True Grit: A 50-Year Tribute, by the Ridgway Western Heritage Society, Ridgway, Colo., 2019, $20 plus shipping (for information on obtaining a copy, email the Ouray County Ranch History Museum at ocrhm.museum@gmail.com)

“Wow! If I had known that, I’d have put that patch on 35 years earlier!”

So quipped John Wayne when accepting the Academy Award for his performance as U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn in the 1969 film version of the Charles Portis novel True Grit. It was Wayne’s first Oscar. He had accepted the award in the past for director John Ford and fellow actor Gary Cooper. But despite having starred in 131 films to that date, been among the top box office draws for three decades and achieved iconic status as a Western actor, he’d been slighted by the “Academy.” It was certainly political, as the conservative was hardly shy about expressing his opinions. It was also personal. But in the end it didn’t matter a damn, as “Duke” might have put it, because he cared more about the people watching, not those judging. The warmth he shared with fans is one aspect that comes across loud and clear in this 50th anniversary retrospective of True Grit, filmed largely in and around Ridgway, Colo.

A labor of love by the Ridgway Western Heritage Society, the book is a wide-format compendium of photographs and firsthand accounts from the set and on location, including period articles from local newspapers that lend a very personal touch. Alongside quotes from author Portis and Wayne’s costars Kim Darby (Mattie Ross) and Glen Campbell (Texas Ranger La Boeuf) are remembrances from doubles, stunt performers, sign painters, security guards and locals fortunate enough to have been chosen as extras. (Ridgway itself was a stand-in for Fort Smith, home to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, under the real-life Isaac “Hanging Judge” Parker.) Ridgway resident Phil Martinez was 14 in 1969. His father worked as a part-time deputy, assigned to escort Wayne and entourage around town. Out of gratitude the actor invited young Phil and a friend to lunch with him every afternoon—provided they bring a different classmate each day. “He loved everybody,” Martinez recalls, “He gave everybody a slice of the mustard.” Montrose policeman Warren Waterman also provided security for the cast and crew, and he once asked Wayne if fans ever bothered him. “No,” came the answer, “people are what put me where I am at today. I owe it to them.”

The longest section of the book highlights the actor’s life and career and provides a rundown of Wayne-Ford film collaborations. Other chapters relate Colorado’s ongoing flirtation with the film industry, review the 2010 remake of True Grit and direct readers to locations and buildings used in the original. Movie buffs will appreciate the closing references, including a list of productions shot in western Colorado and a complete John Wayne filmography. 

—Dave Lauterborn