His house in Newport Beach was unpretentious by movie star standards, a homey comfortable place, because the man who lived in it was beyond doing things for show and just wanted to be at his ease. The placid waters of Newport Bay lapped at his back yard and he loved that; he said it was like a picture that was always chaning right before your eyes.
John Wayne never really enjoyed interviews - they made him nervous - and as he discussed his career on a warm summer morning three years ago, he looked out on those calm waters and doodled endless straight lines on a small pad, tearing off each sheet as it filled up and starting on another one.
He was a large, friendly man, looking, unlike most movie stars, at least as big in real life as he did on the screen. He seemed tired but healthly; the only sign on illness was a team of dieticians sitting off in a corner planning a weight-loss program for him.
"He'll be allowed a quarter teaspoon of salt a day for three weeks," one of them said, and Wayne, picking up on that, yelled out, "Hell. I put more salt than that on ice cream!"
"Will he be drinking milk?" the dieticians asked, unperturbed. "Not unless I have to," Wayne growled back, winking at a reporter, and it was obvious that he was enjoying himself, that the role he played so often on screen was one he was not averse to taking on in real life.
What was most impressive about John Wayne that day was how secure he was in himself, his easygoing, unforced self-confidence.In a profession filled with neurotics and doubters, he knew who he was and believed in the worth of what he knew. He had no vague qualms about having failed to live up to his potential; he had none of the problems that send colleagues scurrying to analysis and est. He had been John Wayne for most of his adult life and as lives went he considered it good.
"Things haven't always gone exactly the way I wanted it," he admitted. "But I believe in the old 'relax and enjoy it.' It's the best you can do, the best statement I've ever heard for philosophy."
He had made hundreds and hundreds of pictures, so many that he had long since lost track of the exact number - "every so often I hear about one I've forgotten; sometimes I can't even remember the leading lady's name" - and if anything did trouble John Wayne it was the feeling that in some ways he had outlived his time and generation.
He could not understand, for instance, why the media picked on him at times, especially during the Vietnam war, and he was genuinely baffled about how his political beliefs had become so controversial and why audiences had difficulty separating his ideology from his on-screen perfromances.
His house was filled with pictures of what he called "my favorite people" from the old days: Director John Ford, actors Ward Bond, Bruce Cabot and William Holden, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and others. Wayne lingered over the fading photographs hating to leave the wall they were on. "It's getting to where I know more dead people than alive," he said, and his sadness that those years were behind him was obvious an painful.
The legacy he left is in the characters he portrayed, rawboned and honest if a trifle rough around the edges, larger than life in a way that already seems quaint and antiquated by the standards of today's Hollywood.
"There was an enthusiasm whatever picture you were on in the early days," Wayne said, his eys keen, glittering.
"There was some wonderful chemistry about the business in those days. You weren't making the kind of money you do now, your worked long hours - things the unions would say have improved - but it was thrilling to be on a picture, and everyone who was on one felt really part of that project.
And now? "Life goes on," John Wayne said, looking out over the bay. "But there is nothing particularly better about today than then." CAPTION: Picture 1, John Wayne in "Stagecoach," 1939; Picture 2, John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich