Welcome to my post for Big Stars on the Small Screen, a blogathon hosted by How Sweet It Was in celebration of those larger-than-life movies stars who appeared on television.
At six-foot-four, John Wayne was a big star literally as well as figuratively. Wayne was one of many movie stars who had guest spots on I Love Lucy during the episodes that were set in Hollywood. The main characters traveled to California because Ricky got a movie role and was in L.A. filming. Over the course of their stay, celebrity-stalker Lucy encountered Bill Holden, Richard Widmark, Harpo Marx, Van Johnson, and others, and had zany adventures with all of them. But I think my favorite antics were the ones that revolved around the theft of John Wayne’s footprints. The story spanned the first two episodes of Season 5, though Wayne himself only appeared in the second one.
You Know What They Say About Big Feet
At the start of the first John Wayne-themed episode, “Lucy Visits Grauman’s,” the group has been in California for a while, and their merry adventures in Hollywood seem about to come to an end; Ricky has finished the picture and is ready to go home. But Lucy convinces him to let them stay one more week so that she can complete her souvenir collection, which already includes such treasures as an orange autographed by Robert Taylor. Lucy is also determined to see all the sights they haven’t yet seen, which is how she, Ethel, and Fred wind up at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where the concrete forecourt is filled with celebrity footprints and autographs. The three takes turn stepping into the various footprints.
“Oh, my feet are smaller than Joan Crawford’s!” says Lucy, pleased with her own daintiness.
Ethel steps into the famous actress’s prints. “Mine aren’t,” she says.
“My feet are smaller than Gary Cooper’s,” says Fred.
Ethel steps into the prints. “Mine aren’t,” she says. The insinuation is that she has big, mannish feet, and it’s not the last time that Ethel’s femininity will be called into question before these two episodes are through.
Lucy steps into Wayne’s footprints. In the first of numerous plugs for Wayne’s 1955 film Blood Alley, she says, “Oh, we’ve got to see his new picture, Blood Alley. I hear it’s just wonderful! He plays the part of a daring adventurer and… His block is loose!”
With this discovery, a lightbulb appears over Lucy’s head. “I’m going to take home a souvenir to end all souvenirs: John Wayne’s block!” As usual, Ethel resists getting dragged into the scheme, until Lucy bribes her with a promise to let her keep the footprints under her bed every other week.
Later that night, the two return to Grauman’s with a crowbar and a bucket of quick-drying cement to fill the hole. Just as they have managed to lift the block, an annoying tourist couple approaches. Lucy and Ethel hurriedly drop the block back into place, but Lucy’s fingers get stuck beneath it. While Lucy crouches and grimaces, Ethel sits down on the cement and drapes her skirt over Lucy’s hand.
The male tourist—we later find out his name is Mr. Massey—boasts to his wife, “I’m bigger than any of these he-men.” His feet are bigger than Gary Cooper’s, he says. (Big deal, so are Ethel’s.) Then he claims to have bigger feet than John Wayne. If Mr. Massey had a crystal ball, I’m sure he would be dismayed to learn that shoe size/penis size correlation would be proven false in 1993 in the landmark study, “The Relationships Among Height, Penile Length, and Foot Size.” After measuring 63 men, the study’s authors concluded that “height and foot size would not serve as practical estimators of penis length.”
But back in 1955, Massey asks Ethel if she’s “sitting on John Wayne.” Ethel denies it.
“She’s sitting on Bill Holden,” Lucy fibs. “She’s president of the Bill Holden Fan Club, and once a year she comes here to sit on his signature.”
Mrs. Massey looks scared of the crazy ladies. “Come on honey, let’s get out of here,” she says to hubby, and they scurry away. If she thinks Lucy and Ethel are crazy and scary, she should come to where I live. We’ve got bona fide paranoid schizophrenics here who lunge at you, shouting loud curses and arguing with the voices in their heads. The woman obviously leads a sheltered life.
Anyway, Fred shows up, intending to catch Lucy and Ethel red-handed. When two policemen appear, Lucy, Ethel, and Fred take cover in the bushes. Naturally, Lucy’s foot winds up in the bucket of cement, which promptly hardens.
Back at the hotel, there is a bit where Lucy tries to hide her cement-encased foot from Ricky, who then manages to chip away the cement. When he finds out all that’s gone down, Ricky demands that Lucy return the footprints to the theater. Once again the cops drop by, but this time, the block gets dropped and broken into pieces, and Lucy’s fanny is what winds up encased in cement. Thus ends the first episode.
