John Wayne (May 26, 1907 – June 11, 1979) was an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning American film actor. He epitomized rugged masculinity and has become an enduring American icon. He is famous for his distinctive voice, walk and physical presence. He was also known for his conservative political views and his support in the 1950s for anti-communist positions.
In 1999, the American Film Institute named Wayne 13th among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time. A Harris Poll released in 2007 placed Wayne third among America's favorite film stars, the only deceased star on the list and the only one who has appeared on the poll every year.
His career began in silent movies in the 1920s and he was a major star from the 1940s to the 1970s. He is closely associated with Westerns and war movies, but he also made a wide range of films from various genres - biographies, romantic comedies, police dramas, and more.
Wayne's family moved to Palmdale, California, and then to Glendale, California in 1911, where his father worked as a pharmacist in a drug store. A local fireman at the firehouse on his route to school in Glendale started calling him "Little Duke", because he never went anywhere without his huge Airedale Terrier dog, Duke. He preferred "Duke" to "Marion," and the name stuck for the rest of his life.
As a teen, Wayne worked in an ice cream shop for a man who shoed horses for Hollywood studios. He was also active as a member of the Order of DeMolay, a youth organization associated with the Freemasons, which he joined when he came of age. He attended Wilson Middle School in Glendale. He played football for the 1924 champion Glendale High School team. Wayne applied to the U.S. Naval Academy, but was not accepted. He instead attended the University of Southern California (USC), majoring in pre-law. He was a member of the Trojan Knights and joined the Sigma Chi fraternity. Wayne also played on the USC football team under legendary coach Howard Jones. An injury curtailed his athletic career; Wayne later noted he was too terrified of Jones' reaction to reveal the actual cause of his injury, which was bodysurfing at the “Wedge” at the tip of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. He lost his athletic scholarship and, without funds, had to leave the university. Wayne began working at the local film studios. Western star Tom Mix had got him a summer job in the prop department in exchange for football tickets. Wayne soon moved on to bit parts, establishing a long friendship with the director who provided most of those parts, John Ford. Early in this period, Wayne appeared with his USC teammates playing on-screen football in The Dropkick, Brown of Harvard, and Salute, and was one of the featured football players in Columbia Pictures' Maker of Men (filmed in 1930 and released in 1931).
Wayne continued making Westerns, most notably at Monogram Pictures, and serials for Mascot Pictures Corporation, including The Three Musketeers (1933), a French Foreign Legion tale with no resemblance to the novel which inspired its title. Coincidentally, he also appeared in some of the Three Mesquiteers westerns whose title was a play on the Alexandre Dumas, père classic. He was tutored by stuntmen in riding and other Western skills. He and famed stuntman Yakima Canutt developed and perfected stunts still used today.
Beginning in 1928, and extending over the next 35 years, Wayne appeared in more than twenty of John Ford's films, including Stagecoach (1939), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Quiet Man (1952), The Searchers (1956), The Wings of Eagles (1957), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). His performance in Stagecoach made him a star.
His first color film was Shepherd of the Hills (1941), in which he co-starred with his longtime friend Harry Carey. The following year he appeared in his only film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the Technicolor epic Reap the Wild Wind, in which he co-starred with Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard; it was one of the rare times he played a character with questionable values.
In 1949, director Robert Rossen offered the starring role of All the King's Men to Wayne. Wayne refused, believing the script to be un-American in many ways. Broderick Crawford, who eventually got the role, won the 1949 Oscar for best male actor, ironically beating out Wayne, who had been nominated for Sands of Iwo Jima.
He lost the leading role in The Gunfighter to Gregory Peck because of his refusal to work for Columbia Pictures because Columbia chief Harry Cohn had mistreated him years before when he was a young contract player. Cohn had bought the project for Wayne, but Wayne's grudge was too deep, and Cohn sold the script to Twentieth Century Fox, which cast Peck in the role Wayne badly wanted but refused to bend for.
One of Wayne's most popular roles was in The High and the Mighty, (1954) directed by William Wellman and based on a novel by Ernest K. Gann. His portrayal of a heroic airman won widespread acclaim. Wayne also portrayed aviators in The Flying Tigers, Island in the Sky, Flying Leathernecks and The Wings of Eagles and Jet Pilot.
