John Wayne Once Said It Was ‘Hard’ To Keep Up His Image with All of His Impersonators

by Joe Rutland

Back in the day, TV shows and nightclubs had impersonators. One actor whose voice and mannerisms always were popular to do was John Wayne.

In fact, Wayne talked about how those entertainers who “did” his voice made it tough for “The Duke” in a certain way.

“Well it’s hard to keep up my image,” John Wayne said in a 1976 interview with talk-show host Phil Donahue. “I can’t imitate all of my imitators so I’m afraid they won’t know the fellow who’s imitating.”

John Wayne Manages To Do Impersonation Of His Own Impersonation

Donahue mentions impressionists Rich Little, Frank Gorshin, and John Byner by name. He then asks Wayne how he would imitate, um, John Wayne.

After laughing for a minute, Donahue prompts Wayne by asking for a line.

“Well, alright pilgrim,” Wayne said laughing. Little, Gorshin, and Byner were well-known impressionists in the 1960s and 1970s. For classic TV fans, Gorshin’s name might sound familiar. He played “The Riddler” on ABC’s “Batman” series. Plus, Gorshin had a key role in a famous “Star Trek” episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”

Rich Little made a name for himself performing on variety shows, talk shows, and nightclub stages. One of his standard impressions was, of course, doing John Wayne and saying that line Wayne did. The ironic thing is that Wayne never said that actual line in any of his movies.

John Wayne died on June 11, 1979, at 72 years old. He won the Academy Award for his leading role in “True Grit” and starred in more than 50 western and military movies through his career.

‘The Duke’ Makes The Save For Clampetts On ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’

At one point, John Wayne started making a number of guest-star appearances on popular TV shows. One of them happened to be “The Beverly Hillbillies,” a definite place to be seen on TV thanks to the CBS show’s great ratings.

“The Duke” appears during the show’s fifth season. In an episode, Granny, played by Irene Ryan, prays for Wayne to show up. A land dispute breaks out after she receives a call from Cousin Pearl, played by Bea Benadaret. Granny thinks Indians are taking over the family land when, in reality, it’s a boundary dispute. Two Indians come to Beverly Hills to settle the Bug Tussle land case, but Granny wanted Wayne there.

Well, John Wayne shows up a bit late according to the episode synopsis. Granny keeps hoping “The Duke” will show up to fight off the attack. One that never happened, by the way. Wayne showed up at the end of the show, though, after everything had been settled.

Granny turns to the dapper-looking Wayne and says, “Where was ya when I needed ya, John?”

It seems “The Duke” didn’t ride into Beverly Hills on time. But John Wayne’s appearance, even at the end of an episode, made it must-see TV back in those days.