Room G-219 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building looked a bit like Hollywood at lunch yesterday as Sen. and Mrs. John Warner (R-Va.) held a luncheon for Pilar Wayne widow of John Wayne, his seven children and 20 of his 21 grandchildren.
The Wayne "clan," as actor son Michael Wayne called the family, was gathered in Washington to accept from Secretary of the Treasury G. William Miller a special congressional gold medal honoring the movie actor.
Only 87 people or groups have been honored since the medals' inception in 1776. The first one went to George Washington and later honorees have included John Paul Jones, Walt Disney, Bob Hope, Irving Berlin and Robert Kennedy.
Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), who, along with his son, sponsored a bill in Congress to authorize the medal, spoke to the gathering of some 50 people after several members of Congress were allowed a minute-and-a-half to honor the Duke.
Goldwater spoke of more than 50 close contact that included long handwritten or typed letters from Wayne with many suggestions of how to act in Congress.
"He believed in honesty and was willing to speak out," Goldwater said. "This medal is one of the most popular ever struck by the mint."
Since announcement of the sale, the Mint has reported an unprecedented response, with orders numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
The bronze medal comes in a three-inch size and a 1-by-5/16 size, selling for $8 and $1, respectively, at the Mint.
In a move to relax many of the younger grandchildren who began to fidgit, Warner told an amusing story about his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.
"Elizabeth spends a lot of time visiting children's hospitals and on a recent visit she was questioned by a years of friendship with Wayne, of a group of children about her having acted in movies.
"Feeling the doubt in their tone, she asked them to name their favorite movie star, said that she might have played opposite him because she had played in 60 movies.
"The children got into a huddle and came back with the name Woody Woodpecker."
Michael Wayne, the oldest son and a California businessman, was called upon to speak for the family and pointed to his Patrick saying, "I don't know why I'm speaking -- he's the actor."
He then proceeded to thank everyone present -- particularly Goldwater -- for the effort put into making the medal a reality.
It was then suggested that the Wayne offsrping all stand, and half the room rose to receive the applause.
John Wayne made more than 200 movies over a 50-year period. He died June 11, 1979.
He was born Marion Michael Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, and acquired the nickname Duke when his friends watched him walk his dog of that name.
The simple inscription above the medal modeled after his portrayal of Davy Crockett in the movie "The Alamo" was suggested by his longtime friend Maureen O'Hara and says, "John Wayne -- American."