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Life in the 19th century American west was hard. Settlers struggled to farm and feed their families, and Indian tribes fought to keep control of shrinking land. The two sides feared each other and clashed frequently along borders. In 1836, a 9-year-old Texas girl was kidnapped by a Comanche tribe. She lived with them for 24 years before she was recaptured, and her story was told to generations of Texans. In the 1950s, a novel about the abduction, titled “The Searchers,” was made into a hit movie starring John Wayne. A new book explores how and why the film changed the story, and its role in shaping myths of the American west.
- Glenn Frankel Director of the School of Journalism, University of Texas, Austin.
Read An Excerpt
Reprinted from “The Searchers” by Glenn Frankel. Copyright © 2013 by Glenn Frankel. Used by permission of Bloomsbury USA.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The 1956 movie "The Searchers" was a blockbuster hit. The legendary western star, John Wayne, and Natalie Wood. It was based on the true story of nine year old Cynthia Ann Parker, kidnapped by Comanche Indians in Texas. Parker became a warrior's wife with whom she had three children. In a new book titled "The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend," author Glenn Frankel traces the history of the landmark film. He explains why it differed from the novel, and its key role in shaping myths of American Western Settlement.
MS. DIANE REHMGlenn Frankel joins me in the studio. Give us a call. 800-433-8850, send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, Glen, it's good to see you.
MR. GLENN FRANKELGood morning, Diane.
REHMGlenn, I know you saw this movie as a child. Do you remember your first reactions?
FRANKELI must have watched it on television. I'm sure my parents did not allow a six year old to see it in the cinema at the time, so I'm thinking maybe five or six years later, and it always struck me as just more dramatic and more sort of powerful and emotional than the usual cowboy movie fare at the time and all the things I was watching. And it stuck with me then, but really when I saw it at Columbia University in around 1970, the great film critic Andrew Sarris was teaching -- for the first time teaching a sort of introduction to film course, and he showed it.
FRANKELIt was one of the Hollywood movies that he was showing us in order to show us that Hollywood films of that era actually were cinematic art in the same way that say, Fellini films, or foreign films were. And "Searchers" was his kind of Exhibit A for that, because of the power, because of the acting, because of the visual beauty of it. And that's the one I really remember first and that has stuck to me all this time.
REHMBut it went farther than beauty or, you know, cinematic art. It created an image of the west that perhaps even in the novel itself had never been there.
FRANKELWell, that's true, and that's all about John Ford. I mean, John Ford didn't invent the western, but he really is the person who became most identified with it, and, you know, he filmed his greatest westerns in Monument Valley, this incredibly beautiful stark, parched place. No one ever actually lived in Monument Valley. I mean, no one could. None of these things ever happened there, But they became his stage setting. And he had made several movies there before, but really "Searchers" he goes out there and he's got Vista Vision for the first time, this incredible wide screen technique.
FRANKELHe's got the wonderful camera people. He knows what he's doing. It's his fifth time out there, and so "Searchers" becomes the most beautiful really of all these westerns, and you're absolutely right. It becomes our image of the west. You know, I don't know if you've been to Texas, but Texas is very sort of horizontal. It's flat.
FRANKELYeah. I mean, most of it is relentlessly undramatic.
FRANKELMonument Valley is totally vertical. It is this powerful, scary place. I've been there and, you know, and it's frightening in his beauty, and Ford set his westerns there. He set his fables if you will in the west, and that's the image, of course, that all of us who have seen this movie, you know, have. That's what we think the real west looks like.
REHMTell me about the real Cynthia Ann Parker and what happened to her.
FRANKELWell, she comes out to Texas. Her family moves from Illinois. The Parker family, several uncles and cousins, you know, the extended family. Serious Baptists, they've been farming and they've been working their way to the west. They're kind of an archetypal American pioneer family. And they come down and they settle, some of them, in east Texas, rather close to the line of where Native American villages and the sort of raiding area of Nomadic Native American tribes like the Comanches and the Kiowas.
FRANKELBut the land is good there, the soil is good, the water is good. So they set up a fortified settlement with walls and gates.
FRANKELBut in May 1836, they're in a hurry to plant. It's just after Texas independence, the Alamo has happened. They leave the gates open, a group of Native Americans come down asking for food and water, not exactly clear what the intention was, but there ends up being a massacre. Five men are killed, and five young people are abducted. Four of them are eventually ransomed or retrieved over the next year or two, but Cynthia Ann Parker is not, and she spends 24 years with the Comanches as you mentioned in the introduction.
