What I Didn’t Know About John Wayne

I recently drove by one of those roadside sales that are occasionally set up at gas stations or abandoned parking lots in which vendors hawk kitschy items such as velvet paintings, pictures of unicorns, and huge photos of iconic movie stars. Nestled between Marilyn and Elvis was John Wayne decked out in his cowboy hat, vest, and kerchief, much like the image to the left. I noticed Duke right away because I had just finished reading a biography about him.  I was struck by the idea that most passers-by would recognize the star immediately and yet know nothing about him, because—like other movie icons—his career, life, and star image have been reduced to a cliché. Wayne’s image has a political connotation because of his conservative beliefs that has only gotten narrower over the years. I have seen his image used for right-wing slogans I don’t think Wayne would approve of, and I have read articles and posts that vilify his films because the writer didn’t like his politics. After reading Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne by Ronald Davis, I was surprised by how little I knew about him. The following are 12 facts about John Wayne that amazed and amused me.

The name on his Wayne’s birth certificate is Marion Robert Morrison; in 1911, it was changed to Marion Michael Morrison when his younger brother was born and christened Robert. As a child, he was nicknamed Duke, because he had a large dog named Duke; the dog was Big Duke and the boy became Little Duke. He appeared uncredited in eleven films before playing a substantial role in the musical comedy Words and Music for which he was credited as Duke Morrison. In 1929, when he landed the lead in The Big Trail, director Raoul Walsh and producer Winfield Sheehan changed his name to John Wayne, an appellation he was never comfortable with.

DUKE MORRISON WOOS LEADING LADY LOIS MORAN IN ‘WORDS AND MUSIC.’

Wayne was an avid reader from childhood. He read Zane Grey novels as a young man, and, as an adult, he read general histories and military histories, in addition to four newspapers a day. While courting his third wife, the two spent hours reading to each other, which I found quite romantic.

DUKE MORRISON—FOOTBALL PLAYER AT USC

While a sophomore at USC, Wayne became a socialist. After he left school and worked in the film industry as a prop man and assistant, his views began to change. He read about Joseph Stalin and the impact of the Russian Revolution on the people of Russia. He changed his political leanings, gradually becoming more and more conservative with each passing year.

When Wayne was about ten, the family moved to Glendale, just outside Hollywood. He befriended Bob and Bill Bradbury, sons of writer-director Robert N. Bradbury. Both sons entered the film industry, with Bob changing his name to Bob Steele when he became a western star in the early 1930s. Wayne and Bob Steele remained friends throughout their lives, with Steele appearing in small roles in a few of Duke’s films, including Rio Bravo.

In 1926, Wayne saw a silent film directed by Robert N. Bradbury titled Davy Crockett at the Fall of the Alamo. The film influenced him to read about the battle at the Alamo, a part of history he would always find fascinating. By the late 1940s, Wayne was planning his own film project about the Alamo, a quest that would not see fruition until 1959.

From 1933 to 1935, Wayne starred in a series of programmers and serial westerns for a small studio called Lone Star. These sixteen-reel films cost $15,000 each and were shot in ten to fifteen days. The director on these films turned out to be Robert N. Bradbury. When Wayne played singing cowboy Singin’ Sandy in Riders of Destiny, he could not carry a tune. Childhood friend Bill Bradbury stepped in and dubbed his voice. Bradbury and Wayne went on to make other western serials during the Depression.

Together with stunt man Yakima Canutt and star John Wayne, director Bradbury devised a method of shooting fight scenes that looked more realistic and became influential in later westerns. At the time, the standard way to shoot fight scenes was to position the camera in front of the action, which would unfold laterally in long shot. Punches were not only pulled (or, softened) but also thrown toward the chest and arms, which Wayne and Canutt found dull and unexciting. The pair devised the “pass” system, in which they threw punches as hard as they could at their faces, with their fists passing just an inch or so from the chin or cheek. Bradbury enhanced the effect by positioning the camera behind the person throwing the punch. The director used it on other westerns with other cowboy stars, while Wayne brought this method to A-budget westerns later in his career.

WAYNE AND VICTOR McLAGLEN DEMONSTRATE THE PASS SYSTEM OF MOVIE FIGHTING IN ‘THE QUIET MAN.’