The Searchers continues to be widely regarded as perhaps Wayne's finest and most complex performance. In 2006 Premiere Magazine ran an industry poll in which Wayne's portrayal of Ethan Edwards was rated the 87th greatest performance in film history. He named his youngest son Ethan after the character.
John Wayne won a Best Actor Oscar for True Grit (1969). Wayne was also nominated as the producer of Best Picture for The Alamo, one of two films he directed. The other was The Green Berets (1968), the only major film made during the Vietnam War to support the war. During the filming of Green Berets, the Degar or Montagnard people of Vietnam's Central Highlands, fierce fighters against communism, bestowed on Wayne a brass bracelet that he wore in the film and all subsequent films.
According to the Internet Movie Database, Wayne played the lead in 142 of his film appearances.
Batjac, the production company co-founded by Wayne, was named after the fictional shipping company Batjak in Wake of the Red Witch. (A spelling error by Wayne's secretary was allowed to stand, accounting for the variation.) Batjac (and its predecessor, Wayne-Fellows Productions) was the arm through which Wayne produced many films for himself and other stars. Its best-known non-Wayne production was the highly acclaimed Seven Men From Now, which started the classic collaboration between director Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott.
In later years, Wayne was recognized as a sort of American natural resource, and his various critics, of his performances and his politics, viewed him with more respect. Abbie Hoffman, the radical of the 1960s, paid tribute to Wayne's singularity. Reviewing The Cowboys, made in 1972, Vincent Canby, film critic of the New York Times, who did not particularly care for the film, wrote, "Wayne is, of course, marvelously indestructible, and he has become an almost perfect father figure." But years before he became anything close to a father figure, Wayne had become a symbolic male figure, a man of impregnable virility and the embodiment of simplistic virtues, packaged in an enormous frame.
He had a handsome and hearty face, with crinkles around eyes that gave the impression of a man of action, an outdoor man who chafed at a settled life. He was laconic on screen. And when he shambled into view, audiences sensed the arrival of coiled vigor awaiting only provocation to be sprung. His demeanor and his roles were those of a man who did not look for trouble but was relentless in tackling it when it affronted him. This screen presence emerged particularly under the ministrations of directors John Ford and Howard Hawks.
Wayne was a Conservative Republican. He took part in creating the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals in 1943 and was elected president of that organization in 1947. He was an ardent anti-communist, and vocal supporter of the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1951, he made Big Jim McLain to show his support for the anti-communist cause. He also claimed to have been instrumental in having Carl Foreman blacklisted from Hollywood after the release of the anti-McCarthyism western High Noon, and later teamed up with Howard Hawks to make Rio Bravo as a right-wing response. A supporter of then Vice President Richard Nixon's bid for the White House, he famously expressed his vision of patriotism when John F. Kennedy won the election: "I didn't vote for him but he's my president, and I hope he does a good job."
Wayne used his iconic status to support conservative causes, including rallying support for the Vietnam War by producing, co-directing, and starring in the critically panned The Green Berets (1968). In 1978 however, he enraged conservatives by supporting liberal causes such as the Panama Canal Treaty and the innocence of Patty Hearst.
Due to his enormous popularity, and his status as the most famous Republican star in Hollywood, wealthy Texas Republican Party backers asked Wayne to run for national office in 1968, as had his friend and fellow actor, Senator George Murphy. He declined, joking that he did not believe the public would seriously consider an actor in the White House. However, he did support his friend Ronald Reagan's runs for Governor of California in 1966 and 1970. He was also asked to be the running mate for Democratic Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1968. Wayne vehemently rejected the offer. Wayne actively campaigned for Richard Nixon, and addressed the Republican National Convention on its opening day in August 1968. Wayne also was a member of the conservative and anti-communist John Birch Society.
Wayne's strong anti-communist politics led to a particularly unnerving situation. Information from Soviet archives, reported in 2003, indicates that Joseph Stalin ordered Wayne's assassination, but died before the killing could be accomplished. His successor, Nikita Khrushchev, reportedly told Wayne during a 1958 visit to the United States that he had personally rescinded the order.