FRANKELI mean, she has three children, she's married -- she marries a Comanche warrior. She lives with them for 24 years. She forgets her English. She becomes a Comanche. Meanwhile, her Uncle James, a sort of Indian-hating backwoodsman, devout Baptist, kind of a drinker too, for that matter, you know, a real sort of outlier in American Society, he's hunting for her for seven or eight years. He helps recover the others, but he never finds her. And it's only in 1860 -- in December 1860, that a group of Texas Rangers and U.S. Cavalry who are raiding a Comanche -- a small Comanche encampment, they kill a number of people there.
FRANKELThey come across a Comanche woman, and they're preparing to kill her when they look at her and they see she has blue eyes. And so they take her and her little baby daughter who is with her, and they take her back to a place called Camp Cooper. It's pretty clear to them that this is indeed Cynthia Ann Parker. There have been stories about her over the years. People know a little. The white Comanche princess who know one's ever seen. They get in touch with her family and her Uncle Isaac comes and retrieves her and takes her back to the family in Texas.
REHMAnd she's happy to go back?
FRANKELNot at all. Not at all. This is the thing. She's become a Comanche woman over the course of 24 years. She's a mother. She has two boys who she never, ever sees again.
FRANKELShe's taken from her husband and from the community and, you know, when you think about this, this is a girl at nine years old, her father and her grandfather are killed in front of her and she's dragged off by men who speak a foreign language, you know, to a place she has no idea if they're going to kill her, and then 24 years later, the other side in Comanche/Texan war, come raid again, kill the people around her, drag her off again to an alien society.
REHMSo John Ford really changes the thrust of this movie. Talk about how he does that.
FRANKELWell, that starts, of course, with Alan Lemay, the novelist, who comes along in the early 1950s. He's a Hollywood screenwriter, he's a western novelist. He's looking for a great new story. He's in the Texas panhandle, which was the heartland of Comanche territory, and he hears about this white Comanche princess and what had happened. And he goes to east Texas and he talks to the relatives. But his interest is not in her, it's in the uncle. Right from the beginning he's asking about the uncle.
FRANKELAnd so the novel "The Searchers" changes the focus to the uncle, changes the name, changes the date. Many things are altered, but the basic story is there, and changes it to the uncle and to a fictional adopted brother. And the two of them search for, in the novel, five years. John Ford comes along, changes it to seven or eight. He does one other thing, of course that's crucial. The novel is about both these searchers, and really sort of focuses more on the younger of the two, a young man named Martin Pawley, and it traces his evolution from a rather cowardly youth, to a great backwoodsman and to someone who's striving hard to rescue his little sister.
FRANKELIn the movie, of course, we're having John Wayne star as the uncle, and yeah, so that changes the whole dynamic again. And they rewrite the part and they strengthen. They call him Ethan Edwards. He becomes the uncle. The movie begins with him arriving on the scene, coming back three years after the Civil War to his family, to his brother and his sister-in-law and these children. And so they strengthen it to introduce you to John Wayne, but they also darken it.
FRANKELThe uncle becomes a much different, more powerful and much more frightening figure, and this is where Ford really works his magic. You know, John Ford gave us the myths of the west, and one of the great myths of the west is the great Indian fighter, the sort of laconic man on horseback who becomes the sort of operating force of civilization, you know, and conquers the Native Americans or the bad guys, and that's John Wayne. He's a very charismatic, exciting figure to watch.
FRANKELBut in "The Searchers," Ford give us all of that, but then he begins to undermine this guy, because as time goes on, our nine year old little girl turns into a 16 year old Comanche wife. She marries a Comanche. She's had sex with Indians, which was known in those days as a fate worse than death to the pioneer community. It was a very frightening thing for them, a horrifying thing to have women and children hauled off , you know, into the wilderness this way.
FRANKELAnd so his mission, which is originally to rescue this little girl, morphs over time, and he decides he's actually going to kill her. She's had sex with Indians, she's been polluted, whether voluntarily or not, and his sense of vengeance and justice requires him to kill her, and that's the narrative tension that drives forward the movie.
REHMHow many times have you watched the movie?
FRANKELI knew you were going to ask that. Well, you know, I would say it's going on 20. I have a lot of excuses, but I always find something new in it.