I knew John Wayne did not serve in WWII, but I did not know why. Biographers who dislike Wayne’s politics tend to draw unflattering conclusions about his lack of service, but, according to Davis, the reasons for his lack of military service are unclear. In 1941, he was classified as 3-A, deferred for dependency reasons because he was supporting his estranged wife and four children. Wayne claimed that he wrote to the military to ask them to change his status; he claimed his ex-wife hid the responses from the military; he claimed that an old football injury kept him out of the service; he claimed he asked to join John Ford’s military photography unit. None of these claims are backed up by much evidence, which is not to say they aren’t true. In 1943, his 3-A status was continued upon review by the military. Apparently, the review was requested by Republic Pictures, who did not want their star in the service. Wayne was enjoying great success at this time, appearing in A-budget films with high-profile costars. In 1944, he was classified 2-A, deferred in support of national health, safety, or interest.  He was briefly classified as 1-A, which meant he was fit to serve, then 2-A again. After the war, he was declared 4-A, meaning he was too old. Wayne struggled with guilt for not serving in the military during WWII, and it remained a sore point for the rest of his life.

JOHN WAYNE AS DAVY CROCKET AND ‘COUSIN’ CHILL WILLS AS BEEKEEPER IN ‘THE ALAMO.’

John Wayne finally got to make his dream project, The Alamo, in 1959. An epic production, the film quickly went over schedule and over budget. Originally budgeted at $7 million, it cost $17 million by the time it was finished. United Artists distributed the film, but Wayne was responsible for production costs. He found private investors from Texas for part of the costs, and his company, Batjac, picked up the rest of the tab. Wayne mortgaged his house, Batjac itself, and his cars to pay back the investors and to pay the bills after the film failed to make $17 million at the box office. Any money that the film made before $17 million went to United Artists, so they turned a profit on the film, while Wayne was left in debt and depressed for several years. I have seen The Alamo, and, it is not a good film, so I am not surprised that it bombed at the box office. However, after reading about this doomed project, I have a lot of empathy for Wayne. He not only liked the story, but he believed whole-heartedly in its pro-American message. It was his heart’s desire for the public to embrace this film, which he thought was the quintessential American story. If you have ever lost your heart’s desire, you know exactly how low that feels.

Unfortunately, The Alamo seemed doomed and cursed every step of the way. For example, during production, a troupe of local theater actors came to the set in Brackettville, Texas, to be extras on the film. Actress LaJean Ethridge impressed Wayne with her talent, and he gave her a small speaking role, put her on salary, and helped her get her SAG card. Ehtridge’s boyfriend, Chester Smith, grew jealous of his girlfriend, and the couple fought. Finally, one night Ethridge packed her bags to leave, prompting Smith to stab her in the throat, killing her. Though Wayne was shaken by this event, he moved the production forward, propagating rumors that his film was more important to him than Ethridge’s death.

THE VOLUMINOUS PRESS KIT FOR ‘THE ALAMO’

Wayne hired Russell Birdwell to handle the ad campaign for The Alamo, which proved to be a mistake. Birdwell, whose claim to fame was the posters and ads for Howard Hughes’s The Outlaw exploiting Jane Russell’s physique, began the campaign by sending a 183-page press release to reviewers and press outlets. In ads, he focused on the pro-American message of the film, implying that those who did not see it were simply unpatriotic. Reviewers were offended and acted accordingly. However, Birdwell’s ill-conceived tactics paled in comparison to actor Chill Will’s Oscar campaign. The Alamo received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actor for Wills. Excited at this break in his career, the character actor hired publicist Bow-Wow Wojeiechowicz to help him woo Oscar votes. Bow-Wow took out a full-page ad in Hollywood Reporter using a photo of the real men who had fought at the Alamo with Wills superimposed in front of them. The ad read, “We of The Alamo cast are praying harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives at the real Alamo for Chill Wills to win the Oscar. Cousin Chill’s acting was great! Signed Your Alamo Cousins.” Another ad consisted of a long list of Academy members with a tagline that read, “Win, Lose or Draw, You’ll Still My Cousins and I love you all.” Wills had a down-home schtick in which he called everyone his cousin. Groucho Marx took out his own ad reading, “Dear Mr. Chill Wills: I am delighted to be your cousin but I voted for Sal Mineo.”

