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Cuero man penning memories of friendship with actor John Wayne

June 20, 2014 at 1:20 a.m.

John Hamilton, of Cuero, and actor John Wayne on the set of the movie "The Alamo" in 1959.

Memories of actor John Wayne, who died 35 years ago on June 11, 1979, run deep for John Hamilton, of Cuero.

"I cried when I heard he died," said Hamilton, who met Wayne when Hamilton was 12. "It hit me hard. He was someone I really admired, and I cherish the times I spent with him."

Hamilton is recounting his friendship with Wayne in a book with the working title "John Wayne and Me - A Biography Chronicling a 30-Plus-Year Friendship with an American Legend."

"This is something I have wanted to do for a long, long time," said Hamilton, who turns 79 in July. "I'm getting to the age now where I better get it done while I can.

"There are a lot of books out there about John Wayne, most of them written by family members, professional biographers or people in the movie industry. This may be the only one written by someone who was actually friends with John."

Wayne and Hamilton first met in 1947, when the actor hunted dove on the Hamilton property near Cuero. In the following years, Hamilton and Wayne spent time together in Cuero, San Antonio and Austin and on movie sets in California and Mexico.

Hamilton's friendship with Wayne led to a speaking part in the 1960 movie "The Alamo" in which Hamilton appeared on screen with Frankie Avalon.

In the new book, Hamilton recounts his time making "The Alamo" as well as tells tales of his visits with Wayne on the sets of "North to Alaska" and "The Sons of Katie Elder."

For years, Hamilton has called Wayne his best friend.

"I may not have been his best friend - that was Ward Bond - but I considered him my best friend," explained Hamilton. Hamilton's telephone voicemail message even touts that relationship.

Hamilton has enlisted the help of awarding-winning journalist and author Sonny Long, of Victoria, to write the book.

"I couldn't think of a better person to work with. I've always had a great deal of respect for him as a writer," Hamilton said of Long. "He's an exceptional journalist with an eye for detail that I have come to really appreciate."

Long, a veteran journalist, until earlier this year was the senior reporter at the Victoria Advocate. He is also the author of "Among Murderers and Madness," (CreateSpace) a true crime book published in 2012, and co-author of "Bad News for McEnroe" (St. Martin's Press), published in 2004.

Long said the book is much more than a John Wayne book.

"It's a biography of John Hamilton," he said. "Yes, there is a lot of the John Wayne element, their friendship, but I've learned that John Hamilton is an interesting character in his own right."

Long cited Hamilton's family roots and influence in South Texas, his community involvement and his political aspirations as interesting aspects of what he has learned working on the project with Hamilton.

"Until I started working with Mr. Hamilton, I had no idea that he was actually on the ballot for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 1994," said Long. "I think readers will be as fascinated with him and his family as they are with his relationship with Wayne."

The book is slated for release in 2015.

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