Hometown to celebrate Wayne at 100

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Wisconsin entertainers will be on hand at bash aimed at supporting museum

In his films, John Wayne liked to call people “Pilgrim.” Now the pilgrims are about to gather in his name.

They’re converging on his birthplace, Winterset, Iowa, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the actor, who remains an American movie icon almost 28 years after his death. And Wisconsinites figure large in the pilgrimage, Pilgrim. The celebration runs May 26 and 27, centered at the Madison County Fairgrounds and on the modest home where Wayne was born. The Duke would recognize his old homestead, which remains largely unchanged from May 26, 1907.

“In the Midwest we like to preserve things, and this house and town has a connection with John Wayne,” says former Milwaukeean Wayne Davis, one of the centennial coordinators. “We want to honor the memory of the world’s most famous movie star and the man who to most of the world represents the values that America stands for.”
Winterset hopes the centennial will raise funds to complete a John Wayne Museum here; a groundbreaking for the museum will be part of the event.

But as the Duke would decree, the real party will be rootin’ and tootin’, a cowboy fest filled with Wisconsin entertainment, including the John Wayne Birthday Wild West Revue, patterned after Buffalo Bill’s 19th-century extravaganza. The revue’s mastermind is Brian Downes, who brought the Buffalo Bill re-enactments show to Milwaukee’s Great Circus Parade fairgrounds in the past.

“All of us in the John Wayne Birthday Wild West Revue consider this performance the opportunity of a lifetime. We are determined that our show be as big and bold as the Duke himself and, with all of the imagery, all the gallop and gunfire, as exciting and memorable as the man we honor on his 100th birthday,” Downes says.

Musical entertainment will be not “country” but “cowboy,” and the headline singer is Wisconsin resident Michael Martin Murphey. Best known for his hit “Wildfire,” Murphey also runs a ranch near La Crosse and is helping produce the festivities.
Murphey marvels at the star power Wayne still possesses, even in a day when big screen Hollywood Westerns are as scarce as soft spots on an armadillo.
“John Wayne is part of America’s popular myth, the West as we wanted it to be. It’s what people dream about,” Murphey says.

Other Wisconsinites fill out the bill. Bob Stifter of Cedar Grove has portrayed Ivan the Black, a cossack in the czar’s light cavalry, for more than 10 years. He will pound the fairgrounds in a display of swordsmanship and riding all done in Wayne’s honor.
And Brown Deer’s Cathy Wagner, aka Annie Oakley, will bring her replica 1873 Winchester rifle to the fairgrounds for a display of trick-shooting Oakley herself would have admired. “We’ll have some new fancy shots and re-create some of the famous ones: the shot with Annie looking in a mirror, and shooting the cigar” out of an assistant’s mouth, she says.

Wagner will join other would-be Westerners who couldn’t miss a roundup like John Wayne’s birthday party for anything.
“Everybody loves John Wayne,” she says.


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