SC is the West Point of Hollywood – John Milius

Between 2004 and 2007 I researched and wrote my second of what eventually ended up as five books about my alma mater, the University of Southern California. The subject of these books was generally football but also delved into the school’s role in the development of the Hollywood film industry, which was significant to the point of calling it hand-in-hand. As screenwriter John Milius once said, “SC is the West Point of Hollywood.”

I got to know many former Trojan stars, particularly players from their 1970 team which had played one of the most important games in college football history, a victory over Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham largely credited with finally opening up the South to African-Americans once and for all.

One of the ex-players I spoke to at length was Charles “Tree” Young, a black All-American tight end who also helped the 1981 San Francisco 49ers win the Super Bowl. Charles became one of my best friends as well as my “pastor,” of a sort. Whenever I have Biblical questions I take my concerns to him, and he gives me answers filled with wisdom and discernment.

But something he told me one day made me sit up and take notice; to the point where it largely led to my 2014 book The Duke, the Longhorns and Chairman Mao: John Wayne’s Political Odyssey. USC had a game scheduled for the next day and was on the road. Coach John McKay advised the players to relax the night before by watching a movie together, as long as it was not something “subversive” like Easy Rider. Coach McKay loved john Wayne movies, especially after the Duke spoke to his team four years earlier in 1966. 

On this particular evening Charles and his friends went to see a movie many football coaches to this day associate with: Patton starring George C. Scott. The group included Charles, running back Sam “Bam” Cunningham, fullback Manfred Moore, receiver Edesel Garrison, defensive star Tody Smith, and a wide receiver who was always “tagging along” named Lynn Swann. 

After the movie they gathered outside the theater. They all had funny looks on their faces.

“Am I crazy, or was that opening speech by that Patton dude the same thing Marv Goux has been saying to us for the past four years?” somebody blurted out.

“Yes, yes,” somebody else said. Everybody agreed, yes. 

Indeed, the opening speech, in which Scott as Patton stands in front of an American flag and says things like “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country,” or “We’re gonna go through the Hun like sh-t through a goose,” or “Americans have always loved a winner, and won’t tolerate a loser,” well it seemed an assistant coach named Marv Goux had indeed been saying more or less the same thing at least for the past several years, during inspirational pre-game speeches made to the team. These speeches were iconic and legendary, and anyone who knows anything about USC football history is familiar with Coach Goux and his style.   

This seemed interesting to me at the time, but I did not particularly connect the dots. It seemed a coincidence, really, but as a writer I am always curious to learn more. As it happened, during the research into several of my USC books, I spoke to many people, and one event kept popping up. 

In 1966, USC traveled to Austin, Texas to play the Longhorns. It was the opening game, and had significance attached to it, not the least of which was the fact a fully integrated Trojans team was playing a fully segregated Texas team. At the time, USC and Texas were easily two of the best programs in the country, and any game between the two of them promised to have national championship ramifications.

USC had played in Texas a decade before. They were integrated then, too; in fact the Trojans’ first black player was their first All-American, Brice Taylor in 1925. As an aside, I found evidence that Taylor may well have been the player who beat out Duke Wayne, then known as Marion Morrison, for the starting position that year after Duke injured his shoulder. The injury led Duke to the nearby studios as an extra, and of course the rest is history. There certainly were clues and connections in my journey, little crumbs left on the trail for me to pick up and decipher.

But in 1955 USC’s starting tailback was a black star player named C.R. Roberts. That day he faced terrible abuse from the stands and from the Texas players, but gained almost 250 yards in the first half alone to lead Troy to a resounding victory.

Memory of this game was clear in 1966 and certainly motivated Texas to gain revenge. They did not. USC won a relatively boring contest, 10-6, and that would seem to be that . . . except for the stories I kept hearing repeated, mostly by old Trojan hands such as announcer Tom Kelly, another broadcaster named Mike Walden, assistant coaches Marv Goux and Craig Fertig, and several old writers. 

Those stories revolved around John “Duke” Wayne. As mentioned, Duke had played for the Trojans in the 1920s and remained a loyal fan and supporter of the program, along with his good friend and ex-teammate Ward Bond (Death Valley Days). The two would take the “special train” from Los Angeles to San Francisco to watch USC play California and Stanford, drinking and partying all the while.

Bond had passed away a few years earlier but Duke continued to follow his alma mater. In 1966 he was in nearby Mexico filming The War Wagon with Bruce Cabot, and decided to take a break from the shoot and travel to Austin for the USC-Texas game. He drove a special-model “Dukemobile” rigged up for him by one his handlers, and arrived with Cabot and others on Friday afternoon before the game on Saturday.