In an interview with Playboy magazine in May 1971, Wayne made infamous remarks. He noted that, as someone living in the 20th Century, he was certainly not responsible for the way people who lived one hundred years before him had treated Native Americans. In the second remark, he noted that African-Americans had been denied educational opportunities and resented that fact, "possibly rightfully so," but he went on to say that past mistreatment did not justify turning over positions of responsibility to blacks on the basis of skin color alone without regard to accomplishment and schooling and training.
America's entry into World War II resulted in a deluge of support for the war effort from all sectors of society, and Hollywood was no exception. Established stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (USN, Silver Star), Henry Fonda (USN, Bronze Star), and Clark Gable (USAAC) as well as emerging actors such as Eddie Albert (USN, Bronze Star) and Tyrone Power (USMC) rushed to sign up for military service. Most notably, James Stewart (USAAC, Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Croix de Guerre) had already enlisted in the US Army Air Corps, surmounting great obstacles in order to do so.
As the majority of male leads left Hollywood to serve overseas, John Wayne saw his just-blossoming stardom at risk. Despite enormous pressure from his inner circle of friends, he put off enlisting. Wayne was exempted from service due to his age (34 at the time of Pearl Harbor) and family status, classified as 3-A (family deferment). Wayne's secretary recalled making inquiries of military officials on behalf of his interest in enlisting, "but he never really followed up on them. He repeatedly wrote to John Ford, asking to be placed in Ford's military unit, but continually postponed it until "after he finished one more film. Republic Studios was emphatically resistant to losing Wayne, especially after the loss of Gene Autry to the Army.
Correspondence between Wayne and Herbert J. Yates (the head of Republic) indicates that Yates threatened Wayne with a lawsuit if he walked away from his contract, though the likelihood of a studio suing its biggest star for going to war was minute. Whether or not the threat was real, Wayne, did not test it. Selective Service Records indicate he did not attempt to prevent his reclassification as 1-A (draft eligible), but apparently Republic Pictures intervened directly, requesting his further deferment. In May, 1944, Wayne was reclassified as 1-A (draft eligible), but the studio obtained another 2-A deferment (for "support of national health, safety, or interest"). He remained 2-A until the war's end. Thus, John Wayne did not "dodge" the draft, but he never took direct positive action toward enlistment.
Wayne was in the South Pacific theater of the war for three months in 1943–44, touring U.S. bases and hospitals as well as doing some "undercover" work for OSS commander William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, who thought Wayne's celebrity might be good cover for an assessment of the causes for poor relations between General Douglas MacArthur and Donovan's OSS Pacific network. Wayne filed a report and Donovan gave him a plaque and commendation for serving with the OSS, but Wayne dismissed it as meaningless.
The foregoing facts influenced the direction of Wayne's later life. By all accounts, Wayne's failure to serve in the military during World War II was the most painful experience of his life. There were some other stars who, for various reasons, did not enlist. But Wayne, by virtue of becoming a celluloid war hero in several patriotic war films, as well as an outspoken supporter of right-wing political causes and the Vietnam War, became the focus of particular disdain from both himself and certain portions of the public, particularly in later years. While some hold Wayne in contempt for the paradox between his early actions and his later attitudes, his widow suggests that Wayne's rampant patriotism in later decades sprang not from hypocrisy but from guilt. Pilar Wayne wrote, "He would become a 'superpatriot' for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying home.
John Wayne's hair began thinning in the 1940s and he started wearing a hairpiece by the end of that decade (though his receding hairline is quite evident in Rio Grande). He was occasionally seen in public without the hairpiece (notably, according to Life Magazine photos, at Gary Cooper's funeral). The only time he unintentionally appeared on film without it was for a split second in North to Alaska. On the first punch of the climactic fistfight, Wayne's hat flies off, revealing a brief flash of his unadorned scalp. Wayne also has several scenes in The Wings of Eagles where he is without his hairpiece. (During a widely noted appearance at Harvard University, Wayne was asked by a student, "Is your hair real?" Wayne responded in the affirmative, then added, "It's not mine, but it's real!")
Wayne had several high-profile affairs, including one with Marlene Dietrich that lasted for three years. In the years prior to his death, Wayne was romantically involved with his former secretary Pat Stacy (1941–1995). She wrote a biography of her life with him, DUKE: A Love Story (1983).
During the early 1960s John Wayne traveled extensively to Panama. During this time, the actor reportedly purchased the island of Taborcillo off the main coast of Panama. It was sold by his estate at his death and changed hands many times before being opened as a tourist attraction.