FRANKELHere's the thing. Because we don't know what's going to happen. This is not weighing easily on the John Wayne character. He's not happy. It's difficult for him to process what to do. The great film critic David Thompson once said, every time I watch "The Searchers," I'm not really sure how it's going to end because it's so unsettling, and it's so unclear. He's so conflicted and so I'll offer that as my defense of watching it almost 20 times now.
FRANKELAnd, you know, and then these days I'm going around and giving some book talks at cinemas, and I'm able to watch it on the big screen, and it's a whole different experience then.
REHMOh, boy. But the other thing, it seems to me, John Ford has done in this movie is to set the stage for what comes in the future western films which is always to create the white man as good guy and the Native Americans as the ugly people, rather than those from whom white Americans are stealing the land. Glenn Frankel. His new book is titled "The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend." We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we're going to hear two clips from that movie.
REHMAnd if you just joined us, Glenn Frankel is here. He's a written a movie. He's written a book about the movie, "The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend." Don't know how many of you have seen this movie with John Wayne. It's going to be at the top of my list and I'm sure many of yours now, because of Glenn Frankel's very, very close look at this movie. Let's hear a clip and this is really on the search Debbie. Set this up for us, Glenn.
FRANKELBasically, at this point, it's fairly early in the film. Debbie, as she's called in the movie, has been abducted by Comanches along with her older sister Lucy. And we don't -- we haven't seen them. We don't know what's happening but there are three men searching for them -- her Uncle Ethan played by John Wayne, the younger brother, the adopted younger brother played by Jeffrey Hunter, his name is Martin in the film, and then a third searcher, a young man named Brad who's Lucy's boyfriend. And who is -- the three of them are together, trying to find her and Debbie.
MR. HARRY CAREY JR.I found them. I found Lucy. They're camped about a half mile over. I was just swinging back and I seen their smoke. Bellied up a ridge and there they was right below me.
MR. JEFFREY HUNTERDid you see Debbie?
JR.No. No. But I saw Lucy, all right. She was wearing that blue dress and she...
MR. JOHN WAYNEWhat you saw wasn't Lucy.
JR.Oh, but it was, I tell you.
WAYNEWhat you saw was a buck wearing Lucy's dress. I found Lucy back in the canyon. Wrapped her in my coat, buried her with my own hands. I thought it best to keep it from you.
JR.Did they -- was she?
WAYNEWhat do you want me to do? Draw you a picture? Spell it out? Don't ever ask me. Long as you live, don't ever ask me more.
REHMGlenn Frankel, you talk about the acting that John Wayne does in this movie.
FRANKELI talk to Harry Carey, Jr., the actor who played Brad in that scene who's asking the question and Wayne is answering and he felt it was both his greatest moment in movies and John Wayne's as well. He said, Wayne was very serious on "The Searchers" set. Usually, you know, he drank a fair amount. He was a fairly happy go lucky guy. On this set, he was dark and in character all the time.
FRANKELAnd you can see in this particular -- in his response here, in the slow way he talks, the gaps between sentences that he's really deeply disturbed by what's happened and he doesn't have a good way of expressing it. But he's angry. He's stunned. Lucy's dead. Obviously, she's been sexually violated. It's the worst possible thing. And he has to, you know, convey this news. And when you see the expression on Wayne's face, this sort of helplessness in John Wayne, it's a very powerful moment.
REHMHe actually plays Ethan Edwards in the film. A character based on a real man named James Parker. So who was Parker and how does Parker fit into this story?
FRANKELWell, Parker was Cynthia Ann's uncle. He was one of the -- there were like a dozen children in this extended Parker family. He's the one who really is responsible, in many ways, for settling them in that rather big danger zone that they got in in East Texas.
REHMBoy, I should say danger zone.
FRANKELYeah, absolutely. He is sort of, you know, an American legend and then the telling of the Western story, there's the man who knows Indians, there's the backwoodsman who knows Indian lore and understands what Indians are about. Parker fancied himself one of those folks.
REHMAnd there are only about 40 people in this settlement.
FRANKELThat's right. That's right, including women and children. I mean, that's the thing about settling in the West and this prolonged struggle between Comanches and Texans. It wasn't a war of, you know, soldiers and armies, it was a war of families. It was a very intimate struggle, if you will. And your family was on the frontline. The other thing that's so frightening about it is it's not like the women and children or the old people were a sort of collateral damage.