As Wayne departed his car he saw Tim Rossovich, a USC star linebacker, and a couple of his teammates. He sauntered over to speak to them and found some were also in his fraternity, Sigma Chi. After checking in and getting refreshed, it was on to the hotel ball room, where USC had set up a large reception for their alumni and fans; full buffet, musical accompaniment, and of course a full bar. 

Well, this was right down the Duke’s alley. His entry caused great hullabaloo, as well wishers descended upon him. He was Trojan royalty but was perhaps even more popular in Texas, where he had made The Alamo in 1960. 

Well, the Duke had some dinner and started drinking. Oh, the man could drink, whisky mostly. He could hold his own, for sure. Others could not. One was Los Angeles Times sportswriter Harley Tinkham. At some point, probably around 10 P.M., the Duke was holding court before a large audience of Trojan alumni.  

Tinkham, who had run track at USC and mostly covered track for the paper, was off to the side, apparently intoxicated. 

It was around this time that coach John McKay, assistant coaches Craig Fertig, Marv Goux and Dave Levy, and a number of other personnel entered the ball room. They had gone to a movie but heard John Wayne was there and wanted to meet him and get a cocktail before going to bed early, as the game the next day was an afternoon contest.

As best I can tell, as they entered, Wayne was going on a rant about the Vietnam War. The U.S. had entered the war in March of 1965. At first it was believed we would win easily, but by September of 1966, the date of this game, the war was beginning to take a turn for the worse. Some college campuses such as Cal-Berkeley and Columbia were demonstrating against it. The press was beginning to question the war. 

Wayne would have none it. We were going to win as we always won, because, by God, we’re Americans. So he opened his mouth and said things that sounded like the following:

    “We’re gonna go through those Commie bastards like sh-t through a goose.”

    “Americans love a winner and won’t tolerate a loser.”

    “We admire these players we’e here to see; the toughest football players, the big league ball     player.”

    “I feel sorry for those Commie sons of bitches. We’re gonna use their guts to grease the treads     of our tanks.”

Most of these phrases were met by cheers. Most of Duke’s audience were USC alumni, conservatives, fans and friends of his. It was his kind of room . . . except for Harley Tinkham.

Fortified by drink, Tinkham made his way to the area Duke held court, drunkenly pushed his way right in front of him, and said, “Duke . . . weeeeell . . . you ain’ sh-t!”

Several of Duke’s sycophants tried to rush Harley out of there, but Duke was up to the challenge. He knew Harley from past sojourns and made a remark about his lack of ability to hold his liquor, which in Duke’s estimation marked his failure as a man.

Several more words were thrown about, and then Harley, according to legend – the old memories of old men who were drinking – took a swing at the Duke, and missed.

Then, according to lore, Duke reared back and took a swing at Harley. One of Duke’s old fraternity brothers was standing next to him, and he probably saved his friend a million-dollar lawsuit by grabbing his arms, preventing the Duke’s punch from landing.

Quickly Harley was spirited out of the ball room. McKay saw what happened and tasked assistant coach Craig Fertig with “handling” the Duke the rest of the evening, i.e., keeping him out of trouble.

Fertig managed to get Duke upstairs to his room, and tucked into bed. That seemed to be the end of it, but it was not.

After Fertig left Duke picked up the phone and called Coach McKay. By this time it was early in the morning, but McKay was up, reading the papers and scouting reports. He could not believe it was John Wayne, but after convincing himself it was not a prank, asked the actor what he could do for him.

“I’d like to speak to the team before the game,” Duke said. 

What could John McKay say? If John “Duke” Wayne wants to address your football team, he addresses the football team. The squad had a team breakfast in the morning and Duke was welcome to speak to them then. After hanging up, McKay called Fertig and told him he was still on “John Wayne detail.” He was to go to his room, get Wayne dressed, make sure he was sober, and get him to the breakfast.

Shortly thereafter Fertig showed up at Duke’s room. Duke was very friendly to him.

“I know you,” he said. “I saw you beat Notre Dame a couple years ago.”

Duke asked Fertig what he should wear.

“People know you as a cowboy,” he said. “Dress like one.”

So he helped the Duke into a three-piece suit complete with a white ten-gallon hat and cowboy boots. Whether the boots had spurs on I could not verify, but they might have.

