Michael Wayne [John's son] maintained the lustre on his father's name, Gretchen Wayne [Michael's widow] says. "Someone said to my husband: 'Your father was a legend, but you took him and made him an icon!' Part of it has to do with the marketing of that name. My husband was very careful about the way he kept his father's name in the public. I think that's what helped continue John Wayne's presence for later generations.
"Look at Clark Gable. Look at Gary Cooper. They're outstanding actors. But they don't seem to have the same impact that John Wayne, who is their contemporary, has today."
Despite or perhaps because of their willingness to lend out Wayne's image for dopey commercials, the Wayne estate has generally been canny about making sure that Wayne stays marketable in a way that few old-time stars are; Lucille Ball, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe are among the select few stars who are still genuine stars fifty years after their heyday. (Humphrey Bogart used to be in that category, but I'm not sure if he is any more; ditto Fred Astaire.)
Apparently the Wayne estate is going to be releasing more of Wayne's self-produced movies through Paramount; the popular McLintock! is on its way soon. Better still, they'll be releasing some movies that Wayne produced but didn't appear in, including William Wellman's weird experiment with color in Track of the Cat (shot in color, but almost everything being filmed is either black or white) and -- this should make Terry Teachout very happy -- the first Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott Western, Seven Men From Now. Unfortunately all the other Boetticher/Scott films are owned by Columbia, so we may have to wait a while for those.