FRANKELIf they got killed, you were so sorry but, you know, it's a war. They were the targets of the war. This was really a clash of civilizations. These were two nations -- Texans and Comanches -- who wanted to wipe each other out, wipe out their culture, wipe out their families. And so, James Parker becomes a soldier, if you will, in that particular war. He looks for Cynthia Ann for eight years. He writes a rather plaintive narrative about his search for her, but he never finds her.
REHMHe never finds her. So, Alan Le May, a hundred years later, gets interested in the story about Cynthia Ann Parker. And then you have John Ford getting interested in this novel. What made him such a great director?
FRANKELWell, John Ford, and he's recognized, I should add, as a great director. He won four Academy Awards for directing. That's more than any other director in the history of the Academy. Interestingly, none of them were for Westerns. And yet, as we look back from today, we look at his great Westerns, including "Stagecoach," including "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," including "The Searchers" as great, great films.
FRANKELFord had a wonderful visual sense. He had started in the silent movie era, when you had to, you know, really do it with pictures. So he was a great visual artist. But he also, especially as he aged, he was a great sort of poet of the Western, of the meaning of the Western. Westerns aren't just cowboys and Indians. They're sort of our myth about how our country was settled. This is a pioneer country.
FRANKELIt's very important, you know, for our ideology, if you will, that we went out, that we conquered, you know, and that we triumphed and that our values triumphed. And so, Ford, when he's giving you the John Wayne character, he's also giving you a sense of community of the people around them, of the women and the way they lived. And so, as...
REHMOf the white community.
FRANKELThat's exactly right. And he himself was the first to admit that when it came to Native Americans, even though he had a lot of respect for them, he is, as he said at one point, I killed a whole of them. They weren't, for most of his films, they weren't really fully formed characters. In "Searchers" they are killers, they are rapists. Over the course of the movie, we see other things going on. We meet a young Comanche woman who was treated a little differently.
FRANKELAnd then we see a Comanche village that's been slaughtered by cavalry. But we haven't met those people. They are, you know, we see the women and the men strewn out in the cavalry, having massacred them. But it's not like we have an intimate relationship with them as we did with the Edwards family, the people who are attacked at the beginning of the film. So even then -- and we do see the John Wayne character and the Comanche leader, a man named Scar, sort of become moral equivalents as the movie goes on.
FRANKELAnd when they finally meet, they're standing to each other and we see them both as sort of wounded warriors. What they share is a hatred. So there is some of that going on. But I would never argue that this is a movie that's fair to Native Americans. It's anything but.
REHMHow did John Ford change the book?
FRANKELWell, he, as I say, he darkened and strengthened the main character of Ethan. That's the fundamental thing that changes. He also changes the way the film ends. And I'm going to be on shaky ground here because I don't want to say how the film ends. But I will say that in the novel Martin, being the principal character, the younger searcher, triumphs and eventually comes out of it with the little, you know, with Debbie by rescuing her.
FRANKELThe movie ends very differently. And, again, the Wayne character is the dominant figure.
REHMHow much do we see of Natalie Wood in this film?
FRANKELWell, not very much, truth be told. Now, Ford was very smart. Besides having, you know, Wayne and Ford's usual stock company of actors like Harry Carey, Jr., he also invited some very attractive young people into this movie. Jeffrey Hunter who plays Martin Pawley, a very handsome man and does a very good job of holding the screen with Wayne. And then there's Natalie Wood, who's just coming off making "Rebel Without A Cause," for which she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
REHMWith James Dean.
FRANKELYes, with James Dean. Exactly. And she plays Debbie, the older Debbie. Her little sister, Lana Wood, plays Debbie in the beginning of the movie when she's kidnapped. And then Natalie Wood comes in. But we really only get two brief scenes with her. And, you know, she looks terrific but she looks like she's just been made up, you know, in Glamour magazine. She looks like Pocahontas as imagined in Hollywood.
FRANKELAnd so she only has two brief moments. Ford isn't concern with her. That's not what the story is about. It's about the searchers and it's really about the impact of all this traumatic violence on the families, on the survivors. It's the way they cope with it. Either they try to heal or, in Wayne's case, they try to kill.
REHMHow was the film received by the critics?