With the team eating breakfast, they were astonished to see John Wayne enter the room. He was introduced and made a speech. I asked several of the players if Duke said anything resembling the war phraseology from the night before, and was told he had not. Some felt he was still inebriated. He may not have slept; he may have drank in his room, although this, like much of the weekend, cannot be fully verified. It was already morphing into myth and legend.

McKay was relieved Duke had made it through the speech without falling over drunk or starting a fight over politics, and that day the Trojans went out and beat Texas in a defensive struggle. Wayne was on the USC sideline, introduced to the crowd, and cheered lustily by the Texas fans. 

After the game he re-appeared in the USC dressing room, was given the game ball, and soon departed back to Texas to finish The War Wagon

So, where was I at this point? I had not witnessed the “John Wayne weekend,” or the 1970 USC-Alabama game, or watched Patton with Charles Young and his teammates, but I had heard the stories. I could piece together this much: John Wayne made a speech in a Texas hotel ball room in 1966, and a great deal of what he said appeared four years later, mouthed by George C. Scott in Patton.

What was the connective tissue of this story? Could it be coincidence? Since USC was then and is still considered “Hollywood’s school,” I discounted coincidence. There was a story here, and I was just the guy to get to the bottom of it. 

First, I had to understand what George Patton had said. I had long before read Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago, the book the film was based on, but while the book does say that Patton had a kind of standard speech he gave to his troops before battle, the words from Scott’s American flag speech were not in the book. In researching the man, I did not find the flag speech anywhere; not in Patton’s diaries, not in A Soldier’s Story by Omar Bradley; not in remembrances of his officers or enlisted soldiers.

The only place I found it was in John Wayne’s drunken rant in 1966. 

Next, I had to connect John Wayne with Patton. That was not a stretch. Duke, hero of many war pictures, had starred in Daryl Zanuck’s 1962 classic, The Longest Day. At that time, Zanuck and a producer named Frank McCarthy had been attempting to produce a Patton movie for a decade.

McCarthy had been a military officer who came to Hollywood to be a producer. His first project was about George Patton. Zanuck loved it and decided to make it, but he could not get the Patton family to sign off on his life story rights. They hated Hollywood liberalism and were sure they would ruin the general’s image. No amount of arguing by Zanuck and McCarthy could convince them otherwise.

After The Longest Day, Zanuck asked Duke Wayne to star as George Patton. Wayne agreed. Zanuck thought this might change Mrs. Patton’s mind. It did not.

I looked into Wayne’s history during this period. He had a lot contact with USC. The school was known for their conservatism and did not host protests of the war like other schools did. In fact Wayne had made an appearance at a symposium hosted by Bob Hope, in which students protested, but Wayne’s appearance had calmed them down. They seemed to side with him after that.

I figured Wayne might have made use of the vaunted USC film school in his research of Patton, but could not get very far on this track. Then around 1966 or 1967, he dropped out of the project to direct and star in The Green Berets

So my Duke Wayne string seemed to have ended. Where do I go from here?

In researching my Duke Wayne book I spoke to a man named Ron Schwary. Schwary had been the USC football team’s manager in 1966. It was a very prestigious position; so much so that it came with a full ride scholarship. USC team managers made contacts that insured success the rest of their lives, often in the film industry. O.J. Simpson’s friend, Robert Kardashian, had started out as the team’s manager, and rode that into a successful business career. Schwary himself told me that after the Texas game he drove to Newport Beach to present Wayne with a helmet signed by the team, and helped store some of the memorabilia from the event, including a letter Duke wrote McKay.

Wayne helped Schwary get into the Producer’s Guild, and he later won Academy Awards for Ordinary People and A Soldier’s Story. He had witnessed most of what happened with Duke that evening and at the game the next day. Now I was getting somewhere. This was a Hollywood tale.

Who did Schwary know at USC and what connection was there with Patton? Well, George Lucas and John Milius were both at USC at that very same time. Lucas would go in to direct Star Wars. Milius would write Apocalypse Now. The Milius connection seemed inviting. He was a well known conservative in a liberal industry, known for writing and directing war films. He had not written Patton, but it seemed like he should have.

Who had written Patton? Ah, the plot was thickening. The answer to that was: Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola was not at USC with Lucas and Milius, but he was friends with them. They in fact all went to San Francisco together to form Zoetrope Pictures. Out of this Milius would write Apocalypse Now. Milius and Coppola were friends.

Next I had to extrapolate, or conjecture, or create a conspiracy theory, which is really just smart people thinking about stuff. It is the same thing any detective does at a crime scene. Had Milius heard the Wayne speech? No, but Charles Young and others said they heard Marv Goux say those words and had for several years.

