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Who has the b@!!s to remake a John Wayne film?

October 6, 2010

Well, the Coen Brothers do.

I am a huge fan of the American Western. Westerns fascinate me because it is the only genre that is ours. 100% American. I know that sounds like typical American arrogance, but it really isn’t. It is the result of my personal love of my country’s history. I’m such a fan that my wife and I made quite a few side trips on our last vacation. Some of these less than convenient deviations led us hundreds of miles across deserts and mountains, in order to visit towns with names like Deadwood, Cheyenne, Rapid City, and Kenab. (Read about Kenab here) I just like westerns that much.

How do most westerns begin? Generally they open on a man dwelling on something from his past. Often times this man is not proud. He led a tumultuous life which was full of regret, tragedy and violence. Something occurs that reignites his instinctive need to right a wrong, avenge a crime, or see something that is potentially dangerous through to the end, and all of this happens in a lawless land. Seeing the new trailer for True Grit caused me to dwell on something from my past. It transported me back to a bar in Manhattan about a decade ago. Yeah, I know. It all seems unrelated. What The F#@K does a New York bar have to do with a re-make of True Grit?

I’ll elaborate.

I used to know a man by the name of Roscoe Lee Browne. He was an actor who had a voice made for the theater and was just about, if not, the coolest person I ever met. He and I frequented the same Irish Pub in Manhattan, and we were a perfect pair when we were both there. Roscoe loved to tell stories, and I love to listen to them, and man did Roscoe have great stories.

This poorly lit bar had a corner on each end, and when you sat there you had a view of everyone sitting along the long portion of the bar. Roscoe always sat on one of the corners. The first night I met Roscoe he helped me with ‘the pitch.’ He wanted to know what sort of screenplays I was working on. He wanted to know what they were about. He wanted to know who I imagined playing each role. Before I knew it, he was teaching me how to talk about my projects.

“Always look them in the eye.”

“Always be excited about it.”

“Always be positive.”

He was one of the first people to tell me to remove “um” “like “uhhhh” and filler sounds from my conversational language. A Hollywood legend was telling me how to get people to listen. It was pretty amazing. Over the next year or two we talked about movies over martinis and beers in this little 57th street bar.

One my favorite subjects to listen to Roscoe talk about was his friend Marion Morrison, or as he called him, Duke, or as we all know him, John Wayne. Roscoe and Duke worked on the film The Cowboys and remained friends until Duke’s death in 1979. He told me about how Duke called him once in the middle of the night, fairly close to his death, to tell him “not to take any shit from anybody.” He then, looking me straight in the eye and passed that advice onto to me. He told me “Robert. Don’t take any shit from anyone.” So in a way, I got advice from one Hollywood Legend via another Hollywood Legend. Trippy right?.

Roscoe as a spy in Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz

On another evening we were discussing the lack of stories in Hollywood. Everything in theaters at the time was formulaic and obvious. This of course segued into talking about classics (which is what I always wanted Roscoe to talk about), and the possibility of remakes. We discussed Hitchcock and the recent Dial M for Murder remake, A Perfect Murder. He told me that a “Hitchcock film is not a Hitchcock film without Hitchcock.” Roscoe shared with me what it was like to be on a real Alfred Hitchcock set. He was in Hitchcock’s Topaz in 1969.

The conversation then came back around to his friend Duke. For the same reasons as Hitchcock, we agreed that it was nearly impossible to remake a John Wayne film. There wasn’t an actor that could fill those shoes. You can’t make a John Wayne film without John Wayne.

Roscoe Passed away three years ago. He left a collection of film and TV appearances that any actor would be envious of.

I saw the Coen Brothers’ trailer for True Grit yesterday. It looks like a fantastic film. Is it going to be a John Wayne film or a Coen Brothers film or maybe something in-between? We’ll just have to see.

True Grit 2010 Trailer

True Grit 1969 trailer

And a clip of Roscoe talking about his first audition:

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Apryl permalink
    October 6, 2010 6:59 pm

    I don’t like typical “westerns” and that looks pretty awesome. I think you/we should go see and then go to that bar, sit in the corner and decide if Roscoe would have liked it.

  2. October 8, 2010 7:33 am

    There’s not much to say except that this was a really great article – I love the direction in which this blog is heading. More of the same, please!

    I loved reading about Roscoe and will watch that footage later when I am at home – He seemed like a really rare and fascinating character. It’s also intriguing to read about the different sources (individuals and places) from which people draw their inspiration. I’d agree with that advice regarding not taking the proverbial from anyone – I think once you know your own mind, then ignoring other people’s crap come naturally without effort! Do you mind me asking you what the name of the pub was? If you’d rather not name it, don’t worry – Sometimes it’s better to keep these places private and atmospheric, rather than a haven for bohos!

  3. October 8, 2010 8:14 am

    Thanks for the very kind response Roisin! You made me blush a little. I’ll try to give more of the same. I try to relate my movie experiences to personal experiences as much as possible, and this just sort of flowed out. It was exactly what I thought of the moment I saw the True Grit trailer.

    The name of the bar was left out primarily because I haven’t been there in years, and can’t vouch for its greatness or un-greatness. It is called Kennedy’s and is on West 57th Street in Manhattan between 7th and Eight Ave on the North side of the street. It is (was?) owned and operated by some terrific Irish Americans. The owners name was Michael. It is one of those pubs in NYC that provides a perfect relaxing setting for a celebrity. They come in, grab a beer and nobody bothers them. Roscoe and I just ended up sitting next to each other so often that we had to strike up a conversation.

    Over the years I met/ saw actors, directors, musicians, directors, writers, all come and go. I spoke to some and let others just enjoy their drink. One evening I was given unsolicited advice from a yelling Robert “Freddy Kruger” Englund, and he just wouldn’t leave me alone. He spits a lot while he talks and is a ‘close talker’ I kept trying to get away because, well, he’s Freddy Kruger.

    Off to Comic Con Now! Will post about that later I’m sure.

    • October 8, 2010 8:50 am

      I’ll have to pay a visit to Kennedy’s! I’ll sit on a seat and imagine I’m Roscoe 🙂

      Have a great time at Comic Con – Looking forward to reading that post!

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