FRANKELWell, it got pretty good reviews. It did pretty well in the box office. But everybody missed the sort of racial, sexual connotations of it. The fact that the Wayne character really was a racist, the whole sexual aspect, the gender aspects of this, just in 1956, people weren't getting any of that. And it's really only over time, in the '70s and '80s that this movie, that the texture of this movie, you know, and the different layers of meaning going on here and the ambiguity of it all begins to emerge.
REHMSo when I watch it here in 2013, how will I be struck? What will I'd be most struck by?
FRANKELI think you'll be rather surprised at the Wayne character, at what a great role it is and how well Wayne plays it. I think our formation of Wayne, our feeling about him is formed in the '60s and early '70s, that guy with a toupee and he's kind of a self-parody. And he's working mostly with, often with second-rate directors. You're going to see a much different person in 1956. You're going to see a live, charismatic, vulnerable person.
FRANKELAnd particularly in this role which stretches him in all kinds of ways isn't sure what to do. It has conflicting things going on in his head. And Wayne gives you that. So you'll see this marvelous performance. You'll see the sort of psycho-sexual aspects of the story, which were always there in the original story of Cynthia Ann and in the novel. But Ford really raises them right to the surface.
FRANKELThat scene, you know, we played earlier, you know, was this woman raped, what happened. All of those questions are right at the top here in the film. One other, you know, thing that I need to mention that isn't in the novel, in the movie, Martin Pawley, the younger searcher is one-eighth Cherokee. He has Native American blood. And so that changes some of the meaning of what's going on.
FRANKELMartin is the moral compass in the movie. He's the one who holds the Wayne character up for examination. He's the one who's going to rescue Debbie to try to restore the family, not to kill. He's not seeking vengeance. And this clash between these two forces I think are the things that you will find most fascinating as the movie goes on.
REHMGlenn Frankel. His new book, "The Searchers" is all about the making of an American legend. We'll take some of your calls. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's -- here's a posting on the drshow website which says -- it's from Yeager who says: This is a horribly racist movie. I cannot believe it is considered one of the all-time great movies.
FRANKELLook, I think that it is, in many ways, it reflects the time it was made. John Ford is a man of that times. He's kind of your standard liberal, if you will. And Frank Nugent, the screenwriter, certainly is. But there's no question that the Comanches are treated, especially in the first half of the movie, as I said earlier, as rapists and killers. We don't know who they are. We know they're this evil force.
FRANKELAnd that's certainly a racist approach to who they are. Some people would argue it's a racist movie about racism, because it does make you think twice about Native Americans, because the John Wayne character is the ultimate racist in this film. And at the same time, Ford undermines his beliefs as the film goes on. Because, as I point out earlier, Martin Pawley is part Native American. It's a very unsettling film. I would never try to defend it as a modern -- as reflecting our modern sensibility about race or gender.
REHMWhat happens after Cynthia Ann Parker is kidnapped to the 40 people or 35 because you said five are killed? What happens to them? Do they remain in that place or do they disperse for safer ground?
FRANKELThey flee. They flee in panic in different groups. Some of them go off immediately. James Parker, the uncle, takes a number of women and children from the banks of the Navasota River and they sneak off. Some of them are barefoot. They're carrying the children. They've got no food and water and it takes them four or five days to get to the settlements that are in safer ground.
FRANKELAnd almost from the minute -- what's so fascinating is from the minute they arrive, they start telling the story of what has happened. And in their version there's at least 500, you know, Native Americans who've attacked them. They begin -- in other words, they begin to change little things here and there to justify what they did.
REHMThe legend begins.
FRANKELThe legend begins on day one. And one of the things that was so fascinating for me in researching the book was how each generation comes along and changes parts of the story to fit their own sensibility in their own needs. And we're still doing that today.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones. First to David in Fort Worth, TX. Good morning to you.
DAVIDGood morning. I have a question concerning the history of Cynthia Ann Parker. I grown up in Fort Worth, in primarily it's called Haltom City. And James Parker, I think, is buried on Birdville Hill, at the Birdville Hill Cemetery in what was known as Birdville, which is now Haltom City or East Fort Worth.
REHMIs that true?
FRANKELActually it's Isaac Parker, the uncle -- another uncle is there. Isaac is the one who, in 1860, actually goes to Camp Cooper and bring Cynthia Ann and Prairie Flower, her baby daughter, back to Birdville. And Birdville is the first place she lives for a couple of years with Isaac and then with one of his sons.
