One afternoon while playing cards at the Lakeside Golf Club of Hollywood, actors Forrest Tucker and John Mitchum, the brother of Robert Mitchum, persuaded John Wayne to ride into a recording studio and narrate John Mitchum’s patriotic poetry over musical accompaniment.
Mitchum, who died last week at 82, was a cowboy poet who appeared in some 50 movies and TV shows, among them “Dirty Harry” and “F-Troop.”
Wayne recorded tracks including “Why I Love Her,” “An American Boy Grows Up” and “The Pledge of Allegiance” during the summer of 1973. America was at its breaking point with the Vietnam War. Tony Orlando and Dawn had already rallied the troops with “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree.”
And now, partner, the events of Sept. 11 have done what was deemed impossible.
The Duke is back walking the walk and talking the talk.
Orland Park-based MPI Media has re-released the CD and audiocassette “John Wayne: America, Why I Love Her,” featuring all 10 tracks, digitally remastered by Michael Wayne, one of the Duke’s sons. They feature arrangements and adaptations by conductor Billy Liebert, a 1960s and ’70s member of the Sons of the Pioneers cowboy group, which once included Roy Rogers.
MPI is owned and operated by Waleed and Malik Ali, brothers who were born in Chicago but reared on the West Bank of Palestine.
Only in America.
“For Waleed, this was a way of saying, ‘We’re all Americans, we’re all in this together,’ ” Michael Wayne said in a rare interview from Hollywood, where he oversees his father’s business. “Actually, there was a lot going with this project.”
Waleed Ali’s family left Palestine for America in 1949. They were refugees who lived in makeshift camps in Jordan after the partition of Palestine. Ali’s father, Badie, settled at 51st and Ellis on the South Side and later sent for his family.
“When I was 10 my father thought we didn’t appreciate America enough,” said Ali, 51. “He arranged to take the whole family back, where we lived on the West Bank for six years. We lived in a village, and I went to school in a nearby city where I was educated by Quakers.”
Ali couldn’t wait to come back to America, and when he was 16, he returned on his own. “It’s interesting to me that patriotism has been embraced as a result of the events of Sept. 11,” he says. “But I believe our family has never taken America for granted.
“My father was right for letting us grow up in a part of the world where we had no running water. No electricity. There wasn’t any television. It wasn’t because we were poor. It was because that is how it was in that village. I guess the South Side of Chicago wasn’t tough enough. As Americans, we sometimes forget what it is we really have here. One might think such sentiments are corny, but they need to be heard.”
Ali sounds like a true-blue American.
Appropriately, Wayne said one of his father’s favorite tracks was “The Hyphen,” where Mitchum and Howard Barnes wrote: ” It seems to be when a man calls himself/An ‘Afro-American,’ a ‘Mexican-American,’ ‘Italian-American,’ ‘Irish-American’…/What he’s sayin’ is, ‘I’m a divided American.’ … If you use The Hyphen as a wall/You’ll make your life mean … and small.”
Wayne, 67, added, “My dad was pretty much aligned with everything on the record. The country was almost torn in two over the Vietnam War. He thought making this record would help bring the country together. He had a unique voice. You don’t doubt who it is.”
On the track “The People,” the Duke referenced Americans as diverse as Mahalia Jackson, Merle Haggard, Sandy Koufax, Louis Armstrong and Fred Astaire as part of the fabric of this country. ”My dad liked all music,” Wayne said. “He liked Ella Fitzgerald. Johnny Cash. I love the line about ‘Johnny Cash singing at the White House.’ This is 1973, remember. His brother had died, so he stuck in a line about Bob Morrison playing fullback for USC. [John Wayne was born in 1907 as Marion Morrison.] While John Mitchum wrote everything, if my father wanted to stick something in, he did.”
Wayne found another common thread that links Ali with his father.
MPI–Maljack Productions Inc., named after a television spy character–has been selling home video programming since 1977, which makes it the nation’s oldest independent home video company. MPI originally released the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Help!” and “Magical Mystery Tour” on home video.
“Waleed is the longest lasting independent, like we are,” Wayne said. “We started Batjac Productions in 1952 and we’re still here.”
John Wayne died in 1979. Ravaged by cancer, he received a standing ovation at the 1979 Academy Awards ceremony, where he presented the Oscar for best picture. The award went to the Vietnam film “The Deer Hunter.”
Courtesy of The Chicago Sun-Times