SideLines: Choosing the better Rooster

It's the question that has plagued mankind for years – well, at least the last three. Who played a better Rooster Cogburn: John Wayne or Jeff Bridges?


Rooster Cogburn is the fictional, one-eyed U.S. deputy marshal hired by 14-year-old Mattie Ross to track down the scoundrel Tom Chaney who killed her father in the movie "True Grit." Wayne starred in the original 1969 version while Bridges reprised the role in 2010.


Although Bridges' gruff demeanor was probably closer to what the character would have been like – rough, intimidating, unsympathetic – I have to go with the Duke, who won his only Oscar for his portrayal of one of the more recognizable characters in Western fiction.


Personally, I just can't imagine Rooster Cogburn without images of John Wayne flashing through my mind. One of the greatest film scenes ever is that shootout in the open meadow. Holding the reins of his horse in his teeth, Wayne charges four bad guys, including an impossibly young Robert Duvall, with a six-shooter blazing in one hand and a rifle in the other. That was the Duke in all his glory.


Of the two movies, I probably liked the first one better, mainly because I saw it first and so long ago it's become ingrained in my memory. But to give the second one its due, directors Joel and Ethan Coen gave it a much grittier and probably more realistic look at what life was like in the Wild West after the Civil War. Plus, the second film had a much better cast, with Matt Damon playing Glen Campbell's role as a Texas Ranger and an amazing performance by Hailee Steinfeld, slightly usurping Kim Darby as Mattie.


This past Sunday, local moviegoers got a chance to decide the burning question for themselves as the Egyptian Theatre showed both films back-to-back for free. They also got to pose with a life-size cardboard cutout of the Duke. Though tempted, I passed.


Whichever way you lean, there's no debating there was only one novel from which both movies were taken. Charles Portis' marvelous 1968 book of the same name is told through the eyes of Mattie as an old woman looking back on her life. Since its publication, the book has been hailed as a classic of the Western genre.


That's just one of the reasons the DeKalb Public Library chose it for their annual Big Read Program for October. Free copies of the paperback will be given out at a variety of events this month. for times and dates.


The Big Read Program, part of the National Endowment for the Arts has been promoting literature and reading for pleasure and enlightenment since 2006. More than 1,000 grants have been awarded to groups since then. Books are chosen from a list prepared by the NEA. In the past, the DeKalb library - one of only three libraries in the country to be awarded grants seven years in a row - has promoted "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Tom Sawyer."


I picked up a copy of "True Grit" recently. I hadn't read it since high school, and had forgotten how really good it is, not just for young adults but anyone. It is an engaging tale incredibly well written with more humor and insight on religion than you might expect.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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