REHMHow does she fair after she is brought back?
FRANKELWell, it's a terrible time for her. She's kind of a semi-celebrity. And I want -- let me read you a little quote because it's very relevant, because it's from Fort Worth, where she was taken. A little girl leaves this messages, she was taken out of school and taken to a store in Fort Worth, where they see Cynthia Ann at a local retail store, quote, "She stood on a large wooden box surrounded by the curious spectators. She was bound with rope. She wore a torn calico dress. She made a pathetic figure. Tears were streaming down her face."
FRANKELSo in answer to your question, Diane, and then this thing about how was she treated, how did she feel, her family meant her no harm, her Texan family. They thought they had restored her to civilization and to Christendom. But she herself was miserable, as you can imagine. All she wanted to do was get back to her Comanche family, her husband, her children. That was her world. And she never was able to go back.
REHMGlenn Frankel, the book is titled, "The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend." Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd here we are going to listen to one of the few clips in which Natalie Wood's voice can be heard. Set this up for us.
FRANKELWell, the search has been going on now for something like six-and-a-half years when the two remaining searchers, Ethan the uncle and Martin the younger brother, finally get to the Indian camp and see Debbie for the first time. They know where she is. They set up camp nearby for the night and this is what happens next.
HUNTERDebbie, don't you remember? I'm Martin. I'm Martin, your brother. Remember? Remember back. Do you remember how I used to let you ride my horse and tell you stories? Don't you remember me, Debbie?
NATALIE WOODI remember for always. First, I prayed to you, come and get me, take me home. You didn't come.
HUNTERBut I've come now, Debbie.
WOODThese are my people. (unintelligible) Go. Go, Martin, please.
JOHN WAYNEStand aside, Martin.
HUNTERNo, you don't, Ethan. Ethan, no you don't.
REHMAnd that's quite a dramatic scene because Martin, so dismayed, is really getting ready to kill her.
FRANKELEthan is, yes. Wayne...
REHMForgive me, Ethan.
FRANKEL...Wayne is there to kill her, Martin is there to protect her no matter what. And one of the things so fascinating in the movie is the relationship between these two searchers. As Martin grows in moral stature over time and determination, he's along to stop this from happening. And Ethan has increasingly decided to it. And so it comes to the conflict right here. And again, I won't tell you what happens, but for the first time we really hear a little bit from Debbie. But really this scene is about those two men. It's not about her.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Jackie. She's in High Ridge, Mass. Good morning.
JACKIEOh good morning. Thanks so much. I have a comment about John Wayne. I cannot watch any of his movies at all or have -- I have no respect for him. When I was studying Native American -- researching the topic at University of Colorado, one of the books I came across, there was a quote in the very beginning that I'm paraphrasing. But he said a quote spoken by John Wayne he saw no reason why Native Americans deserve to have their lands.
FRANKELJohn Wayne is a complex figure. He's very conservative, right wing. There's a Playboy interview that that quote probably came from in the early 1970s where he talks about Native Americans. He also talks about African-Americans and, you know, the need for people to earn their right to be part of the society. You know, that's certainly part of who he was, no question. I think -- and everyone has to make their own decisions, as Jackie has, about whether they can -- when an artist or whether an actor or an author or -- you know, takes positions, how does that affect your watching what they do. And I can see why Jackie feels that way.
FRANKELAll I would say about Wayne is, before he becomes this sort of parody figure in the '60s he's a much more interesting actor. Being directed by people like Howard Hawks and John Ford who really stretched him and required him to do all kinds of -- and play interesting roles. And he embraced this role of this complicated man.
REHMWhen was the Playboy interview written?
FRANKELThat's, I believe, in 1970, Diane.
REHMSo fairly late.
FRANKELFairly late, but his attitude -- you know, he's a young man. He himself comes out West with his family and they settle in Glendale. And he ends up, you know, working outside of Hollywood. He's a self-made man and a self-made actor. Again, I'm not saying what choices people should make about what they watch or what they can even stomach watching. And there's no covering of Wayne's attitudes, but it's Wayne the actor that I'm focusing on.
REHMWhat about his personal life?
FRANKELHe was married at least three times. He had four children. He was married to Latina women. Had more than four children actually. I believe six altogether. He -- very early on he was a star in an early movie called "The Big Trail" that was not successful. And then he spent the next ten years making B westerns, grinding them out, but developing a persona, becoming the actor we know. Because he didn't start out being John Wayne, you know, who talks slowly. He watched other actors. He watched a man named Yakima Canutt, a stuntman who he worked with many times.