Who Are You Calling Frowzy?
The second episode in the story arc, “Lucy and John Wayne,” opens with the characters reading about the footprint theft in the newspaper.
Ricky reads aloud, “Police are searching for two women who were seen loitering in the forecourt around 1:30 am by Mr. and Mrs. Irving Massey of New York City… Mr. and Mrs. Massey described the two women as ‘a middle-aged dishwater blonde and a wild-eyed, frowzy redhead.’”
Now, I have never heard the word “frowzy” used anywhere outside this episode of I Love Lucy, but it is a real word. It means “scruffy and neglected in appearance.” I would never use that word to describe Lucy, who takes great care with her appearance. Isn’t she always buying smart-looking hats and dresses and then hiding them from Ricky because they cost so much? So I went back to see what she had on at Grauman’s, and she was wearing pants and a blouse with the sleeves rolled up. That passes for “frowzy” for a woman in 1955, I guess.
Ricky calls Grauman’s and rats out Lucy and Ethel. The person at Grauman’s says they won’t press charges if the the footprints are returned—which they can’t be, because they were smashed to bits. But the footprints need to be at the theater by that night in time for the premier of Blood Alley.
Fred thinks he’s solved the problem when makes forgery using Ethel’s shoes. You remember what big feet she has, and what that implies. But in fact, Wayne used cowboy boots, so Ethel’s shoes won’t work. Also, Fred has misspelled Wayne’s name “Wain.”
Then Ricky suddenly remembers that he knows “Duke” (that’s what Wayne’s friends call him) and has had lunch with him at the studio a few times. He’ll just ask him! How refreshingly simple and honest. Wayne obligingly heads over to the Ricardos’ hotel room to make a new set of footprints in a block of cement Ricky and Fred have prepared.
Before Wayne gets there, Fred says, “Say, Rick, is it really true that John Wayne is as tough as he appears to be on the screen?”
Ricky says, “Well, he’s pretty big and well built.” Hee.
“Yeah, well I heard a fellow in the barber shop say the other day that when you shake hands with John Wayne, it’s like putting your hand in a vise,” says Fred, adding that he has a pretty good grip himself. Ricky makes him promise not to “act like a cornball.” Fred exits to get Ethel’s autograph book.
“It’s sure great of you to help me out this way,” Ricky says to Wayne when he arrives.
Wayne, who towers over Ricky, says in his trademark deep voice, “Well I’m glad to. I’m very flattered that your wife is such a fan of mine, stealing my footprints.”
Before Fred returns, Ricky warns Wayne that Fred is going to test his grip. Wayne agrees to humor Fred, and he crumples when Fred grips his hand.
Some time after Wayne leaves, Lucy and Ethel return from the beauty parlor, both with heads full of curlers. Seeing the wet cement, they assume that is another forgery by Fred. Lucy smooths it out with the trowel. Fred and Ricky enter the room and tell the women that Wayne was there. Then Ricky sees the smooth surface of the cement, gasps, and screams “No, no!” as his eyes pop out of his head.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Lucy wails.
Fortunately, Wayne has not left the hotel. Though mortified, Ricky goes to fetch him. While they wait for Ricky to return with Wayne, Lucy and Ethel swoon over how “big and strong and rugged” Wayne is.
“He may be big and strong and rugged, but I’m bigger, and stronger, and ruggeder!” Fred puffs. “When I gave him the iron grip, he went right down to his knees. Here, I’ll show you.” He takes Ethel’s hand, and she leaves him writhing on the ground, proving once again that she has the bigger penis.
At this point, Lucy and Ethel remember that they’re wearing curlers, and John Wayne is on his way up! When Ricky and Wayne enter, both women frantically cover their heads – Ethel with her hands, and Lucy with a newspaper and then her pocketbook.
“I’m just dying to see you in Blood Alley,” says Lucy, again plugging Wayne’s latest picture. I’m starting to think that Desilu agreed to mention Blood Alley once for each time Wayne had to get his boots dirty.
“Oh, what penmanship!” Lucy exclaims as he signs the new block.
As Wayne exits, Lucy and the others gaze after him. But when they turn around, Little Ricky is crawling around in the wet cement. Hey, where did he come from? Was Lucy’s mother watching him in the other room? Surely Mrs. McGillicuddy would have wanted to meet John Wayne too.
