John Wayne and Lucky Number 17
Friday August 12, 2005
By Craig Stillwell
Welcome to As It Was: Tales from the State of Jefferson
Southern Oregon and Hollywood have shared a long and colorful history. Following this tradition, in September 1974, two of Hollywood's biggest stars--John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn--arrived in Grants Pass to shoot key scenes on the Rogue River for the film Rooster Cogburn [KOGG-burn], the sequel to the 1969 hit western, True Grit.
While filming footage of Wayne and Hepburn rafting through the scenic Hellgate Canyon, the production unit operated out of Indian Mary Park, near Galice [guh-LEEZ]. Many fans flocked to the park to catch a glimpse of the famous screen idols. One day a toddler from Central Point was wearing a shirt with the number seventeen on it. The number caught Wayne's eye; fifty years earlier, he had worn that number playing football for the University of Southern California. The boy's mother lifted the child up to meet Wayne, who quipped, "I'm not running for anything, but sure, I'll hold him anyway." He even posed for a photo.
After ten days, the production unit moved to Bend for further filming. Rooster Cogburn was Wayne's second-to-last film. He died in 1979, but his legend lives on in his films and, perhaps, as a fond childhood memory for one young man from Central Point.
Today's episode of As It Was was written by Craig Stillwell, the program engineer is Raymond Scully. I'm Shirley Patton. As It was is a co-production of JPR and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. To Share stories or learn more about the series visit asitwas - dot- org
"Central Point Boy, John Wayne Become Acquainted at Site," Medford Mail Tribune, Sept. 15, 1974.