FRANKELHe developed this overtime and we tend to underestimate how difficult this was to do. And his breakthrough role in "Stagecoach" in 1939 directed by John Ford, you see a young, handsome, very live man, a very good actor with sort of bright shining eyes and expressions. And I would recommend anyone who hasn't seen much of John Wayne or who doesn't think much of John Wayne as an actor, to go back, start with "Stagecoach" and work your way up to "The Searchers."
REHMWe're going back and forth here between myth and reality but a number of people have asked about Cynthia Ann Parker's son who became the most famous Comanche chief.
FRANKELI'm awfully glad they brought that up because we haven't talked about Quanah Parker at all here. But if there's one saving grace in this sad, sad story of Cynthia Ann it's that her surviving Comanche son, who she never saw again, survived. And not only -- and at the time of roughly the Comanche surrender, which is 1875 and he comes to Oklahoma and settles there, he becomes a great leader of the remnants of the Comanche nation. They're down to only maybe 3,000 people.
FRANKELAnd some ways being a Comanche award of the state in 1875 was more treacherous ground to be in than to be a nomadic warrior at war with the United States. But Quanah cites his mother, the fact that he has a white mother and a Comanche father, as a reason why he becomes a sort of apostle of reconciliation. And he really helps preserve the Comanche nation in this most treacherous time. He becomes friends of wealthy ranchers and of Teddy Roosevelt. And he builds himself a beautiful house where he entertains white officials and dignitaries.
FRANKELAnd so he helps the Comanches get through this transitional period when they really could -- their entire culture could've vanished.
REHMWhat about her other children?
FRANKELWell, Prairie Flower, the little girl who is captured with her, dies at some point probably when she's four or five years old of typhus. So she's gone. And Cynthia Ann -- in the legend Cynthia Ann dies almost immediately of a broken heart. But in fact there's a census in 1870 where Cynthia Ann is listed. There's no obituary of Cynthia Ann. We don't know exactly when she died or how she died.
FRANKELThe third was a little boy named Pecos and he must've died again in one of these epidemics that really raced through and decimated the Comanche population in the 1860s.
REHMTo Liberty, N.C. Good morning, Ed.
EDGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
EDA longtime listener. I tell you, the show's addictive.
EDWell, you're touching -- getting back away from myth. I actually grew up in Texas and we always thought -- we were always told and taught that "The Searchers" was the story of Cynthia Ann Parker. And although it is a great movie and I love that one and "Red River," I was wondering if your guest -- and I'd direct your listeners to also read another book that's a scholarly work, trying to get closer to the actual story, the "Empire of the Summer Moon" by S.C. Gwynne. And it's about Quanah Parker and it goes much farther back.
EDIt includes the -- from the very beginning it talks about the Comanches. And, you know, they actually were rapists and murderers. That was kind of part of their culture in a way. They expanded their range.
REHMDo you agree with that statement, Glenn?
FRANKELWell, again, you've got to put everything in the context of this 40-year war of civilization between Texans and Comanches. Lots of terrible things happened on both sides. But it is true, the Comanches were great horsemen. They were great warriors, the best at horse warfare really. They were living out there in the limestone plains with very little resources. And they were very good to each other. If you were kinship -- if you had kinship ties you were well treated. But they treated outsiders very badly and very bad things did happen.
REHMHere's an email from Leah who says, "My great-grandmother told stories of forting up against the threat of Indian attack. It's hard to understand how settlers did not see their homesteading as taking the land the Comanche tribe so valued. It's a hard thing to reconcile."
FRANKELWhen you have a war like this, when you have two civilizations, they don't recognize the legitimate claims of the other. They don't even recognize the humanity of the other. Overtime an ideology -- you build up an ideology and a belief system that allows you to do whatever you have to do. And so the idea that this was somehow Native American land never occurred to the Parker's. They saw this as their Garden of Eden, their Promised Land. In other words, they had an ideology that allowed them to do those things and to move in that area.
REHMAnd Joe in Florida writes, "I saw this movie when I was 12. It's still very clear in my memory. I believe the indignation I felt at that age of the attitude the John Wayne character showed toward Native Americans laid the groundwork for my support for civil rights later in life."
