Interview with Gretchen Wayne
TCM: When did you first meet John Wayne and what were your first impressions of him?
Gretchen Wayne: I met John Wayne in 1950 while I was a student at Immaculate Heart High School. His daughter Toni and I were classmates. There was a school play and he had come to watch Toni's performance. I remember being in the back of the auditorium and being introduced to him. He was very kind, polite, tall and low key. He wasn't the kind of person that sought to attract attention to himself. However, he did just by his very presence.
TCM: Was your husband Michael already producing films when you first met him or was he still working as an assistant on your father-in-law's films?
GW: No. We were in high school -- went on a blind date to a school dance. I was 14 and he was 15. We dated off and on through High School and steadily through college.
TCM: What was the first John Wayne film you remember Michael working on after you were married?
GW: That film would be "The Alamo."
TCM: Did you often visit the sets of Wayne's movies and if so, do you have any favorite anecdotes about anything you experienced or saw while there?
GW: No, I did not often visit the sets or go on location. However, I did visit the location of "The Alamo" and took a three month old baby to Bracketville, Texas. We stayed for about a month and it was an incredible experience.
TCM: I read where you and Michael appeared on the TV show "You Bet Your Life" with Groucho Marx. What are you memories of that event?
GW: Horrendous! We were on that show exactly one month after we were married. I was teaching school in the LA city school system and Michael was an assistant director for Review Productions at Universal Studios. We thought for sure that together we would win a lot of money because we wanted to put a new roof on the little house we had just purchased. That was not to be the case. Because I was teaching school to junior high school students, I did not want to choose an academic subject. One of the categories was Latin phrases and I tried to encourage Michael to select that category because he had received straight A's in four years of Latin. So, we did the logical thing and chose Nursery Rhymes. Needless to say, they were rhymes I had never heard of. We were asked, finally, who was buried in Grant's Tomb and I think we won $100 for our efforts. The VHS of that show is floating around somewhere.
TCM: Of all the Batjac film productions Michael worked on, which one do you think was the most satisfying for him in terms of the experience and the film's reception?
GW: That would be the first film that he produced, "McLintock!" He was 27 years old and given the opportunity to produce a John Wayne film which was, indeed, a big thrill and challenge. He brought it in under budget and ahead of schedule and it was tremendously successful. It came out just after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The country was looking for a little levity and "McLintock!" filled the void of a country's sorrow.
TCM: What was Michael's working relationship like with his father on the films they made together? Did they have creative differences or often share the same point of view? Was it difficult to put the father-son relationship aside while they were working?
GW: Because they were very much alike and shared a similar philosophy in terms of work, the only differences really would be financial. Michael wouldn't spend money unnecessarily and sometimes his father wanted certain things in a scene to make it more effective and Michael might have thought at times it wasn't necessary. As to whether it was difficult to put the father son relationship aside, I don't believe that was ever a problem. After all, Michael handled all of his father's financial affairs, ran his company and therefore became the person that he could depend upon.
TCM: Most of the Batjac productions are out on DVD now but a few of them are still missing in action. Are you working on bringing these out on DVD soon? For example, "Good-bye, My Lady", "Gun the Man Down," and "China Doll."
GW: I'm not sure who owns "Good-by My Lady" -- it might be Warner Bros. It's a charming story and it should be released. "Gun the Man Down," "Escort West" and "China Doll" are going to be distributed by MGM. These are very, very early Batjac produced films.
TCM: Were you the guiding force behind the DVD box set that came out last year, The Batjac Suspense Collection (which included "Ring of Fear, Man in the Vault, Plunder of the Sun, & Track of the Cat")?. Those were offbeat films and unusual choices for Wayne 's production company. I don't think many people know that the Duke produced several films in which he didn't star. Do you have any insight into what his vision was for Batjac? How did he develop projects there? Did he simply make the films he wanted to make or try to gage the public's interest in certain types of films?
GW: Yes, to use your words I was the guiding force behind the Batjac Suspense Collection. They weren't unusual choices for John Wayne's production company, because they were character driven stories, a little like film noir. People don't realize that he really chose the stories based on character. I agree that people didn't know that John Wayne produced films. Some of the first films that he produced were for Republic Pictures, one being "The Bullfighter and the Lady" directed by the acclaimed director, Budd Boetticher and the other being "Angel and the Badman." In mentioning Budd Boetticher, he also directed the Batjac produced film, "Seven Men From Now," which has become a cult film. His vision, I suppose, for Batjac was to provide good entertainment stories with interesting characters, work with writers he was comfortable with, and there were several, and make a return on his investment. I don't think he ever used public interest as a bellwether for his selections. Most important was good family entertainment.
TCM: Of all the film restorations from the Batjac partnership you have been involved with, which one has been the most difficult and challenging to bring to DVD?
GW: Without a doubt it has to be "The High and The Mighty." There was tremendous water damage in our film vaults and three reels of film were completely destroyed. While my husband, Michael, was alive, the technology was not available to restore this film. But as a good steward of his films, he had over the years, restored and protected his prints. In the late 70's he created separation masters for the film. In the 50's it was not a common practice to make separation masters. In fact, the film was often reused for other things. So his instincts to protect what he had served him well because with those separation masters we were able to recombine and fill in the gaps of the missing reels. However, film is like a living thing in that it must be protected. It gets old, it gets brittle and it gets dirty and it needs to be cared for. So while we could restore the film and while we could recombine the missing reels, the end product was not satisfactory to me. That's why we went to a digital process which is relatively new in the world of film restoration. "The High and The Mighty" is a hybrid, if you will. It's restored film, digital restoration of recombined reels, as well as the optical sequences and the end result is a film that we are happy to bring back to the public.
TCM: What is your own personal favorite John Wayne film?
GW: I would say I love "The Quiet Man". I love "The Searchers" and "Hondo."
TCM: Did you find John Wayne the actor quite different from the man you knew as your father in law? Or was he very similar to his movie persona off-screen as well?
GW: My husband, Michael, was fond of saying, "Only the wardrobe changed from film to dinner table." I guess people are not aware of the fact that he was very sensitive and had a soft, kind side to him. Vulgarity displeased him and he truly was a man who loved his family, loved his country and I guess that's why he is so comfortable playing those types of characters on screen.
TCM: Did you ever have any interest in appearing in any of Wayne 's movies or did you ever appear as an extra?
TCM: Do you have any association with the John Wayne Birthplace Museum & Learning Center in Iowa ? Do you have any plans to curate a John Wayne museum? I think his fans would love to see an archive that housed props and items from his films, family photos, audio recordings and other things of interest from his life.
GW: The answer to all of the above is no.
Interview conducted by Jeff Stafford