From the Vaults: My Enemy/My Niece

Sorting the facts from the legend in 'The Searchers'

Natalie Wood in 'The Searchers'
Natalie Wood in 'The Searchers'

Over many seasons and years, Ethan Edwards hunts for his young niece Debbie, who has been kidnapped by Comanches shortly after the end of the Civil War. It's the crux of the 1956 Western, The Searchers, John Ford's great American classic which stars John Wayne as Ethan and Natalie Wood as Debbie.

So much time has passed that Debbie is now a young woman and Ethan suspects she has become integrated into the Comanche community and is no longer a virginal Christian frontierswoman. Finding her and reuniting may not be the blessing anticipated by others. The dramatic high point arrives when Debbie is finally discovered, and Ethan chases after her. Will he shoot her on sight as his idea of of a mercy killing or return her to the family fold? In discussing the movie in 1993, Louis Black wrote: "Jean-Luc Godard once said that he hated John Wayne, the political human being, but loved him as almost nothing else when he picks up Natalie Wood at the end of this movie."

Although the film is based on a novel by Alan Le May, the legend of Cynthia Ann Parker, a nine-year-old girl captured in 1836 by Comanches in East Texas, underlies the story of the Searchers. The mythmaking is the subject of a new book by University of Texas School of Journalism Director Glenn Frankel. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Frankel spent 27 years at The Washington Post as a writer and editor before coming to Austin and publishing The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend. Frankel was interviewed by the Chronicle in "Searching for Cynthia Ann."

Next Wednesday, April 3, the UT College of Communication will host a free screening of The Searchers, followed by a conversation between Frankel and Radio-Television-Film Professor Charles Ramírez Berg. It will take place from 7-9:30pm in the second-floor auditorium of the Belo Center for New Media (300 W. Dean Keeton St. – where the new KUT headquarters are also housed).

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More The Searchers
Searching for Cynthia Ann
Searching for Cynthia Ann
Glenn Frankel's new book untangles the true story behind 'The Searchers'

Amy Gentry, Feb. 15, 2013

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The Searchers, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, Glenn Frankel

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