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The Biggest Jerk in 15 Years of FSM CDs

I have a rule that I don’t use this blog to go after people I don’t like—especially if they have passed and are no longer around to defend themselves.

However, I am going to break that rule today to talk about somebody I couldn’t stand. Because frankly, he deserves it—and he earned it.

Above is the original packaging we intended for our CD of The Green Berets, Miklós Rózsa’s robustly old-fashioned war score to the idiotic and racist John Wayne Vietnam War movie—the one costarring George Takei (which is why Sulu is absent from some second-season episodes of Star Trek), with an ending sunset image over a beach that, logically, would mean the sun is setting in the East.

If you have this CD, you may remember that the final cover looks like this:

This was a Warner Bros. title, and the studio instructed us to obtain the permission of John Wayne’s estate to use any artwork from the film—something having to do with the fact that his company, Batjac, produced the movie. Or maybe his acting contract. Honestly, I don’t think they told us the reason—they were always squirrelly that way.

But fine—so I reached out to the Duke’s son, Michael Wayne, who was in charge of Batjac and still running it.

Friends...Michael Wayne was the biggest jerk I dealt with in 15 years of the Film Score Monthly label.

I had heard of his reputation for being difficult, controlling, and making unwise decisions with his film library—believing that holding things back and making availability scarce would somehow increase the value of his titles (the exact opposite of what works). This is why several famous John Wayne films remained unavailable on home video until well after his death.

Honestly, I don’t know much about him...except that I had been told, by several people, “beware.”

But I’m an optimist. I always assume if I just explain what I want reasonably, and offer to pay fairly, we can work something out.

I spent six months trying to get Michael Wayne’s permission.

First I just got blown off. Fine—people are busy, and he didn’t know me. So I persisted.

Finally, I got through. He didn’t seem unreasonable, and asked that we submit the packaging to him so he could see what he wanted us to approve. I didn’t begrudge him this at all; I rather expected it.

I was optimistic: even though the film was ludicrous and offensive, we didn’t make fun of it in the liner notes—this was a licensed project, and that’s not how we roll.

So I sent the packaging proof (the cover of which is at the top of this post)...and crickets.

I followed up. And followed up.

I finally got him on the phone again—I remember, I was at Private Island Trax that day, working on other CD masters—and he sounded cranky and annoyed, and said something along the lines that he read the first few lines of the liner notes and wanted to “throw up.”

He quoted or read something back to me about how we were talking about how the Duke’s real name was Marion Morrison—and his tone was of a man deeply offended by our tastelessness and stupidity.

You tell me what was so bad:

I don’t know, does it sound like we’re disrespectful hippie commies? Maybe it’s too academic? I dunno.

At this point, I thought, “I hate this guy. He’s completely unreasonable.”

We had never produced a CD without the film artwork—but I figured we had no choice. I asked Joe Sikoryak (our art director) to please drop the Warner Bros. images and just use general imagery and designs, and we’ll wrap it up and release it.

As a bonus, we saved some money—Warner Bros. always wanted a hefty licensing fee for the still images and poster on top of the music licensing royalty. No other studio demanded this, and I thought it was unreasonable. But they would never back off this policy.

We used the generic images, released the CD—and as far as I can tell, nobody cared that the package didn’t have the film artwork.

This was over spring and summer 2002. Michael Wayne died the next April.

So when we did the CD to McQ—starring the Duke as Dirty Harry in Seattle, you kind of have to see it to believe it—we were instructed to reach out to the Duke’s youngest son, Ethan Wayne, for artwork approval.

Ethan Wayne seemed like a normal, reasonable human being. We quickly made a reasonable, fair deal and released that CD with film artwork.

That’s a great Elmer Bernstein score, by the way. never know what’s in somebody’s heart, or if you caught somebody on the wrong day...but in my experience, Michael Wayne was a jerk. I won’t pontificate any further, except to say I’ve told you the truth...and R.I.P.

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