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Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Loretta Young, whom old pal John Wayne always called Gretchen, would help
 him in his early Hollywood career by getting him roles in  The Life 
of Jimmy Dolan and Three Girls Lost (above).

Football was a big part of John Wayne's life. Not only was it an important part of his close relationship with his father, but it also helped him get to college. Ironically, it would also bring him into the world of Hollywood. John was no stranger to the world of film, having grown up in Glendale and witnessed first hand actual location shoots. But, while focusing on his law degree, he had little time for the make-believe games that he had enjoyed in his youth-- when he had played "movies" with his friends. Nonetheless, the creme de la creme would seek him out, or more particularly his football team, when he began playing college ball for USC. John would later come to emulate the more authentic cowboys of William S. Hart and Harry Carey, but it was the flashy rhinestone cowboy and buckaroo Tom Mix (left) who had the most immediate affect on his life. Tom was a huge football fan, and he used to come to the games to cheer the Trojans on. In return for getting his own private box at the field to entertain guests, he made a promise to coach Howard Jones to "help out some of his boys" by giving them summer jobs. A man of his word, Tom soon had John and a handful of others working as prop boys on the Fox Studios lot. In addition, John worked up close and personal in the Tom Mix hit The K&A Train Robbery. It is possible that he even appeared in it as an extra, playing one of the thugs Tom shoots early in the film.

But, perhaps more interesting on another level was the USC connection John made with Clara Bow (above), who too loved coming to the local games. Of course, she was probably more interested in looking at the young fellas in their uniforms, but who could blame her? There is no doubt that the tall and handsome Duke caught her eye, but she didn't play favorites. In fact, she used to invite the whole team up to her house on Saturday nights after the home games for dinner. Later, such behavior would lead to scandalous rumors-- all complete BS-- that Clara was sexually working her way through the entire team. These allegations were published in salacious rag mags like GraphicC. As the prototypical "flapper" of the 1920s, Clara's free-wheeling and uninhibited ways onscreen and off ruffled feathers and caught her a lot of flack. Sadly, she was too often misconstrued and publicly ridiculed, as in this instance, where her kind intentions to share her wealth and hospitality with starstruck youths backfired on her in the press. There was never any "funny business" to speak of between her and the team, and Duke would never forge any kind of relationship with her other than one based on the memory of a beautiful actress who acted like a kind sister to a bunch of tongue-tied, starry-eyed bucks. By letting them hang out at her palace, she must have made them feel like kings!

Another team member that may have been present at these casual soirees is Ward Bond (above). Turns out that Ward also wore the Trojan jersey and played as a lineman on the team with Duke. Strangely enough, the duo did not originally get along. Outwardly, they were as different as two men could be. Duke was charismatic, yet somewhat bashful, well mannered, educated, and noted for his classic good looks. Ward, on the other hand, was gruff, abrasive, openly promiscuous, arrogant, and constantly getting into trouble. Ward's behavior would annoy Duke... at least at first. Later, after Duke had started working for John Ford, Ward would come back into the picture. Ford wanted to use the famed football team in his film Salute, and he assigned Duke the task of recruiting some of the players as well as his Sigma Chi brothers. Much to his chagrin, Ford gave Ward one of the prime spots, having taken a liking to his "ugly face." Knowing the two didn't get along, Ford took great pride in bunking Duke and Ward together on the train to Annapolis. Perhaps because he found his behavior so shocking and amusing, Ford latched onto to Ward. His brazenness and inability to be intimidated by the notorious director intrigued the senior party, who would both take him on as a friend and cast him in several of his films. Duke too softened after sharing a bunk with Ward. His caustic manners, at first irritating, surprisingly became endearing... and somewhat reassuring. The two became lifelong friends and got into several drunken shenanigans together, often with Ford too in attendance. Not everyone would cozy up to Ward as easily as Duke and Ford did, and he irritated them from time to time over the years. But, as Ford would say, "Ward is a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

Loretta Young also knew Duke when he was a USC boy. It turns out that Duke and ol' Gretchen Belzer (as she was known then) went way back, again to his football days. While attending college his freshman year, Duke was set up in the conventional way on a slew of blind dates. He and his friends would pick up a girl or two and go out dancing and whatnot. It was never a serious thing; just a group of friends having fun. One of Duke's dates was with Loretta's sister, Polly Ann, which in turn must have initially introduced him to Loretta. He and Polly Ann never became more than chums, and she set him up with another friend, Carmen Saenz. Again, Duke kept things casual and wasn't too interested... until he dropped Carmen at home and was introduced to her younger sister, Josie. Here, Duke fell head over heels. Thus commenced a 7 year courtship-- the result of Josie's much opposed family. Not seeing anything bright in Duke's future, the Saenz's weren't an easy sell, being upper crust "Hispanic blue bloods." They were against the match-- particularly after Duke lost his scholarship when he injured his shoulder, and even moreso when they discovered that Duke was not exactly a steadfast Catholic. Nonetheless, he and Josie suffered through the ups and downs, and he finally received her parents' consent. In addition to helping Duke in his career-- helping him land a role opposite herself in films like Three Girls Lost-- Loretta stepped in and  offered up the gardens at her parents' Bel Air estate as a wedding place, since the duo's conflicting religions would not allow them to marry in the Catholic church. Loretta was present at the wedding (above with the happy couple), as were George O'Brien and Henry Fonda, but despite the fact that Duke was already working in Hollywood, he was not yet big enough of a star to demand more media attention. The nuptials were barely noted in the press, and when they were, Duke's fraternity brothers and USC teammates-- who served as groomsmen-- received more press than he. Six more years would change that. Still, he always honored his days at USC.

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