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John Wayne Rides To The Rescue

By Lloyd A. de Vries
The Virtual Stamp Club

Marion Michael Morrison better known to moviegoers as John Wayne is riding to the rescue once again, this time for the U.S. Postal Service.

Wayne will be this year's Legends of Hollywood stamp, after Spencer Tracy had to be dumped from the stamp program because his estate was uncooperative.

Click here for a larger version Virtual Stamp Club staffer Jay Bigalke two years ago found a design for a John Wayne stamp on the Postal Service Web site, but it wasn't until a slip by the Norfolk, Va., postmaster at a stamp show in late January that the Wayne stamp was all-but-confirmed. The issue was confirmed a week later.

The announcement by postmaster Richard Bennett, Jr., last Friday annoyed postal officials in Washington, but Bennett told VSC staffer Foster Miller he was just reading the speech that had been sent to him by headquarters. The news appeared on the VSC message board within an hour.

The design posted here in November 2001 is virtually the same as the final stamp image. The denomination and year date have been updated.

Originally, the USPS planned to use a 1949 portrait of Tracy, as he appeared in the film "Edward, My Son," but demands by his estate were said to derail the stamp. In fact, sources say given the estate's attitude, it is unlikely Tracy will ever appear on a U.S. stamp now.

No date has been set for issuance of the Wayne stamp, but it will be "unveiled" at the Odyssey Ball, a private fundraising gala for the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, on April 3, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

"More than an actor, John Wayne wore lots of hats - as a humanitarian, patriot, husband, father, director and producer - and is still one of the most popular Americans of the 20th Century," said David Failor, the Postal Service's head of Stamp Services, in a press release.

"On behalf of the family, I'm grateful and pleased that the Postal Service has chosen to remember our father by issuing a prestigious Legends of Hollywood postage stamp in his honor," said Ethan Wayne, one of John Wayne's seven children and general partner of Wayne Enterprises. "He would be glad to know he will be visiting the homes and businesses of millions of his fans every day."

The Legends of Hollywood series began with Marilyn Monroe (1995), and includes James Dean (1996), Humphrey Bogart (1997), Alfred Hitchcock (1998), James Cagney (1999), Edward G. Robinson (2000), Lucille Ball (2001), Cary Grant (2002) and Audrey Hepburn (2003).

The Robinson stamp also proved troublesome for the USPS: Because of a second marriage, the tough-guy actor has two sets of heirs, who could not seem to agree on anything regarding the stamp. The issue was postponed several times.

Even as late as the Friday morning of the announcement, postal officials had contingency plans for a different Legends of Hollywood subject if the negotiations with the Wayne estate had fallen through.

The Postal Service insists it never pays for the rights to honor a subject on a stamp, which has often proved to be a sticking point in negotiations with estates and heirs.

John Wayne was featured in more than 200 films, most of them as the lead. He began his career in 1925 as an extra and bit player in silent films. He became "John Wayne" for 1930's "The Big Trail." Director Raoul Walsh suggested "Wayne," and the studio picked "John."

He spent most of the 1930s making "B" westerns, but his role as the Ringo Kid in "Stagecoach" made him a star.

Wayne died in 1979 of cancer, just a few months after he made a last public appearance at the Academy Awards, presenting the Oscar for Best Picture. He won his only Academy Award himself for 1969's "True Grit."

"When people say a John Wayne picture got bad reviews, I always wonder if they know it's a redundant sentence," he once said, "(but) hell, I don't care. People like my pictures and that's all that counts."

He has been featured on an earlier U.S. stamp, marking Hollywood's watershed year of 1939 and his appearance in "Stagecoach."

2004 de Vries Philatelic Media

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