The Corner

Maureen Dowd, ‘The End of Awe,’ and John Wayne

 

Part of the columnist’s art is to find (or invent) connections between unrelated items in the news of the day. Maureen Dowd’s column of today is a classic of the genre: She connects British revulsion at Rupert Murdoch — to whom she refers as “the pope of Fleet Street” — with the angry speech last week by Irish PM Enda Kenny against the sex-abuse policies of the actual Pope and the Irish bishops. Both Murdoch and the Vatican, she says, are finally getting their much-needed comeuppance because their “aura of invincibility” and “hallowed mystique” have finally been punctured: “It is stirring to watch people who have long been cowed finally speaking up, shedding their fear of the authoritarian men at the top who owed their power to the awe of the people.”

I bring this up not because I wish to express an opinion about Maureen Dowd, Rupert Murdoch, or the Vatican’s sex-abuse policies — Heaven knows there’s been no shortage of opinions expressed on those topics — but rather because it reminds me of one of my all-time favorite Hollywood stories about awe. Even those I heard it from admit it’s possibly apocryphal, but I love it no less for that. The story goes that when John Wayne made a cameo appearance in the 1965 Jesus biopic The Greatest Story Ever Told, director George Stevens was unhappy with Wayne’s reading of a key line. Wayne was playing the Roman centurion who, at the Crucifixion, is converted because he realizes Jesus’s innocence and true identity. The line goes: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” The Duke was delivering the line in a rather flat way, not conveying the shattering majesty of the centurion’s realization; so director Stevens urged him “to put more awe into it.” Completely misunderstanding, the Duke in the next take — and here everyone who tells the story does an impression of one of the Duke’s most endearing mannerisms — says, “Awwwww, truly this man was the Son of God.”

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