Thursday, September 28, 2023

John Wayne came to Colonial Williamsburg — and this boy wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Perry Como and John Wayne in the Governor's Palace during filming of Como's Christmas special, November 1978. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)
Perry Como and John Wayne in the Governor’s Palace during filming of Como’s Christmas special in November 1978. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)

When John Wayne and Perry Como rolled into Colonial Williamsburg to film a Christmas special in 1978, one local boy tried hard to meet them and would hold on to the memory for decades.

Blake Patterson was about six years old in the fall of 1978, when Como and Wayne came to Williamsburg with a crew to shoot “Perry Como’s Early American Christmas,” a colonial-themed television program.

Patterson, a web developer who lives in Alexandria, didn’t know who Como was. But his father was a fan of crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Como, whose signature look was a cardigan sweater.

One day in the fall of 1978, Patterson and his parents came to Colonial Williamsburg from York County and stood along Duke of Gloucester Street, a few blocks from the Capitol. A crowd of about 80 to 100 people waited with them.

Patterson said he knew Wayne was a movie star and thought it would be “cool” to see him. But, as Patterson wrote in a blog post Wednesday, only Como arrived to greet fans. Patterson could not conceal his disappointment. In a loud voice, he said: “Wait a minute! Where’s John Wayne?”

The crowd laughed, and Como came over and patted Patterson on the head.

Wayne did make his presence felt at the silversmith’s shop, where some of the filming took place. At one point, Wayne tossed around a six-inch silver tray, Master Silversmith George Cloyed said in a phone interview. When the staff realized Wayne’s fingerprints were visible, they didn’t polish the tray, keeping the prints as a souvenir of the star’s visit.

Betty Myers, Colonial Williamsburg’s master wigmaker, was in her early twenties when Como and Wayne came to town, she said during a phone interview.

She was a second-generation employee, following in the footsteps of both of her parents.

One evening while the two stars were in town, Myers was tasked with preventing curious onlookers from trying to sneak into the printing office, where a scene was being filmed. She spoke with Wayne for about 10 or 15 minutes that night, she said.

He was interested in history, she remembers. During the filming, he cracked jokes.

“What you saw was what you got,” said Myers, who also met Como.

Her mother, Joyce Myers, saw Como at the Governor’s Palace on Nov. 7, 1978, asked for an autograph and told him it was her birthday.

According to Betty Myers, Como kissed her mother on the cheek.

Aside from meeting the stars, Colonial Williamsburg employees also appeared in the program as extras, Myers said.

The opening number in the special features Como on location, making the rounds at various shops and singing a Williamsburg-themed version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

If you look closely, Myers said, she can be seen twice: riding in a carriage and walking on Duke of Gloucester Street. But her cameos come and go in an instant, she said.

Patterson watched the special in December 1978, when it aired on television.

He hadn’t seen it again until Wednesday, when he found it on YouTube.

Patterson tried to share the program with his wife and his 10-year-old daughter, who couldn’t match his enthusiasm.

“It’s very campy obviously,” said Patterson, who writes a blog called Nostalgic Virginian. “I’m glad to have found it.”

Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley is a former Miami Herald business reporter, a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and an attorney. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post,, and Talking Points Memo. Her recent book, Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital, was shortlisted for the 2017 Mark Lynton History Prize. Her first book, The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy, won the 2005 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

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