For years, persistent rumors floated around Hollywood that Josef Stalin tried to have John Wayne killed. Supposedly, Peter Cushing heard the rumors when he was making films in Hong Kong during the early 1970s. Crew members who had escaped Communist China and Chairman Mao talked openly about an assassination plot against a famous American cowboy. In the mid-1980s, Yakima Canutt told author Michael Munn that Russian agents had tried to kill Wayne, and Duke had thwarted them. My favorite version of the story has Orson Welles relaying the rumor to various writers after he heard it from Russian director Sergei Bondarchuk while the two were making Waterloo in 1970. In retrospect, it would have been a more mythic end for the larger-than-life star who suffered through a painful, depressing decline before succumbing to cancer on June 11, 1979.

0 Response What I Didn’t Know About John Wayne
Posted By anne newman : November 12, 2012 1:27 pm

I think he was underrated as an actor. people thought he was “just being himself” not true, he was a consumate professional. I witnessed his performance personally, playing a small part in EL DORADO. I played the daughter of RG Armstrong and even tho I did not admire his politics, I did admire his talent….

Posted By anne newman : November 12, 2012 1:27 pm

I think he was underrated as an actor. people thought he was “just being himself” not true, he was a consumate professional. I witnessed his performance personally, playing a small part in EL DORADO. I played the daughter of RG Armstrong and even tho I did not admire his politics, I did admire his talent….

Posted By Maryann : November 12, 2012 9:12 pm

Some very interesting insights into John Wayne. Glad to see that you used a photo from The Quiet Man one of my favorite Wayne films. I had no idea that he was so involved in the making of The Alamo and all the troubles related to its production.

Posted By Maryann : November 12, 2012 9:12 pm

Some very interesting insights into John Wayne. Glad to see that you used a photo from The Quiet Man one of my favorite Wayne films. I had no idea that he was so involved in the making of The Alamo and all the troubles related to its production.

Posted By JK : November 12, 2012 9:55 pm

I remember when he died. It felt like a part of the culture went with him.

Posted By JK : November 12, 2012 9:55 pm

I remember when he died. It felt like a part of the culture went with him.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 12, 2012 10:30 pm

Anne: How exciting that you got to appear in EL DORADO. As a little girl, I saw this movie with my parents. I remember that my dad loved it.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 12, 2012 10:30 pm

Anne: How exciting that you got to appear in EL DORADO. As a little girl, I saw this movie with my parents. I remember that my dad loved it.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 13, 2012 5:51 am

Great Post.I hate it,when People talk Crap about Wayne.
It is pretty easy cause of his political Opinions.
But with his Films he made a lot People very Happy.
I am one of them.

@ Anne Newman
UNBELIEVABLE ! You are in one of my favorite Movies.
I will watch out for you,the next time i put “El Dorado” in.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 13, 2012 5:51 am

Great Post.I hate it,when People talk Crap about Wayne.
It is pretty easy cause of his political Opinions.
But with his Films he made a lot People very Happy.
I am one of them.

@ Anne Newman
UNBELIEVABLE ! You are in one of my favorite Movies.
I will watch out for you,the next time i put “El Dorado” in.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 13, 2012 1:12 pm

Ghijath Naddaf: I agree. I never agreed with Wayne politically, but he was one of those stars who understood that his star image meant something to people and acted accordingly. Even when he was very sick with cancer both times, he focused on the positive in public and encouraged those who were sick and inspired others to learn how to live with it, despite his own difficulties. I respect that a lot.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 13, 2012 1:12 pm

Ghijath Naddaf: I agree. I never agreed with Wayne politically, but he was one of those stars who understood that his star image meant something to people and acted accordingly. Even when he was very sick with cancer both times, he focused on the positive in public and encouraged those who were sick and inspired others to learn how to live with it, despite his own difficulties. I respect that a lot.

Posted By Heidi : November 13, 2012 1:50 pm

Maryann-Quiet Man is one of, if not the, favorite Wayne movie in my house. We love it. My husband was not raised on his movies like I was, so I am still introducing him to them.I have always admired him, and my uncle, who is in his 80′s just loves him and his movies.