We’ll Be Right Back After a Short Intermission
Before I continue, let’s take a little break from I Love Lucy to talk about one of John Wayne’s films. I need to disclose the fact that the only John Wayne movie I have ever seen is True Grit (for which he won an Oscar)—but I have seen that one about 25 times, since I watch it every time I come across it on TV. I never tire of watching plucky Mattie Ross sass-mouthing John Wayne and Glen Campbell and stubbornly refusing to use contractions.
I mention this now, because the part of the episode I am about to describe involves some John Wayne beefcake, and it is hard for me to reconcile the 1950s sex symbol with the way he looks as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. Talk about frowzy! “If I smelled as bad as you I wouldn’t live near people,” Mattie tells him, and it’s true, you can practically smell him through the screen. Also, much is made of the character’s weight. Cogburn is called fat numerous times throughout the picture. Mad magazine titled its parody True Fat, starring John Weight. To me he looks a little paunchy perhaps, but not fat. Maybe I’m just used to seeing present-day Americans, who are more obese than people were in 1969 when the movie was made.
In one of the film’s pivotal scenes, Lucky Ned Pepper taunts Cogburn, saying, “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!” Does Cogburn go home, look at himself in the mirror, and cry? No, he says, “Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!” Then he puts the horse’s reins in his mouth, grabs a revolver in one hand and his rifle with the other, and a rootin’ tootin’ shootout ensues. That’ll teach Ned Pepper to call him fat! Watch the scene here.
Bring On the Beefcake
But back on I Love Lucy, it is 14 years before True Grit was made, and Wayne still cuts a trim figure and doesn’t look as if he reeks. Ricky has gone to Wayne’s trailer at the studio. Wayne is in a robe, and we get a good glimpse of Wayne’s long, shapely thigh as Ricky removes the movie star’s boot. Someone walks into the trailer to show Wayne a big movie poster for Blood Alley, because he is about to step into the cement again and must be compensated with another movie plug. Wayne does the deed and leaves for the set, leaving Ricky behind to clean his boots.
Meanwhile, Lucy has her own plan: She will set a block of wet cement outside his trailer door for Wayne to step in. “Once we have his footprints, how can he refuse to sign?” She and Ethel set the block of wet cement in place. But instead of Wayne, Ricky emerges from the trailer walking backwards, carrying the signed, footprinted block of wet cement. He trips and winds up with his face in the cement. He is too angry to speak and storms off.
Lucy observes that the signature on Ricky’s block of cement is unspoiled, so if they grab a pair of Wayne’s boots from his trailer and imprint them in the cement, they’re home free. But while Lucy is in Wayne’s trailer, he returns. She hides in the closet. We get a glimpse of Wayne’s bare chest before he lies face-down on a massage table. As Lucy tries to sneak out, Wayne hears her and assumes she is his masseur.
“George,” he says, “let’s get on with the rubdown.” Lucy hesitates but then makes humorous attempts at giving him a massage while he begins telling “George” a story he heard in the steamroom about a traveling salesman and a farmer’s daughter.
Finally, Lucy throws Wayne’s bathrobe over his head and runs out. And we get to see more of Wayne’s big, manly, hairy chest.
Some time later, Lucy, Ricky, and Fred are in the hotel room. No one knows what has happened to Ethel. Then she appears at the door with a triumphant grin. “Come in, Duke,” she says, as Wayne enters carrying a set of signed footprints. “I told him what happened and he was just a doll,” says Ethel.
And that’s not all. “I brought you a six month supply” says Wayne as six men enter carrying three more sets of prints. Actually, at the rate they’ve been going, those won’t last three days, let alone six months. Also, shouldn’t they have to mention Blood Alley four more times? The two women jump up to kiss the tall movie star but have trouble reaching his face, so he lifts them up in the air and receives their grateful smooches.
Would You Please Pass the Ketchup?
And that’s the end, until Lucille Ball’s next series, The Lucy Show. Wayne guest starred on that show in 1966, but it’s not a classic like the I Love Lucy appearance. IMDb’s summary tells you everything you need to know: “Mr Mooney sends Lucy to deliver some papers pertaining to the financing of John Wayne’s latest production. Despite his orders to drop off the papers with one of the studio’s secretaries, Lucy insists on meeting Mr. Wayne in person at lunch and spills ketchup all over him. She then trails him to his movie set and causes all sorts of havoc.”
It’s really only worth watching for the ketchup scene, which is very funny. You can see that at the 12:10 mark.
“Lucy and John Wayne,” The Lucy Show (Nov. 21, 1966)
So there you have it: John Wayne—a big star (with big feet) on the small screen.
Have you enjoyed reading this post? Then check out the other blogs participating in the Big Stars on the Small Screen blogathon.