got to the stage where my voice was going. I'd say three words and then have to take a breath. If I want to know the truth, I was more worried about my voice than my heart. Seems there's a nerve which goes from the heart to the larynx and that's what was causing the trouble. Since the operation it's come right back."
His weight, which dropped from 250 pounds before the operation to 229, is now climbing up again. He is beginning to feel good again -- the best he's felt for many months. And having just done a TV special (General Electric's 100th birthday tribute, to be broadcast in September) he is, like an old war-horse, beginning to paw the ground. He wants to do another film.
Another film -- at a stage in life when most people, having survived such a beating, would willingly hang up their hats?
"I couldn't retire. I'd go nuts. Work is the only thing I know. And as long as I can keep my dignity, I'm going to go on making movies. I like what I do. People who want to retire don't."
"I've got this story, 'Beau John.' It'll make a real funny, delighful movie. Too damn late to go with it this year, though; we gotta get a script written and that stuff takes time. But next year, for sure.
"See," he says, "I love the picture business. And as long as people want to see me in movies, I'm going to go on working. I even reckon they could rellease my movie "The Alamo' (which he directed). Even the liberals aren't so blatantly against me any more that they wouldn't recognize there was something to that picture besides my terrible conservative attitude.
"One thing: because I played the kinda person people wanted me to be, a fellow with a code of behavior, a lot of people get some sort of security now just from looking at me. But I had to argue with some directors over my characters. On 'Red River' Howard Hawks wanted to make me a big blustering coward. 'You'll win an Academy Award,' he said. 'Yeah, yeah,' I said. Instead I played it as a strong man who was scared." He pauses for a moment, reflecting. "After all, as a man you can be scared, but you can't be a coward."
Since coming home to Newport Beach, Wayne has made a couple of trips on his 136-foot yacht, The wild Goose.At the moment she is up in Seattle, on charter to a group of businessmen.
Because of his colorful career, and the people he has known, Wayne could almost certainly write an intriguing autobiography. He made a faint stab at it some time ago, but it came to nothing. And now he's lost interest.
"Sometimes after a coupla belts I like to sit with a friend and talk about the old days," he says. "And there are times I think I shoulda taken the time to set it all down. But I don't like looking back much; it makes me sad when I think of the real close life companions who've gone, people like Ward (Bond) and Jack (Ford) and $99[WORD ILLEGIBLE] (Cabot).Anyway, why dwell on the past? Hell, I'm not through with tomorrow yet."
He walks down to the water's edge, looking at the spruce yachts scything through the blue water, his face crinkling with pleasure at the sight.
"I gotta say it," he says. "I've had a helluva good life. There's no way anyone could have had more fun. I got no complaints. Even with all the things that have happened to me." He pauses. "There's a saying they have in Mexico" --means: 'He was ugly, was strong and had dignity.' Yeah, that's the kinda thing I'd like them to say about me."