Posted By Heidi : November 13, 2012 1:50 pm

Maryann-Quiet Man is one of, if not the, favorite Wayne movie in my house. We love it. My husband was not raised on his movies like I was, so I am still introducing him to them.I have always admired him, and my uncle, who is in his 80′s just loves him and his movies.

Posted By DEAN : November 13, 2012 4:52 pm

JOHN WAYNE WAS JUST A FORCE OF PATRIOTISM AND INTEGRITY—-WITH THIS COUNTRY IN THE FIX IT IS IN—-WE NEED JOHN NOW AND LOTS OF OTHERS LIKE HIM

Posted By DEAN : November 13, 2012 4:52 pm

JOHN WAYNE WAS JUST A FORCE OF PATRIOTISM AND INTEGRITY—-WITH THIS COUNTRY IN THE FIX IT IS IN—-WE NEED JOHN NOW AND LOTS OF OTHERS LIKE HIM

Posted By robbushblog : November 13, 2012 5:08 pm

Thank you for the great and interesting write-up of one of my heroes. I know you already knew that though. I must disagree with you about The Alamo though. I very much like it. It is a tad long, although I actually prefer the longer version.

Anne- How exciting that you were in El Dorado! I cannot count the number of times I have seen it. It used to be one of my go-to movies. “Well, there’s nothing on. I might as well watch El Dorado again.” I will certainly look for you the next time I watch it, which will probably be sometime this week now that it has been mentioned.

Posted By robbushblog : November 13, 2012 5:08 pm

Thank you for the great and interesting write-up of one of my heroes. I know you already knew that though. I must disagree with you about The Alamo though. I very much like it. It is a tad long, although I actually prefer the longer version.

Anne- How exciting that you were in El Dorado! I cannot count the number of times I have seen it. It used to be one of my go-to movies. “Well, there’s nothing on. I might as well watch El Dorado again.” I will certainly look for you the next time I watch it, which will probably be sometime this week now that it has been mentioned.

Posted By Deanna Brittsan : November 13, 2012 5:45 pm

I have been a fan of John Wayne ever since I was a kid, as my dad loved his movies and so did my ex-husband, who watched his movies everytime they were on TV and later bought the viedos —-I could reseight lines for many movies just because my husband watched them over and over. I think we need more John Wayne actors–I still now watch his movies my favorite is Mctock . Keep showing John Wayne movies.

Posted By Deanna Brittsan : November 13, 2012 5:45 pm

I have been a fan of John Wayne ever since I was a kid, as my dad loved his movies and so did my ex-husband, who watched his movies everytime they were on TV and later bought the viedos —-I could reseight lines for many movies just because my husband watched them over and over. I think we need more John Wayne actors–I still now watch his movies my favorite is Mctock . Keep showing John Wayne movies.

Posted By Carl : November 13, 2012 7:35 pm

John Wayne was a true hero. He loved America, and got along great with those he disagreed with, (Such as Henry Fonda or Lauren Bacall,) because he felt the greatest thing about this country of ours is that everyone has the right to speak their mind. Most of his contemporaries were very liberal but they all pretty much admired the Duke for his kindness, professionalism and love of country; and showed so when they petitioned for him to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. If Americans could take a lesson from the stars of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”, then maybe we would learn to treat each other with respect and hold love of values over desperate attempts for votes.

Posted By Carl : November 13, 2012 7:35 pm

John Wayne was a true hero. He loved America, and got along great with those he disagreed with, (Such as Henry Fonda or Lauren Bacall,) because he felt the greatest thing about this country of ours is that everyone has the right to speak their mind. Most of his contemporaries were very liberal but they all pretty much admired the Duke for his kindness, professionalism and love of country; and showed so when they petitioned for him to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. If Americans could take a lesson from the stars of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”, then maybe we would learn to treat each other with respect and hold love of values over desperate attempts for votes.

Posted By vp19 : November 14, 2012 12:55 am

Wayne’s work in “Stagecoach” as part of a brilliant ensemble directed by John Ford helped elevate the western out of the genre ghetto, making up for the missed opportunity of “The Big Trail” some nine years earlier.

