(John) Wayne's world
Fan of star talks about lifelong passion for the man they called "The Duke"
Updated 10:39 am, Thursday, May 14, 2015
The stark atmosphere of the movie, filmed in Arizona's Monument Valley, and Wayne's performance as the Ringo Kid, a gunslinger seeking revenge for the murder of his father and brother, gripped Grega's imagination.
"It was a very good movie and it made him a big star," Grega said recently in his Post Road home as he discussed his favorite actor.
In the film, Wayne's Ringo Kid embodied the type of character, moral certainty, and straightforward attitude that Grega would admire in scores of films and in the actor's public persona for decades.
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"He seemed tough, but also was capable of being generous and fair," Grega said of the prototypical screen character Wayne often portrayed in more than 160 feature films, many of them Westerns and war movies. "He seemed like somebody you could trust."
Over the years, Grega, a Darien police officer between 1958 and 1982, continued to see first-run showings of Wayne's theatrical releases while collecting books, magazines, and memorabilia related to Wayne.
Two Wayne figurines flank both sides of Grega's television set, on which he said he watches Wayne movies on Monday nights.
"He was tough and respectful to everyone and wanted everyone to be respectful to him," Grega said of Wayne, the man. "And he was a very good actor."
A Korean War-era veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Grega moved from Bridgeport to the Stamford area where he lived with his late wife, Genevieve, and raised two sons and a daughter. Eventually the couple moved to Darien.
After retiring from the Darien Police Department, Grega worked as an officer for the Tokeneke police, the private police entity that provides protection to residents within the Tokeneke Taxing District within Darien.
Several years ago, the Gregas traveled through the Monument Valley in Arizona, in large part to allow Grega to see firsthand the backdrop used by film director John Ford and others in the Wayne Westerns he loved.
A museum in the region dedicated to Wayne's career was being renovated, Grega recalled, but the pit stop was still a chance to enjoy some Wayne lore and to pick up Wayne tchotchkes from area gift shops.
"It was a great trip for us," Grega said.
After his wife died in 2008, Grega scaled back his belongings, including cutting down his Wayne-related collection, shedding dozens of items. On the living room wall of the senior housing apartment he lives in is a portrait of his wife painted in 1978.
"I still miss her a lot," Grega said.
Among Grega's avorite Wayne movies is the 1952 romantic comedy "The Quiet Man," in which Wayne plays American boxer Sean Thornton, who returns to Ireland to reclaim his family's farm in the fictional village of Innisfree.
"I'll watch any of them when they are on" television, Grega said. "Another excellent one is the one he made with Dean Martin, `Rio Bravo.' But they were all excellent."
Grega said Wayne impressed him for not backnig away from political controversy and remaining a supporter of the U.S. military during the 1960s Vietnam era. During that time, opponents in America protesting the Vietnam War often spoke to and treated returning veterans in ways Grega found disrespectful and unacceptable.
During the war, Wayne traveled to Vietnam to spend time with troops, and Grega thought stories about Wayne's support of the troops were a welcome counterbalance in a time when mounting frustration with the war meant a generally less enthusiastic appreciation for soldiers who fought or were injured in the conflict.
"He was a very patriotic man and was all for the United States government and our troops and that was something that really impressed me," Grega said. "He knew we should respect veterans and not insult them."