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John Wayne caught 'Between Scenes' with photographer Phil Stern

October 15, 2011 |  7:00 am


This post has been corrected; see note below for details.

A recent auction of memorabilia from John Wayne's estate brought in an estimated $5.4 million, testimony to his enduring status. Die-hard fans unable to snag a piece of the legendary movie cowboy can discover his gentler side at "John Wayne: Between Scenes," an exhibition of personal and private photographs by Phil Stern at the Phil Stern Gallery in downtown L.A.

The 38 images on display from Stern's collection of thousands reveal tender off-screen moments. Pictures include a sweet shot of Wayne stealing a kiss from daughter Marisa or relaxing with Gary Cooper in espadrilles and mod shorts on holiday in Acapulco. With the exception of the Acapulco images, published in Photoplay, the majority of photos has never been seen before by the public.

Stern met Wayne in the 1950s, and they quickly developed a longtime friendship. The two were diametrically opposed on matters of philosophy, politics and beliefs. Stern described their relationship as poster boys for "The Odd Couple." "He was ultra-right conservative, and I was ultra left," Stern said on a recent visit to his home office near Hollywood. "For reasons I don't understand he felt comfortable with me around, and we developed a certain amount of intimacy."

JWAcapulcoStern traveled the world with Wayne, including trips to Mexico, Germany, Italy and Africa, where he was filming "Legend of the Lost," with Sophia Loren.  He was given exclusive access to family functions and vacations.

"He was a mixed bag, like all of us. He had his tender, warm, loving moments, but he was also an S.O.B.," said Stern, recalling an incident in which he witnessed Wayne fire a set photographer on the spot. "He was very tenacious about protecting his identity as a western, macho he-man. He would not allow anyone to make fun of that except himself. "

See a photo gallery of Stern's images of John Wayne.

Born in 1919 in Philadelphia, Stern began his career in his teens freelancing for Look, Life and Colliers, magazines.

In 1942, he joined the elite Army unit "Darby's Rangers," spending two years as a combat photographer documenting their battles in North Africa and invasion of Sicily.

After the war, he quickly established himself as a Hollywood insider, working with some of the biggest stars of the day, including James Dean and Marlon Brando, along with countless jazz musicians such as Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. Many of his famous celebrity photos continue to be used in ad campaigns including a recent Converse ad featuring James Dean.

JWTrueGritEthanStern, who wakes every morning with a youtube video of the Bolshoi Ballet, was handpicked by Frank Sinatra to chronicle John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961 and snapped what is believed to be the only images of a pregnant Marilyn Monroe (the actress miscarried).

The Phil Stern gallery debuted in January with a show of JKF's inauguration photos.

"We opened the gallery because I'm 92 years old, and I'm aware that somewhere along the line I did something right. I have material that seems to have a life of its own," he said.

The exhibit runs through Dec. 10.


John Wayne Memorabilia Set for Auction.

Artistry on the Sly

 — Liesl Bradner

The Phil Stern Gallery. 601 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles, CA 90014. 213/488-0138. Tue.- Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

[For the record: An earlier version of this post mistakenly had an incorrect name for the ballet comapny Stern wakes up to. It is the Bolshoi Ballet.]

Photos: From top, John Wayne, Pilar, Aissa, Ethan and Marisa in the late 1960s. John Wayne, Acapulco 1959. With son, Ethan on set of "True Grit," 1969. Credit: ©Phil Stern /CPI Phil Stern Gallery.