Posted By vp19 : November 14, 2012 12:55 am

Wayne’s work in “Stagecoach” as part of a brilliant ensemble directed by John Ford helped elevate the western out of the genre ghetto, making up for the missed opportunity of “The Big Trail” some nine years earlier.

Posted By Margaret Perry : November 14, 2012 7:53 am

I had no idea he was such an avid reader and history buff. I am so surprised to hear that he was at one point a socialist! I would never have guessed that in a million years!

Posted By Margaret Perry : November 14, 2012 7:53 am

I had no idea he was such an avid reader and history buff. I am so surprised to hear that he was at one point a socialist! I would never have guessed that in a million years!

Posted By nennycakes : November 14, 2012 9:46 am

My father worked for TWA back in the day and has lots of celebrity stories (Most down-to-earth: William Holden; Biggest Jerk: Johnny Carson; Drunkest: Cher) and his favorite encounter was with John Wayne. My dad is a tall man, and he said that when John Wayne approached him, he blocked out the lights – he was like a wall. He was also unflinchingly polite and gracious – he referred to my dad as ‘Sir’.

Posted By nennycakes : November 14, 2012 9:46 am

My father worked for TWA back in the day and has lots of celebrity stories (Most down-to-earth: William Holden; Biggest Jerk: Johnny Carson; Drunkest: Cher) and his favorite encounter was with John Wayne. My dad is a tall man, and he said that when John Wayne approached him, he blocked out the lights – he was like a wall. He was also unflinchingly polite and gracious – he referred to my dad as ‘Sir’.

Posted By Poppins : November 14, 2012 5:18 pm

The Duke was one of a kind. There never will be another one such as he. He had a smile that would turn a heart of stone to mush, a laugh from his soul, a dignity like no other Hollywood star. Those who said he could not act didn’t know what they were talking about. His outstanding performances in The Quiet Man and the Searchers are on a level with greats like Spencer Tracy, Gregory Peck and Gary Cooper, and each time I see North to Alaska I appreciate his humor. The Duke was a REAL MAN! We have so few of those in Hollywood today. Long will live JOHN (THE DUKE)WAYNE in my heart, and I am sure, in the hearts of many others.

Posted By Poppins : November 14, 2012 5:18 pm

The Duke was one of a kind. There never will be another one such as he. He had a smile that would turn a heart of stone to mush, a laugh from his soul, a dignity like no other Hollywood star. Those who said he could not act didn’t know what they were talking about. His outstanding performances in The Quiet Man and the Searchers are on a level with greats like Spencer Tracy, Gregory Peck and Gary Cooper, and each time I see North to Alaska I appreciate his humor. The Duke was a REAL MAN! We have so few of those in Hollywood today. Long will live JOHN (THE DUKE)WAYNE in my heart, and I am sure, in the hearts of many others.

Posted By Dave : November 15, 2012 1:09 am

Dick Cavett tells a jaw-dropping story of a very brief encounter in which Wayne overhears a Noel Coward tune and offhandedly reveals his admiration for the British actor/tunesmith/gay icon. He even launched into a very good British accent. When Cavett later told this to Woody Allen, Woody was smart enough to be unfazed: “Well, he’s an actor. You’ve been watching him act like John Wayne all this time.”

Others would do well to remember this. He was an actor. You might think you own an opinion of the man, but you’re only feeling what he knowingly put in your head.

Posted By Dave : November 15, 2012 1:09 am

Dick Cavett tells a jaw-dropping story of a very brief encounter in which Wayne overhears a Noel Coward tune and offhandedly reveals his admiration for the British actor/tunesmith/gay icon. He even launched into a very good British accent. When Cavett later told this to Woody Allen, Woody was smart enough to be unfazed: “Well, he’s an actor. You’ve been watching him act like John Wayne all this time.”

Others would do well to remember this. He was an actor. You might think you own an opinion of the man, but you’re only feeling what he knowingly put in your head.

Posted By swac44 : November 15, 2012 11:03 am

Unfortunately, I had my view of Wayne clouded at an early age by the hardcore punk tune John Wayne Was a Nazi by the San Francisco band MDC (initially short for Millions of Dead Cops, although they changed the name–with the same initials–from time to time). Of course I knew at the time that was a gross exaggeration, but it kept me away from watching his films for a great deal of time, although eventually Stagecoach and The Searchers turned me around, and I can even enjoy lesser Wayne titles like Chisum and McQ. One of these days I’ll get around to the other end of the scale and watch The Conqueror and The Green Berets, but I think I need a few more choice films under my belt first. I mean, I still haven’t watched Rio Lobo

Besides, you can’t really hate a guy who’d wear a pink bunny costume on Laugh-In.

