The John Wayne Museum in Bowie should probably be called the Bill Atkins Museum. That’s because when you visit the homespun museum — which is in the Hilltop Plaza shopping center, behind a 7-Eleven and next to a Jazzercise — there’s plenty of Bill Atkins: photos of Bill in a 10-gallon hat, photos of Bill as a young Marine, a typed note from Bill’s commanding officer that reads in part: “This man has been instructed not to shave until the filming of this picture has been completed.”
That picture was “Flying Leathernecks,” a 1951 John Wayne film in which Bill and 13 of his Marine buddies from Camp Pendleton, Calif., served as extras.
“He was the most amazing person I met,” Bill said of the actor.
I last visited the museum in 2011. I went back this week because Bill feels wronged by the City of Bowie, which he said declined to give him a grant to help cover the museum’s operating expenses, which he said are about $20,000 a year. (He would have been happy with less, he told me.)
Una Cooper, Bowie’s communications coordinator, said the City Council considered Bill’s grant application and “decided that while [the museum is] a nice thing to have in the city, it’s not necessarily something that the city can spend its limited resources on.”
It doesn’t help, she said, that John Wayne had no connection to Bowie.
“I’m disgusted with Bowie,” said Bill, who is in his early 80s. He’s a real estate broker who specializes in buying and selling liquor stores. Over the years, his office morphed into the John Wayne Museum as he bought various Wayniana at yard sales and thrift shops.
There are John Wayne posters, production stills, commemorative plates, souvenir Christmas ornaments, a lunch box, a jackknife, a portrait painted on black velvet and lots of John Wayne movies on VHS and DVD.
There’s also a 1953 letter from Nicholas Ray, who directed John Wayne (and Bill Atkins) in “Flying Leathernecks.” It’s a response to a letter from Bill inquiring about acting opportunities in the film biz.
“I’m sorry I cannot be encouraging about the possibility of you and your buddy getting jobs as extras in Hollywood,” Ray wrote. “It is not only the fact that it is a Union deal but it is over-crowded, as well, and especially at this time when fewer pictures than ever are being made and the incomes of people established in the business are small and uncertain.”
Admission to the John Wayne Museum is free. I asked Bill how long he was going to run it.
“Forever, I guess,” he said. “I never plan on retiring. I love what I do. It’s not work when you’re doing what you love to do.”
Now that the city has turned him down, Bill says he has another idea: “I’m going to try for corporate sponsorship.”
I visited Leisure World of Virginia last week. After stopping at the gatehouse, I was handed a parking pass. On the bottom it read, “Speed Limit 141 / 2.”
Not 14. Not 15. Exactly 141 / 2.
I’m not sure my speedometer is so precisely calibrated.
“It’s just an attention getter,” said Paul Earle, the senior living community’s head of security. “If it’s 141 / 2, they’re liable to remember it. I’m not going to say they’re going to do it, but at least they know what it’s supposed to be.”
Before joining Leisure World 14 years ago, Paul spent 30 years in the Marine Corps, including a stint as a door-gunner on a helicopter in Vietnam.
“I enjoy my job,” he said. “My style of management is not having a choking hold on the reins of a horse. You have a firm grip on loose reins. That’s how I led my Marines.”
The same applies to his nine-person Leisure World staff. Paul allows that a 6-foot decorative fence is not going to keep out people intent on evil, but the gatehouse serves as a deterrent to mischief and petty crime.
One visitor, irate upon being stopped at the gatehouse when dropping by unannounced to see a relative, groused, “This place is harder to get into than Langley” — the CIA headquarters.
Said Paul: “I took that as a compliment.”
If you work for or with a local nonprofit organization that’s active in the human services area — providing services to the poor in Washington or the Maryland and Virginia suburbs — I encourage you to explore The Washington Post Helping Hand.
It’s our new way of educating readers about the good works that local charities do — and encouraging them to donate.
If you think your organization might qualify for some Helping Hand help, we need to receive a letter of inquiry by Sept. 10. You can find information on how to apply at posthelpinghand.com.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.