When you're a kid, you don't realize there's a big John Wayne banner following you around. You're surprised that people remember you and you don't remember them. Later on, you realize, Oh, it's not me. It's him!
I loved everything I did with my dad. He carried these autograph cards, and as a little kid, it was my job to have them ready if we were out in public and he was trying to get through a crowd. If he put his hand out, like a surgeon waiting for a scalpel, I'd better have that stack ready or he'd get pissed off.
I guess in some ways I still work for my dad. I head John Wayne Enterprises, which licenses products bearing John Wayne's name — from tchotchkes to bourbon. And a portion of the proceeds from each sale goes to the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, which sponsors cancer research and outreach programs for cancer patients and their families.
My dad was affectionate at home. I'd run and I'd jump, and he'd pick me up and twirl me around. A big bear hug. He'd always give you a hug or a kiss on the head. Tell you he loved you. But on the set, with all his old buddies, it was different. If you happened to be standing in his path on the set, he'd knock you out of the way — just walk right through you. Or if you were standing in the wrong place, he might just chuck an orange and hit you in the back of the head. It wasn't mean, but it was almost mean.
I came along when he was 56. I recently read that someone asked my father why he took me out of school to travel with him. He answered, "Boys go away when they get to be 16 or 17, and they don't come back until they're in their 30s. I won't be there for Ethan when he's in his 30s, so I'm gonna love him now."
Ethan Wayne, 53, heads John Wayne Enterprises. He lives in Newport Beach, Calif.
I was 5 or 6, playing with a little girl one day, when I stepped on her head. On purpose. I was kind of a tomboy, and my dad liked that. But she went screaming to my dad, who was inside with some grownups. I followed her in, and my dad, who was large and loud, demanded, "Did you step on her head?" I hesitated, and then he said, much more quietly, "Come here. If you lie to me, you're gonna disappoint me and you're gonna go to your room and you're gonna be punished. If you tell the truth, well, you're still gonna be punished, but I'm not gonna be disappointed in you."
I told the truth. And then it was over. He never rehashed it. That's the kind of father he was.
Aissa Wayne, 59, a family-law attorney, lives in Malibu.