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Good Times, Bad Times : John Wayne's Wife Pilar Says She Wrote Book to Protect an Image, Tell Children Real Story

November 05, 1987|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

Framed photographs of John Wayne are displayed throughout the house, including the den, a large but cozy room with a marble fireplace, a floor-to-ceiling oak bookcase, a wet bar, a desk and, in an alcove, a table for playing bridge--a game she says the Duke taught her. Next to the window overlooking a 40-foot-long lap pool is a hanging brass cage that houses Gucci, her talkative green parrot.

When people ask about her husband, she said, "I tell them Duke wasn't perfect, but he was 80%, and he was very much a family man."

More than 20 years her senior, "he seemed like a lot younger man," she said. "He used to like to water ski. He loved the boat, he loved to dance--he was a wonderful dancer--and we had a lot of fun together. I wrote many episodes in the book of the fun times we had."

But she also wrote about the not-so-fun times.

In her book, she describes John Wayne as a man who could be stubborn, domineering and insensitive.

Her husband, she writes, loved the movie industry and compulsively made one movie after another, usually on distant locations. He would insist that his wife and children be by his side, regardless of the effects the uprooting had on their lives and their boredom while he worked long hours.

She writes that John Wayne was an old-fashioned husband whose view of women's liberation was "I don't care if you go to work, just as long as my dinner is on the table when I get home." He also was a man who would rather go out with a group of friends than have a quiet dinner alone with his wife. As a businessman, he suffered several financial disasters over the years.

And, true to legend, the Duke also enjoyed drinking with his cronies.

"He had a tremendous capacity for that, but he was one of the lucky ones who could stop whenever he wanted to," she said. "He could party for three days in a row and never show it. Of course, he wouldn't do it when making a movie."

She turns quiet when asked about her abortion. John Wayne was still undergoing a messy divorce from his second wife when Pilar learned that she was three months pregnant. John Wayne said he would go along with whatever she wanted, leaving the decision up to her, she said. Because she was concerned with what an out-of-wedlock child would do not only to his career but to his divorce settlement, she had the abortion. As she is a Catholic, it was a difficult decision that haunted her for years.

She said her own three children have read the book and have told her they like it: "Marissa said, 'I'm so proud of you. There are so many things about my dad I didn't know.' "

And while at times it was painful dredging up old memories, she observed that "time has a way of softening everything."

Indeed, most of her memories of the Duke are pleasant ones.

"Absolutely," she said. "He was strong, generous and kind, with lots of sense of humor. He was fun to be with--everybody wanted to be with him. Plus, he was a fascinating man. Extremely intelligent. He loved to read. He'd devour the newspaper every day and read all the weekly magazines like Time and Newsweek."

He was also notoriously outspoken in his political views. "Whether it was Vietnam, the Panama Canal or whatever else, he committed himself," she said. "If he thought he was right, he'd stick to it 100%. He wasn't a follow the leader. You don't see many of those right now. And then he was gorgeously handsome--a very good-looking man."

She recalls one time while doing a stunt for a movie, John Wayne broke his hip in a fall and had to be taken to the hospital. The on-screen Duke would have been proud of the actor.

"He wasn't a crybaby," she said. "He could tolerate pain and things like that. He was quite a guy. . . . I really miss him. I wish he was back here again."

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