This took place in the summer of 1970. I got a call from Duke’s secretary that he wanted to have me fly him over to Springerville, Eager, Arizona to his 26 Bar Ranch. I told her that I would send one of my pilots to pick him up and take him over to the ranch because I had a prior commitment with William Randolph Hearst, Jr. and his wife.
The next day the phone rang at my Paso Robles airport office, and my secretary came running into my office that was in the back of my big hanger and said, “John Wayne is on the phone, and he wants to talk to you!” As she turned and started walking back to her desk, it hit just who it was that she had talked to. She stopped dead in her tracks and exclaimed, “I just talked to John Wayne!”
I picked up my phone and said, “This is Bill Brooks,” and a voice on the phone said, “This is Duke, and I need you to fly me over to my ranch at Eagar, Arizona for the big parade that they’re going to have, and I am supposed to be the grand marshal!” I explained to him, “I’m supposed to take Bill Hearst, Jr. and his wife Austine to the Santa Monica airport so he can og on over to Beverly Hills for his annual checkup before they go back to New York on that weekend.”
Duke would not be put off though, and he said to me, “Come on, send one of your pilots to take Bill Hearst for his doctor appointment. I know how much you like this cowboy type of thing, and I want you to help me to get ready for the parade, and help me find a large enough horse for me to ride so I don’t look like I’m riding a pony!”
Then he said, “Bring Martha with you. She’s good at this type of thing, and you two can stay at the guesthouse at the ranch. Louis and I will be staying at the Holiday Inn at Springerville.”
Now, this was not just anyone – it was John Wayne! And after all, William Randolph Hearst, Jr. was only a multi-billionaire, and I had been flying him and his family around for some time now. So I told Duke, “Okay, I’ll make arraignments for the Hearst’s.” Then he told me, “We have to stop off at Stanfield and make sure that Louis [Johnson] has everything that we’re going to need at the party the night after the parade.” (Louis Johnson was not particularly happy about flying in a small aircraft, so he was taking his pick-up truck full of things for the party).
Early the next morning we were supposed to go over to Duke’s ranch, so I flew on down to the Orange County airport to Duke up. As always, Duke was on time and waiting for me.
We took off from Orange County, and headed for Stanfield, Arizona, which was about a one-hour flight. After getting Louis started north with his pick-up full of supplies for the party that evening, we flew on up to the Springerville airport, which was about another one-hour flight. During the entire flight we talked about the good old days in the late 1940’s, when Duke and John Ford made all those great Horse Soldier movies.
After arriving at the Springerville airport, which in those days was just a small dirt airstrip, the ranch foreman and one of the cowboys were there waiting for us with two pick-up trucks. Then we drove on into Springerville and the Holiday Inn to leave off Duke’s things at the hotel. As always, the word had gotten around the two little towns of Springerville and Eagar that Duke was in town, and there was a large group of people waiting at the hotel to see Duke!
After Duke spent some time talking to all the people that had come to see him, we drove on out to the 26 Bar Ranch which is about five miles out of town. At this time, the foreman of the ranch and his family lived in the main house at the 26 Bar and the main house would be full of guests for the big weekend.
While Duke was talking to all of the people that were going to be staying at the ranch, the foreman’s wife took us over to the guesthouse that was just a stone’s throw from the main ranch house. And although Duke had promised that we had a bedroom in the guesthouse (that was later called the Gene Autry bedroom), we still had to share the guesthouse with two other couples that were there for the big weekend also.
The reason the room we used was later called the Gene Autry bedroom was because in the old days before Duke had become a big star, and was still making all of those quickie westerns, Herb Yates, the president of Duke’s studio – Republic Pictures, was trying to turn Duke into a singing cowboy. But Duke got Yates to hire a man that he had heard singing on the Barndance radio show in Chicago. Duke wanted to get out of this singing cowboy thing and try to get some better roles, and told Yates that the fellow would make a good singing cowboy.
The fellow that Duke eventually got Yates to listen to was Gene Autry, so Gene Autry had John Wayne to thank for making his first million dollars. Duke and Gene stayed very good friends for all those years, and Gene Autry would visit the ranch many times and stay in the guesthouse in what is now called the Gene Autry bedroom.
At any rate, the next day, the day of the parade, the cowboys had found Duke a large horse to ride, 16 ½ hands tall, so Duke would look very good on such a tall horse as grand marshal of the parade. As Duke rode out at the head of the parade, many people would run out to him and ask for his autograph, of just to talk to him. He would tell them all to meet him after the parade at the Holiday Inn where he was staying, and that he would spend some time with them – and that is just exactly what he did.
He went back to the hotel after the parade, and stayed a very long time with all of the people that had come out to see him and talk with him, and Duke did not leave until had given out autograph cards to anyone that wanted one, and had talked with anyone what wanted to talk with him. That was the way John Wayne was. Duke never forgot the people that had made him a larger-than-life personality and movie star.
That evening after the parade, there was a big beef barbecue at the 26 Bar Ranch, and anyone from Springerville or Eagar that wanted to come could come. Of course there was “mucho Suaza Commemorativo Tequila.” But I had to behave myself because I knew that I had over a two-hour flight back to the Orange County airport the next day.
After Duke’s passing in 1979, the Orange County airport was renamed, “John Wayne International Airport.”
It is hard to believe that I now have a house just 50 years behind the guesthouse that I had stayed in almost 40 years ago.