What USC Needs Against Alabama is a Pattonesque Speech by John Wayne

As USC heads to Arlington, Texas, to play the Alabama Crimson Tide Saturday night, Trojan football fans all over have got to know:

Was the opening Patton monologue really based on a John Wayne speech to the Trojans?

Let's back up.

The No. 20 Trojans square off against No. 1 'Bama at AT&T Stadium for the non-conference Cowboy Classic. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Fifty years ago, before the Sept. 17, 1966, USC-Texas football game, Newport Beach's “Duke” Wayne is said to have given an inspirational talk before the Trojans defeated the Longhorns, 10-6.

USC graduate and San Anselmo-based author Steven Travers tried to confirm that speech was the basis for the words actor George C. Scott recited as Gen. George S. Patton against a giant American flag backdrop in Patton.

Like so:

While researching his 2014 book The Duke, The Longhorns, and Chairman Mao: John Wayne's Political Odyssey, Travers interviewed sports writer Steve Bisheff. Travers claims the Irvine resident, former Orange County Register sports columnist and author of Fight On! The Colorful History of USC Football told him of the Wayne-Patton connection.

“I don’t see how the incident could possibly be the subject of an entire book,” Bisheff apparently told Travers,  “but good luck with it.”

Here is a excerpt from The Duke, The Longhorns, and Chairman Mao that also mentions the late Marv Goux, a former player and gruff-talking assistant coach who became synonymous with USC football over a span of three decades, earning the nickname “Mr. Trojan:”

Travers goes on to write about the connection between Francis Ford Coppola, who co-wrote Patton with Edmund H. North and had attended UCLA, and his USC buddies in the 1960s George Lucas, Walter Murch and especially John Milius. Coppola and the rough-and-tumble Milius would go on to work together in the 1970s on Apocalypse Now, so Travers reports it is possible the Trojan previously told the Bruin about Wayne's motivational speech to the football team. 

Alas, Travers, whose latest book is Coppola's Monster Film: The Making of Apocalypse Now, says Coppola and North revealed they wrote the script based largely on the biographies Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and A Soldier's Story by General of the Army Omar Bradley (who was played by Karl Malden in the movie).

Fortunately for Travers and his John Wayne book, there was plenty more material out there concerning the actor's political odyssey.

Wayne's ties to Trojan football are legendary. Already known as “Duke,” Marion Mitchell Morrison was recruited by Howard Jones to play football for USC and was part of an outstanding freshman squad.

The USC football program was supported by cowboy star Tom Mix, and through that connection Jones arranged for Trojan football players to get summer jobs in Hollywood, where Wayne went to work at the Fox lot for $35 a week. He injured his shoulder in a swimming accident that summer, and his football career was never the same. But at the studio the tall, good-looking pilgrim caught the eye of director John Ford, Mr. Morrison changed his stage name to John Wayne, and the rest is movie history.

As for Travers, he also wrote the 2010 book One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation, which shows how the contest helped open the door to integration of collegiate sports in the Deep South. (Click here to buy his books.) The author tells the Weekly he's hosting some pre-game events in Texas. Here's hoping the Trojan football squad attends and he has a Patton-like inspirational speech in his pocket waiting for them.

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