RIDGWAY, COLORADO – Fifty years ago, a lot of big things happened.
Man reached the moon for the first time. Woodstock was staged, and it’s still with us in many ways.
Also, 50 years ago, a remarkable film was released starring John Wayne. Based on the novel by Charles Portis, “True Grit” has become one of the best loved Westerns of all time and the one for which the Duke finally got his Oscar as best actor.
In Ridgway, Colorado, where much of the movie was filmed, the community is going all out during the second weekend in October to honor the 50th anniversary of “True Grit.” The Old Town portion of Ridgway stood in for Fort Smith, Arkansas, and many sites are still there, including the park where hangings were held, the jail wagon, the railroad depot and the saloon where the villain Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey) shoots the father of teenager Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) in the street.
That event triggers the film’s theme, which is Mattie’s courageous and relentless pursuit of justice. She’s aided by Wayne and Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Glen Campbell), who have baser motives (reward money) but, like Han Solo in “Star Wars,” come through in the clinch. By the way, just as Ridgway has no “e,” LeBouef has no first name.
The story is so good that the Coen Brothers made a more accurate albeit far-less scenic remake in 2010 starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld.
Ridgway’s True Grit Cafe is a veritable shrine to Wayne, who died in 1979 at the age of 72 from cancer. He had already lost a lung before the filming, but went on to make “Rooster Cogburn” (1975) and his last movie, “The Shootist” (1976).
When people do something big, it often leaves a legacy of good or ill. Woodstock, which culture critic Rabbi Daniel Lapin describes as a “finger in the eye of God,” gave us some memorable pop music.
But the dark side of Woodstock left its mark. All too many baby boomers believed the lies of the sexual revolution and drug-themed music and became charter members of the Me Generation. The resulting wreckage — abortion, sexual anarchy, broken families, recreational drug use and perpetually adolescent citizens looking for handouts and someone else to blame — is Woodstock’s enduring curse.
Colorado, blessed with stunning Rocky Mountain beauty, is a potent cultural mix of John Wayne and Woodstock.
The Duke’s imprint is seen in the proud, independent Western culture all over the state. In a gun shop in Vallecito Lake in southwest Colorado, a woman shopkeeper happily showed me a lightweight AK-47-type rifle imprinted with “Snowflake” and “Beto,” after the Texas Democrat who is openly calling for the government to confiscate these types of rifles. American flags are everywhere. Washington, D.C., seems far, far away.
But you also see the state veering politically from purple to blue. Marijuana dispensaries and head shops are all over Denver and Colorado Springs. They’re springing up even in remote mountain towns, along with Bernie stickers, which makes perfect sense. Bernie is selling a free ride; stoned people are not in the best frame of mind to defend their freedom against a sugar daddy government bent on creating a dependent population.
Sure, plenty of potheads distrust The Man and have figured out that big government is not their friend. But those folks lean libertarian, sucking away votes from conservatives and allowing Democrats to continue to build toward a Godless, socialist America.
The Democrats are now Woodstock on steroids. Get free stuff; smoke all the pot you want; watch all the porn you want; kill all the babies you want; change your God-given sex if you want. We’ll even rig the law to force others to pretend with you. Just don’t complain when we run the rest of your lives.
Back in John Wayne country, you see his witticisms on plaques and mugs: “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” “Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid.” And: “Never apologize and never explain; it’s a sign of weakness.”
Few people in Ridgway today were around when the movie was made. Visitors center volunteer Rick Gregory, 73, has spoken to several. He said they found the Duke far friendlier in person than his flawed, on-screen persona, federal Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn. “He was very human, very popular, he made time for people,” Mr. Gregory said, noting that when a production crew member’s car broke down, Wayne bought him a new one.
Ridgway and nearby Ouray, where the courtroom scene was filmed, seem more Wayne than Woodstock. Near Owl Creek Pass (altitude 10,114 feet), you can easily find Deb’s Meadow, the aspen-ringed field where Wayne as Rooster Cogburn charges his horse at four armed outlaws while firing a rifle in one hand and a revolver in the other.
It takes faith and courage — true grit — to dare big and do great things. John Wayne did it superbly on screen.
The American astronauts who thrilled the entire world on July 20, 1969, risked their very lives. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were undoubtedly scared to death.
But they saddled up anyway.
• Robert Knight is a contributor to The Washington Times.