PALMETTO -- He's right where you'd expect John Wayne to be most at home, among the livestock where the real America comes to life. Except that you might not expect to encounter the real live John Wayne at the Manatee County Fair in 2013.
"Everyone wants to live with their own love or inspiration," said Cliff Voake, who portrays the popular Western character. " He's a mainstay as far as American images. He's an icon of American values. In fact, the last Gallop poll had him as one of the top 10 stars still."
"He will bring people over to the livestock sale, so then maybe they'll stop and see a few minutes of the livestock as well," hoped Dan West, fair director, when he selected Voake as one of the Hollywood characters to bring to this year's event. "We met these (character) folks at a convention in November. That was my goal, to meet some folks who could stroll the grounds. The board had me book them."
For those captivated by the John Wayne character, Voake offers a full show of history and Americana. "The show is heavy into history. It goes into the cattle drive and story about American history. When people think about America, in a simplistic way, he still lives out being true to his word and so on. A lot of people grew up on him."
The act of John Wayne's characters focuses on a well-
done history lesson centered around the universality of people, he explained. "I try to stress that united we stand. 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' That's one of the more famous quotes from (President Abraham) Lincoln. People buy it. People believe it.
"The old West was a time of entrepreneurism. You made it or you died. In many ways, the strong survived, physically as well as in spirit," he added.
While the impersonator finds great value in the patriotism and basic values symbolized by John Wayne, Voake admits he wasn't always on the same page with the man himself. "When I was growing up, he was too right-wing for me. Politically I was never ever close to where he's at, but inspirationally, with the American dream and ideals we hold, he still resonates really strongly."
A native of Los Angeles, Voake's experience includes broadcasting and acting including the television show "General Hospital" and some stints with NBC and FOX in the greater central Florida area. "I've been a performer off and on all my life, radio and camera, when I lived in L.A., and even New Mexico, I do character voice for commercials."
What he likes about performing at the fair, however, is that it's "down to earth."
"It's one on one. I'm looking forward to that," he said. "The more simplistic the better."
Fairgoers who meet John Wayne can expect an honest approach to life. He said, "I'm very good at getting people in character and making them smile. The older generation, the boomer generations know instantly who I am, Surprisingly a lot of younger kids do too."
The 62-year-old cowboy does carry a gun, albeit a replica. "It's all fake. It's a fake Colt .45, the holster rig that was worn by him. There were several versions, but this guy (who made it) did a really good job. Everything is counterfeit and I don't ever pull it out, even though I grew up around guns as a kid."
Voake can be reached through his web site www.johnwaynelive.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.