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Nance Crawford

Books - Plays - Words & Music

NOTES FROM NANCE

John Wayne Slept in My Room

Not when I was in it and, from what I was told, he probably didn’t get a lot of sleep.

Just before I was due to enter high school, it was decided that the family would move; so, with our usual flair for the unanticipated, we got lost in the Hollywood hills and found our new house. Literally. All of us piled into the car, one Sunday (Mom, Dad, Grams, me and the two boys), took a drive, and ended up wandering around the hills, completely baffled. We saw an Open House sign, followed it to the top of a hill, and stopped in front of a two-car garage flanked by a tiny, walled patio. The front door was inside the patio and it was open, so we all went through the three-foot high, wrought-iron gate in a pack.

Built down the side of a hill and overlooking an isolated little valley, the home was much larger on the inside. It was completely empty, hardwood floors echoing every sound. The realtor showed us a huge living room with a big fireplace on the far wall, and a generous dining room, both with entrances to a huge half-covered porch built atop a downstairs bedroom. To the left of the entry was a short hallway. A small room, considered a maid’s room, with its own miniature attached bath, looked out on the front patio. Entranced by the view, the huge Sycamore tree dominating the enclosure, I stood looking out as I heard everyone else trouping downstairs to look at the other three bedrooms, and the main bathroom.

Suddenly, I knew. Standing there alone, I knew in that moment that the house would be purchased and that I was in my new bedroom.

It was not the John Wayne bedroom.

Within a year it was decided that I would be much safer moving downstairs to the big bedroom next to my parents, the bedroom directly under the sun porch. Why it was considered safer is, in retrospect, a wonder, because it had a door to the back yard. Nevertheless, it became my room and I was allowed to paint and decorate it. Instead of a standard bed, I was allowed to have a sofa bed; with my desk and the built-in furniture, it looked more like an office than a bedroom and I loved it.

It was right around that time that the Mickey Mouse Club happened and, within a year or two, Johnny landed Rifleman.

Grams was Johnny’s guardian on the set (much more about that some other time). One day, early on, she was chatting with Paul Fix (Micah Torrance, the sheriff) and the subject got around to where our family lived. When Grammy told him where the house was, and then, at his question, the address, he was completely astonished.

“I used to own that house!” he told her. An owner or two ago, but it had definitely been his home.

Fast-forward something like twenty-five years.

I had occasion to call Marilyn Carey, the wife of Harry Carey, Jr. Why, I can’t remember. I certainly never met the lady in person, although she knew who I was because of the association with Johnny. Whatever business we had was dealt with quickly and, knowing she was the daughter of Paul Fix, I mentioned the house we had both grown up in and we chuckled over the coincidence.

When I told her mine had been the downstairs room with the outside door, she told me that was the room John Wayne used to use when he was dating his wife.

Apparently, the potential first Mrs. Wayne’s father did not approve of her seeing an actor (that particular actor), and so the two often spent the night at the Fix house.

In my room.

I didn’t drop the phone.

I didn’t mention it to anyone until long after Mr. Wayne had passed.

For years, I have had a wild desire to place a plaque over the door: “John and Josephine Slept Here.”

Then, it was a scandal. Today, only the National Enquirer and the Star would care.

It still makes me grin.

But I’m very glad I didn’t know the story when I worked on a set with John Wayne, six years after we moved into that house.

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