A relatively large number of the cast and crew of Wayne's 1956 film The Conqueror developed various forms of cancer. The film was shot in Southwestern Utah, east of and generally downwind from where the U.S. Government had tested nuclear weapons in Southeastern Nevada, and many contend that radioactive fallout from these tests contaminated the film location and poisoned the film crew working there. Despite the suggestion that Wayne’s 1964 lung cancer and his 1979 stomach cancer resulted from this nuclear contamination, he himself believed his lung cancer to have been a result of his six-pack-a-day cigarette habit. The effect of nuclear fallout on The Conqueror's cast and crew, and particularly on Wayne, is the subject of James Morrow's science-fiction short story Martyrs of the Upshot Knothole.
On June 9, 1980, Wayne was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter (at whose inaugural ball Wayne had appeared "as a member of the loyal opposition", as Wayne described it in his speech to the gathering). Thus Wayne received the two highest civilian decorations awarded by the United States government.
John Wayne rose beyond the typical recognition for a famous actor to that of an enduring icon who symbolized and communicated American values and ideals. By the middle of his career, Wayne had developed a larger-than-life image, and as his career progressed, he selected roles that would not compromise his off-screen image. By the time of his last film The Shootist (1976), Wayne refused to allow his character to shoot a man in the back as was originally scripted.
Wayne's rise to being the quintessential movie war hero began to take shape four years after World War II when Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) was released. His footprints at Grauman's Chinese theater in Hollywood were laid in cement that contained sand from Iwo Jima. His status grew so large and legendary that when Japanese Emperor Hirohito visited the United States in 1975, he asked to meet John Wayne, the symbolic representation of his country's former enemy.
Wayne was a popular visitor to the war zones in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. By the 1950s, perhaps in large part due to the military aspect of films such as the Sands of Iwo Jima, Flying Tigers, They Were Expendable, and the Ford cavalry trilogy, Wayne had become an icon to all the branches of the U.S. Military, even in light of his actual lack of military service. Many veterans have said their reason for serving was in some part related to watching Wayne's movies. His name is attached to various pieces of gear, such as the P-38 "John Wayne" can-opener, so named because "it can do anything," paper towels known as "John Wayne Toilet Paper" because "it's rough and it's tough and don't take shit off no one," and C-Ration crackers are called "John Wayne crackers" because presumably only someone as tough as Wayne could eat them. A rough and rocky mountain pass used by army tanks and jeeps at Fort Irwin in San Bernardino County, California, is aptly named "John Wayne Pass."
Various public locations have been named in memory of John Wayne. They include John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, where his life-size statue graces the entrance; the John Wayne Marina near Sequim, Washington; John Wayne Elementary School (P.S. 380) in Brooklyn, NY, which boasts a 38-foot mosaic mural commission by New York artist Knox Martin entitled "John Wayne and the American Frontier"; and a 100-plus-mile trail named the "John Wayne Pioneer Trail" in Washington state's Iron Horse State Park. A larger than life-size bronze statue of Wayne atop a horse was erected at the corner of La Cienega Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California at the former offices of the Great Western Savings & Loan Corporation, for whom Wayne had done a number of commercials. (The building now houses Larry Flynt Enterprises.)
On December 5, 2007, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Wayne into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts.
For his new anthology Very Best of Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself, released on June 24th 2008, popular British rockstar Billy Idol recorded a brand-new, celebrative song titled "John Wayne". Idol himself claimed to be a fan of Wayne's movies.
In his birthplace of Winterset, Iowa, the John Wayne Birthday Centennial Celebration was held on May 25-27, 2007. The celebration included chuck-wagon suppers, concerts by Michael Martin Murphey and Riders in the Sky, a Wild West Revue in the style of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, symposia with John Wayne co-stars, cavalry and trick horse demonstrations as well as many of John Wayne's films. This event also included the ground-breaking for the John Wayne Museum and Learning Center at his birthplace house.
In 2006, friends of Wayne's and his former Arizona business partner, Louis Johnson, inaugurated the "Louie and the Duke Classics" events benefiting the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society. The weekend long event each fall in Casa Grande, Arizona includes a golf tournament, an auction of John Wayne memorabilia and a team roping competition".