FRANKELThat's a very interesting comment. Ford gives us those attitudes, of course, in the John Wayne characters, yet I would argue he's undermining them only almost from the beginning of the movie. He gives you the myth. He gives you the racism, if you will. He gives you something else as well. And you've got to make up your own mind as to who this guy is and how much you're going to identify with him, and why he does the things he does.
FRANKELSo in the end, each -- I think each viewer is going to have a different response to it.
REHMHere's an email from Charlotte in Maryland. She says, "My great-great-grandmother's diary, written when she was 18, said she was part of a wagon train that left from St. Louis. She tells of her pet canary escaping in the evening when the wagons were stopped for the night. She was in inconsolable until the next morning Indians returned the canary."
FRANKELThe relationship between these settlers and Indians was complex. We tend to over generalize and say, you know, it was war from the beginning. And yet sometimes people were welcome. Sometimes they were treated well. Sometimes they treated Native-Americans well. But it is a story of conquest. I mean, ultimately white settlers came in with their superior technology and they conquered native tribes. And a lot of damage was done. And, you know, you can't turn your eyes away from that or pretend that that didn't happen.
FRANKELThere are almost no Native-Americans left in Texas in part because of these long protracted wars. It was a 40-year war between Texans and Comanches. The longest war ever fought on American soil. And the damage to both sides was just intense.
REHMGlenn Frankel. His new book is titled "The Searchers." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Contoocook, N.H. and to Renee. Good morning to you.
RENEEGood morning. Perhaps Mr. Frankel was going to mention this, but I've read that in at least the 16th and 17th centuries and perhaps also the 18th, many of the children who were kidnapped by Native-Americans in battles, when they were in quotes "rescued" they did not want to return because the Native-American childrearing was so much more child-centered and child-friendly than the Puritan Massachusetts Bay culture, where they had to wear the stiff clothes and were not considered really children as they were in the Native-American world.
RENEEAnd there's a story that I have, someone in my family who as a young man was captured and cared for in a village and returned to take care of his Indian mother in her old age. So I thought it was very interesting...
RENEE...that there are many stories of children who would choose the Native-American life.
REHMThat's really so interesting, Glenn.
FRANKELYeah, it is, Renee. I mean, there are two points to make here. First of all, the captivity narrative of these stories of young people being spirited off by Native-Americans really was our first literary genre. The first one I think is from 1682, Mary Rowlandson writing about her -- the captivity of herself and her children by Narragansett Indians in New England. So we have this in James Fenimore Cooper and, you know, all the way through this is a great tradition.
FRANKELBut you're absolutely right. For a certain age of young person, especially boys, and girls maybe to a slightly lesser extent, it's like going to Summer Camp. I mean, definitely treated differently. I think so much depended on how long you were there because if you're brought back within the first year or so, you haven't lost your language or your memory of the past. And so much about what -- how you -- the circumstances you were taken. If you watched your parents being killed for example, then the trauma was much different and probably lasted a good deal longer.
REHMRenee, I'm glad you called. And finally to Norman in Palm City, Fla. Good morning.
NORMANHi. I just wanted to say that "The Searchers" is one of my favorite movies. And for 1956 when the movie was made I think it's very racial. It was ahead of its time because, you see, at the beginning of the story Ethan Edwards wants to find Debbie just to find her, to bring her back to her people. But as the movie progresses, his feelings change. He wants to kill her because she has lived with and presumably has had sexual relations with an Indian.
NORMANAnother point is that this movie is an iconic movie. Many other movies have been made based on this theme of a person who has been kidnapped but doesn't want to be found. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is an example of that kind of movie.
FRANKELWell, you're absolutely right. This movie did set the tone. The themes here are themes that started long before "The Searchers" and that have continued on. And one of the things of course that happened is that the same age when I was watching this movie, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and George Lucas were also seeing it. And they -- you know, it became a very formative moment for them as young filmmakers. And they...
REHMDid you talk with them?
FRANKELI didn't have the opportunity at the time, but I was able to quote them because they've been quoted in other places and in documentaries. Spielberg describes meeting John Ford at one point. Scorsese describes the first time he saw the film. It was a sacred feeling. And they quote from this movie in their own movies. He's right. You know, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" or "Taxi Driver," these all have big Searchers themes going on.
REHMGlenn Frankel. His new book is titled "The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend." What an interesting hour. Thank you.
FRANKELThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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