Duke Wayne, 21 Feet Tall, Rates a Cowboy Salute as His Bronze Statue Crosses the U.S.

updated 07/23/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/23/1984 01:00AM

There was no questioning who that proud, rugged cowboy was, riding so tall in the saddle from Galveston to Beverly Hills. Why, none other than "Big Jawn," a/k/a John Wayne—or at least a striking 21-foot, six-ton bronze likeness of the larger-than-life movie hero who died of cancer at 72 in 1979. Sculpted by Harry Jackson in his Camaiore, Italy studio, the crated statue, titled The Horseman, arrived last month in Texas via steamship. It then was trucked across the plains of Texas, over the Rio Grande, through the Rockies and desert plateaus to its final resting place in front of the Great Western Savings Center on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

"It got here in perfect health," said Jackson, 60, a Chicago-born artist. And no wonder. With Jackson were Wayne's oldest son, Michael, a 49-year-old film producer, and a posse of policemen escorting Duke the 2,060 miles overland. "If I don't tend to my own business," growled Jackson, a woolly charmer as untamed as the Old West he depicts, "then some other bastard will. And I don't want that."

Jackson reportedly received $2 million for the statue plus an additional sum for smaller works from Great Western Savings, for which Wayne was a pitchman. "I knew him well the last nine years of his life," says Jackson, who entertained Duke at his Cody, Wyo. ranch and sold the actor a dozen of his bronzes (the collection has been donated to Oklahoma City's National Cowboy Hall of Fame). "He was a marvelously open, giving man," Jackson goes on. "He captured the American spirit, being rough-hewn and honest." To evoke those qualities, Jackson explains, "I wanted to get a sense of a big man riding a big horse."

Although the statue will not be polychromed nor rotate on its base, as Jackson had planned, Michael Wayne thinks the sculptor succeeded in truly depicting his father, from the hat to the spurs the actor used during 50 years of filmmaking. "Harry captured a look I've seen a million times on my father," says Wayne. "It gives me chills."

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