Meeting And Drinking Tequila With John Wayne Just Off Route 1
1976 was the year of the Bicentennial, the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. Working in marketing at Paramount Pictures in NYC, I was responsible for a one-week publicity tour for the movie, “The Shootist” starring John Wayne.
To say that I was excited was a total understatement. We met at the Mike Douglas Talk Show in Philadelphia, where he was taping five shows with a live audience. When I shook his hand, it was almost as big as a baseball glove. Thank goodness I am tall, so we could look at each other eye to eye. He was a true professional answering questions for over 3 hours. We were staying at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel, which when it opened in 1904, was described as the most spectacular Hotel building in the nation. The hotel was hosting a Statewide American Legion convention while we were there but somehow, we avoided them.
John Wayne, the Duke, told me to meet him in the bar, and he came down with a bottle of tequila in each hand. He asked me if I ever drank tequila, and while I said no, he poured us two glasses with crushed ice and a sliver of lemon. We gave a toast to ” The Shootist”, while telling me all about tequila and shooting movies in Mexico. He said he only drank the good stuff, as he knocked back his drink and then I finished mine, as he poured another.
A couple hours into this serious drinking session, I had to ask him about his footprints in front of Grumman’s Chinese Theater, because they seem too small for his feet. He said I’m a 10 and ½, which I replied, “me too”.
We had finished the first bottle, when he asked me if I was hungry and if I liked caviar, which I had never tried. The Duke told the waitress “that this was a Day of First’s for me”, and he ordered the caviar. I did like the tequila, as I had quite a buzz, but one bite of the fish eggs on toast, with red onions, was enough for me. He snickered as he dug into the big bowl on ice with a mother of pearl spoon and opened the other bottle. Asking about dinner I told him we had reservations at Bookbinders, which was easily the best and most famous restaurant in town. The bill arrives and I’m thinking since we only had ice and lemon slices it would be nothing, but it was $897 worth of caviar, and remember, this was 1976. I freaked out on how I was going to submit $1,000 bar tab to Studio Accounting, knowing dinner was going to be almost twice that. Suddenly, Al Horwits, who handled the PR for the film, stood by our table. The Duke got up and said, “I’ll meet you in the lobby in 30 minutes and hang on to that bottle”. I was shocked when Horwits said he would take care of the bill. I waited to see his face when he looked at the check before I walked through the revolving door, to the street to get some air as I was a little wobbly. It was a classic color of red.
Outside we had a limousine and a motorcycle police escort. The Duke asked me to come up with something for him to give the policemen on the tour. He liked my idea of Zippo lighters engraved with “The SHOOTIST” on one side and “Stolen from John Wayne” on the other. Also, he always drew a crowd for autographs at the airports, so we had his business cards printed with his signature on the back to giveaway. He said, “they won’t realize it’s a printed signature till he’s long gone”.
We met his partners in Batjac Productions, the Duke’s production company, for dinner and we all had a good laugh at Horwits’ expense. Duke said, “he’s a sonuvabitch” and when I told him he was on the same plane with us flying to Atlanta in the morning, he said “find us a flight out tonight.” Leaving this marvelous dinner, I spent the next hour in a beautiful wood payphone trying to book first class tickets to Atlanta. Succeeding in getting everyone a seat but myself, and our entourage, with police escort, got everyone on the plane, while I had a 7:00 AM. flight in the morning.
When the alarm went off at 5:00 AM, after drinking almost two bottles of tequila, I thought I was dying. When I walked out of the elevator, and through the lobby with sunglasses, I saw Horwits. Not knowing what to say, I asked, “Do you want to share a cab?” We didn’t say a word in the taxi, but I knew I had a first-class ticket, and he was in the back of the plane, as I hurried off when we landed.
Rushing to the Duke’s suite at the Omni Hotel, he opened the door standing there BALD! I was speechless when walking to the balcony, and someone handed me a Screwdriver cocktail drink, and I almost got sick. Hearing a commotion coming from the bathroom, I found the Duke sitting in a barber chair as his hair and makeup guy was fitting a toupee on his head. The hair guy said, “boy he’s pissed at you because you didn’t say good morning.” I responded, I didn’t know he wore a hairpiece, and they all broke out laughing.
On the television there was a news break about over a dozen Legionnaires who did not wake up at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel had died from a strange disease. We figured the tequila saved us! After three local TV shows, there was a press luncheon for maybe 80 people, and we caught another flight, where the Duke had dinner with the Dallas Morning News movie reviewer. More TV in the morning, another press luncheon for a hundred, and a radio interview in the limousine on the way to catch a flight to Chicago.
Of course, we ran out of Commemorative Reposado Sauza tequila, and since it wasn’t available in the United States, I had a friend drive across the Border into Mexico at El Paso to secure another case.
I was 26-year-old, and having a blast, while spending a week with John Wayne, and to this day I only drink good tequila.
He told me “Dave you’re a good kid. You’ve got the world by the balls and it’s yours to enjoy, don’t screw it up!”
Later, I got a call from him, and he asked how I knew so much about all of his films, and I told him about a book I had bought called “John Wayne And The Movies”. I sent it to him, and he sent it back to me signed saying “Our English friends have published one I didn’t know about”.
A few months later a box arrived at my office with a signed photograph saying, “Many thanks for making hard work a little easier”. The box had a pair of Lucchese Ostrich Cowboy Boots, at my 10 ½ size, which he remembered. I still wear them today, as you can see in the picture!
David Garland PA Philadelphia Feb 05, 2023 Movies People
Location: Philadelphia, PA
David Garland Feb 05, 2023
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