John Wayne: A unique American hero

Edelstein's top pick? John Wayne. "Pure American swagger," he said. "Didn't move too well, wasn't much of an actor, but he spoke with the might of the U.S. government in the West and in various wars. Although I personally prefer, say, Gary Cooper's true fear in 'High Noon,' it's John Wayne's true grit that came to define power onscreen." Left: John Wayne in John Ford's classic western, "The Searchers" (1956).
Warner Brothers

For fans who can't get enough of the movies of John Wayne, there will be an opportunity later this week to acquire a piece of his private life, as John Blackstone is about to show us:

We knew him on the big screen as the cowboy ... the co-pilot ... The Green Beret colonel.

But the private John Wayne stood just as tall as the characters he played.

"Life with him was, at least for me, an adventure," said Ethan Wayne - John Wayne's youngest son.

"We didn't live in Hollywood; we lived at the beach," he told Blackstone. "We didn't have bodyguards. If we heard noise on the dock, we'd get guns and we'd walk outside and we'd say, 'Who the hell is out there?'"

John Wayne was - and, 32 years after his death, still is - one of this country's most popular actors, ranking third just this year in a poll of America's favorite movie stars (after Johnny Depp and Denzel Washington).

"John Wayne was not only the most important film star of the 20th century in America - he was actually one of the most important Americans of the 20th century," said John Powers, film critic for Vogue magazine.

"He defined an entire sense of manhood, authority, and powerful control of self in the situation that people yearned to have protect them - and yearned to be themselves," Powers said.

Now, for the first time, those admiring fans have a chance to take a little piece of John Wayne's history home with them. Personal items his family has stored for decades will be sold at a public auction later this week in Los Angeles.

"What compelled you to start selling your father's things?" asked Blackstone.

"I just thought it was natural to let some of this go out and live with people who will really appreciate it," Ethan Wayne said.

John Wayne memorabilia on auction block

There are letters from famous friends ... scripts ... and costumes. The outfit from "McLintock!" The cap from "The High and the Mighty." An eye patch from "True Grit," the 1969 film for which he won his Oscar.

Backstage at the Academy Awards, Wayne remarked, "I didn't think I was gonna get excited about this thing, but you get all gooey!"

At an auction preview in Dallas, fans still speak of Wayne with reverence.

"I love John Wayne. Love him," said Stanley Baker. "I watch the movies. I can say the script before HE does. I knew all the scripts."

"He does do that," affirmed Nancy Baker. "He finishes the lines."

Case in point: Baker quoted one of Rooster Cogburn's most famous lines: "Fill your hands, you son of a b----!"

"If you had told me 30 years ago that my father's celebrity and popularity would be as big as it is today," said Patrick Wayne, "I would have said, 'You're crazy!'"