Posted By swac44 : November 15, 2012 11:03 am

Unfortunately, I had my view of Wayne clouded at an early age by the hardcore punk tune John Wayne Was a Nazi by the San Francisco band MDC (initially short for Millions of Dead Cops, although they changed the name–with the same initials–from time to time). Of course I knew at the time that was a gross exaggeration, but it kept me away from watching his films for a great deal of time, although eventually Stagecoach and The Searchers turned me around, and I can even enjoy lesser Wayne titles like Chisum and McQ. One of these days I’ll get around to the other end of the scale and watch The Conqueror and The Green Berets, but I think I need a few more choice films under my belt first. I mean, I still haven’t watched Rio Lobo

Besides, you can’t really hate a guy who’d wear a pink bunny costume on Laugh-In.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 15, 2012 12:18 pm

I was 16 years old when John Wayne died.
My Mother told me in the morning. Our whole Family was in a State
of Shock. We loved to watch John Wayne Movies together.
It was like he belongs to the Family.
The only other time that happend,was 2 years earlier, when Elvis
died. I guess the Duke and the King were America to us.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 15, 2012 12:18 pm

I was 16 years old when John Wayne died.
My Mother told me in the morning. Our whole Family was in a State
of Shock. We loved to watch John Wayne Movies together.
It was like he belongs to the Family.
The only other time that happend,was 2 years earlier, when Elvis
died. I guess the Duke and the King were America to us.

Posted By robbushblog : November 15, 2012 1:20 pm

The Conqueror is bad. I did not like Rio Lobo, but I actually really like The Green Berets. I guess I’m in the minority.

Posted By robbushblog : November 15, 2012 1:20 pm

The Conqueror is bad. I did not like Rio Lobo, but I actually really like The Green Berets. I guess I’m in the minority.

Posted By Juana Maria : December 11, 2012 3:46 pm

RobertBushBlog(aka Duke Roberts”:Hey! Hola,amigo! Long time no write,I know. I agree with you with your above comment. I usually do. “the Conqueror” is bad,but it’s got the Duke and LVC!! I just love LVC!!! It also has Pedro Armendariz. He is good too. “Rio Lobo” was a waste of time! Not even Jack Elam made it great! OR the sexy Mexican actor that is in it too. Umm,Jorge Rivas? I dunno,he is in “The Last Hard Men”. So not French! Nope,100% Spanish descent Mexican. Beautiful. Ahh(sigh). I too like “The Green Berets”,I first saw it when I was a kid. I still like it,through I can’t give you a ton of reasons. “Liberty Valance” is my favorite,right at the tippy top,I also love “the Barbarian & the Geisha”(it’s not perfect,but it is sweet),and seasonal favorite for the month of March and all things Irish:”The Quiet Man”. My Irish pride would hurt if didn’t love that one! Bye!

Posted By Juana Maria : December 11, 2012 3:46 pm

RobertBushBlog(aka Duke Roberts”:Hey! Hola,amigo! Long time no write,I know. I agree with you with your above comment. I usually do. “the Conqueror” is bad,but it’s got the Duke and LVC!! I just love LVC!!! It also has Pedro Armendariz. He is good too. “Rio Lobo” was a waste of time! Not even Jack Elam made it great! OR the sexy Mexican actor that is in it too. Umm,Jorge Rivas? I dunno,he is in “The Last Hard Men”. So not French! Nope,100% Spanish descent Mexican. Beautiful. Ahh(sigh). I too like “The Green Berets”,I first saw it when I was a kid. I still like it,through I can’t give you a ton of reasons. “Liberty Valance” is my favorite,right at the tippy top,I also love “the Barbarian & the Geisha”(it’s not perfect,but it is sweet),and seasonal favorite for the month of March and all things Irish:”The Quiet Man”. My Irish pride would hurt if didn’t love that one! Bye!

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