Framework

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Feb. 9, 1979: Demolition experts examine a large boulder 250 feet up a Malibu cliffside above Pacific Coast Highway. They decided against blasting the boulder. The rock had moved 20 feet in about a week.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: R. L. Oliver / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 15, 1979: A helicopter and sling are used on the boulder overlooking Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Dave Gately / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 15, 1979: A helicopter lowers a steel cable net over a large boulder on a Malibu cliffside overlooking Pacific Coast Highway. This three-photo combo was published in the Feb. 16, 1979, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: George Fry / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 16, 1979: Crew members from Guy. F. Atkinson Co. celebrate after they brought down a large boulder off a Malibu cliffside onto Pacific Coast Highway.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: George Fry / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 16, 1979: Dianne Colemen, 22, exults after scrambling atop the boulder that finally came off a Malibu cliffside.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: George Fry / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 16, 1979: Dick Booth, 38, as Superman, offered to help move the large boulder in Malibu. His offer was declined.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: George Fry / Los Angeles Times

March 2, 1979: A five-ton portion of Malibu's famous teetering boulder, which recently was removed from its uncertain hillside perch, is placed in a grassy area in Century City. From it Australian sculptor Brett-Livingstone Strong plans to carve a bust of John Wayne.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

March 9, 1979: The section of the Malibu boulder as it appeared after one week of work by sculptor Brett-Livingstone Strong.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

March 26, 1979: Sculptor Brett-Livingstone Strong working on sculpture of John Wayne using a section of boulder from Malibu. He is holding a magazine cover of Wayne he uses as a guide.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

March 26, 1979: Sculptor Brett-Livingstone Strong working on sculpture of John Wayne using a section of the Malibu rock.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

June 13, 1979: A sculpture of John Wayne sits surrounded by flowers following the death of Wayne. Security guard Isaiah Brown talks with sculptor Brett-Livingstone Brown. The sculpture was on display at Century Square Shopping Center in Century City. The boulder had been removed from a Malibu cliff in February 1979.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

Dec. 4, 1979: Australian sculptor-artist Brett Livingstone Strong with sculpture of John Wayne carved from 116 ton Malibu rock. Sculpture is sitting in forecourt of Mann's Chinese Theater.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Steve Fontanini / Los Angeles Times

Oct. 23, 1980: Brett-Livingstone Strong watches as his sculpture of John Wayne is lifted from the courtyard of Mann's Chinese Theater. Purchased by Tom Murphy, the eight-ton sculpture was taken on a tour.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ben Olender / Los Angeles Times

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From Malibu cliffhanger to John Wayne sculpture

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From Malibu cliffhanger to John Wayne sculpture

In February 1979, a large boulder estimated to weigh about 100 tons began slowly sliding down a Malibu cliffside – threatening six homes along Pacific Coast Highway.

A Caltrans project on Feb. 15, 1979, lowered the rock onto Pacific Coast Highway. An article in the late final edition of the Los Angeles Times reported:

A cheer went up from the 400 onlookers who watched the delicate and dangerous operation from land and from kayaks at sea.

The Guy. F. Atkinson Co. was hired for approximately $97,000 to remove the big rock.

The 400 onlookers included Adriana Gianturco, director of the California Department of Transportation who ordered the boulder’s removal, and sculptor Brett-Livingstone Strong, who negotiated to buy the big boulder for $100 from Pete Boli, the supervisor of the removal operation for the Atkinson firm. …

Originally Strong planned a sculpture of California Gov. Jerry Brown. But, after moving a section of the boulder to an outdoor studio in Century City, Strong started chipping away a John Wayne sculpture.

Staff writer Jerry Belcher reported on his progress in the March 29, 1979, Los Angeles Times:

Many’s the time John Wayne has found himself trapped between a rock and a hard place and, through strife and struggle, managed to get himself out from under.

This time, though, the Duke’s not between but within–trapped inside a chunk of the (in)famous Malibu rock–and he’s being rescued from that hard place by a young Australian sculptor with the melodramatically appropriate name of Brett-Livingstone Strong.

Wearing goggles to keep the True Grit out of his eyes, the 25-year-old artist has been chiseling away at a 12 1/2-ton chip off the old rock for about three weeks, seeking the form and face within, the hero struggling to get out of the stony imprisonment. In other words, he’s making a sculpture of The Duke.

As Malibu rock fans may recall, when the sculptor first saw the boulder perched precariously above the Pacific Coast Highway last month, he announced to the world that a heroic bust of Gov. Jerry Brown was somewhere inside the stone waiting to be freed by hammer and chisel.

The enterprising Strong bought what remained of the boulder (for $100) as soon as it came tumbling down from the cliffside. Then he arranged to have it transported to an impromptu outdoor studio at Century Square Shopping Center, just off Santa Monica Blvd. in Century City.

It was about the same time that the hero imprisoned within the rock began mysteriously to transmogrify himself from Superguv to Superstar.

The fact that this development inspired a great new flurry of publicity did not bother Strong in the slightest. He set to work on the rock with a vengeance–and an rented air chisel that costs him $60 a day.

By Wednesday, the face emerging from the 7-foot tall, caramel colored sandstone block was recognizable as that of the rugged and enduring Western star, although it will get some smoothing out. This despite the fact that Strong has never seen Wayne in person–he’s working from a photo of the Duke that appeared on the cover of US Magazine last year.

“For a time,” Strong says “ I was getting comments from people like ‘I believe that’s Jimmy Durante you’re carving.’ But now people say they can see the resemblance coming out. I’m getting compliments on it now.” …

When John Wayne died on June 11, 1979, Strong’s sculpture became a temporary memorial to the actor. Later that year, the sculpture was moved to the forecourt of Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Also in 1979, Strong sold the sculpture to Arizona real estate man Tom Murphy. He later donated the sculpture to Lubbock Christian University where it’s on display in the school’s library.

Link to the LCU Library’s John Wayne page.

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