In John Wayne’s America: The Politics of Celebrity, Gary Wills discusses John Wayne’s performance as an actor as well as his performance of his persona and masculinity. Men watched Wayne and emulated him, including presidents as Wills discussed how Nixon and Reagan consciously pulled from Wayne’s performance of masculinity. Wayne and John Ford, as Wills discusses, put so much thought and effort on every part of Wayne’s persona: grace, stances, and his walk; so much so, in fact, that he is recognizable without seeing his face..
In Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties, Steven Cohan discusses Cary Grant in North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959) and the “masks” he wears in the performance and as an actor. Moreover, Hitchcock creates an argument in the film that gender is a performance as Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) and Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) change “masks” of gender depending on the situation to survive (Cohan 23). One of those masks of masculinity draws from the performance of masculinity that John Wayne so carefully contrived. Hitchcock is destabilizing “the continuity of a single identity” through these different masks of gender performance, one of which was so carefully put together as to identify maleness (Cohan 23).
Cohan later goes onto discuss that the “basis of meaningful representation in performance, with identity displaced from its moorings in the gender-nationalism equation and understood instead as a dynamic and unstable social production involving the continual deployment of masks, role-playing and theatricality” (17). This goes against how John Wayne is characterized and his persona. John Wayne’s persona is the quintessential American manliness and masculinity. Wills even describes him as the ideal Roman citizen, which is someone who is trained to go to war: “The Roman Empire trained its citizens to war”(23). He further discusses how during Wayne’s high-time America was imperialistic and striving towards Roman like citizen. Furthermore, Ford and Wayne creating Wayne’s persona in such fashion is creating a hard, tough, militaristic, imperialistic masculinity. North by Northwest works against this singular, gender-nationalistic approach and shows that gender is a performance—Wills discusses how many men try to perform John Wayne, which is performance of a particular mask of gender. Hitchcock is trying to point to performances like John Wayne and show that they are just that a performance, that many me move through and put on when society calls for that particular view of masculinity.