Had Milius heard Marv Goux make the speech? Had Schwary let Milius into the old gym at USC where Milius would make the speech complete with the Trojan Marching Band and song girls on Friday nights before big games? This seemed highly possible.

Finally, there was Marv Goux, possibly the last piece of this puzzle. Goux, who hailed from Santa Barbara, was a star Trojan player in the 1950s who had become an assistant coach under McKay and was a legend for his inspirational pep talks. He was a short, fiery man with a shock of black hair and thick eyebrows; the kind of man who could intimidate 290-pound football players, His father had died in the Battle of the Bulge and he worshiped the man he served under, General George Patton.

In 1960 every gladiator in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus was a USC or UCLA football player, including Goux. In that film Kirk Douglas gives an inspirational speech in which he famously says he would rather die standing than live as a slave on his knees. After his experiences on that set, Goux had made a speech to the Trojans echoing Douglas’s speech, telling the Trojans “you’d rather die standing up than live like a slave, on your knees.” This speech was particularly effective before the UCLA game, but in 1967 a funny thing happened. 

Goux ended the Douglas speech and started using the John Wayne speech from the ball room in Texas. Indeed, he had witnessed it, having entered with McKay and Fertig after seeing a movie, just as the Duke said what he said and almost got in a fight with the writer.

So that is where Goux got it, from Wayne. Wayne was supposed to play Patton. Had he invented the lines or found them somewhere, to be used when he starred in the role? But he would not star in Patton. He would make The Green Berets instead. 

Who had written the words George Scott used? Francis Ford Coppola.

Which gets back to Milius, who very well may have heard Goux speak to the Trojans on campus, then contacted his friend Coppola, who he went to San Francisco with to form Zoetrope, and told him that he had heard a great speech that should be in a war film, such as the one Coppola was writing for Twentieth Century Fox.

After Wayne left the project several big names turned down the Patton role. Rod Steiger refused to “glorify war.” George Scott liked the role, but not the third draft of the screenplay, which had been written by Edmund North after he replaced Coppola. Scott said he would do it only if they used the Coppola draft, the second draft. That was the draft with the American flag speech. 

In 1969, Coppola was in San Francisco running Zoetrope when he got a telephone call from somebody at Twentieth Century Fox. They were using a sophisticated editing machine, one that Coppola had learned to use while working for Roger Corman in Europe. It was broken, and could Coppola fly to Los Angeles to fix it? He agreed and while on the lot fixing the machine saw dailies from Patton. It was only then that he even knew the film he wrote was being made.

A year or two later he was ready to be fired as directed of The Godfather when he won an Oscar for his Patton screenplay, which saved him from being fired by Bob Evans.

Obviously, Patton was a hit, and the Patton family quietly withdrew their law suit. The last odd tidbit in this story is that Coppola actually intended Patton as an anti-war screed. His depictions of the general as an unhinged maniac who believed in reincarnation, following orders from Greek generals and Roman legionnaires as much as from his American superiors, was supposed to reinforce the notion that America should be run by civilians, not bloodthirsty militarists. It was only Scott’s charismatic portrayal of this kind of man that changed the tenor of the film and made it into the classic it is today. 

It was not the end of Wayne’s USC connection. He was named Grand Marshall of the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, 1975, when the Trojans rallied in one of the most exciting games in their history to beat Ohio State, 18-17 in the Rose Bowl, giving McKay his fourth national championship in 12 years. Wayne sat watching the game with his friend, then Governor of California Ronald Reagan.

Was the opening of Patton inspired by John Wayne, Marv Goux and John Milius? This remains a mystery, but a fun mystery, a tall tale of Hollywood indeed.

Steven Travers is a former screenwriter who has authored over 30 books including The Duke, the Longhorns and Chairman Mao: John Wayne’s Political Odyssey (2024) and Coppola’s Monster Film: The Making of Apocalypse Now (2016). One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation (2007) is currently under film development. He is a USC graduate and attorney with a Ph.D who taught at USC and attended the UCLA Writers’ Program. He played professional baseball, served in the Army JAG corps in D.C., was in investment banking on Wall Street, worked in politics, lived in Europe, and was a sports agent before finding his calling as a writer. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, L.A. Times, StreetZebra, Gentry magazine, Newsmax and MichaelSavage.com. He lives in California and has one daughter, Elizabeth. He can be reached at USCSTEVE1@aol.com or on Twitter @STWRITES.

Join now!