John Wayne died 41 years ago, but his legacy looms large over Hollywood to this day and remains the face of the American Western. His name has become a controversial topic once again though, as activists are calling for the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California to be renamed. Wayne's 1971 Playboy interview is often cited as a reason, as Wayne made derogatory comments about Blacks and Native Americans, and used an anti-gay slur. However, many of those who worked with Wayne had fond memories.
Wayne, who was born Marion Robert Morrison in Iowa, logged more than 170 credits during his Hollywood career, which dated back to the silent era. In 1930, he was given his first starring role in the Western epic The Big Trail, but after the movie flopped, he was stuck in bit parts and B-movie Westerns. Nine years later, his fortunes finally changed when John Ford cast him as the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach. Throughout World War II, he continued acting in Westerns and war movies but did not serve in the war.
Throughout his life, Wayne was a conservative Republican and spoke out against communism. In the 1971 Playboy interview, Wayne voiced support for the Vietnam War and made his controversial statements on race. "I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility," Wayne told the magazine. "I don't believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people." He also said he did not believe the country "did wrong" in taking lands from Native Americans.
When the interview resurfaced last year, there were renewed calls for the John Wayne Airport to revert back to the name Orange County Airport and for the large statue of the actor to be removed. His son Ethan Wayne defended his father in 2019, saying it "would be an injustice to judge someone based on an interview that's being used out of context."
During Wayne's career, even his colleagues disagreed with him on a variety of topics, but they still looked back fondly on working with the actor. In 2010, The Guardian gathered a collection of quotes from his co-stars. Here is what some of them had to say.
"My most useful acting tip came from my pal John Wayne. 'Talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much,'" filmmaker Ron Howard said. In 1976, Howard starred in Wayne's last film, The Shootist. It was released three years before his death.prevnext
The late Dennis Hopper appeared in True Grit, the only film to earn Wayne an Oscar. Hopper was from a very different generation of Hollywood stars, making his mark with Easy Rider the same year True Grit opened. “This one day he arrived on the set of True Grit, and he wanted to know where 'that Pinko Hopper was hiding,'" Hopper recalled. "He was walking around with a gun at his hip, but I think he wanted to have a political discussion, as opposed to committing actual manslaughter! (laughs) Anyway, nothing ever came of it. That was just Duke.”prevnext
Kirk Douglas, who died at 103 in February, worked with Wayne on In Harm's Way, The War Wagon and Cast a Giant Shadow. The two often clashed over politics, as Douglas was a Democrat, but Douglas understood why Wayne was a star. "John Wayne was a star because he always played John Wayne," Douglas said. "Frankly, he wasn’t an excellent actor, but good heavens, what a star! It wasn’t John Wayne who served the roles; the roles served John Wayne."prevnext
Maureen O'Hara co-starred with Wayne in some of his best-loved films, including The Quiet Man, McLintock! and Rio Grande. "Speaking as an actress, I wish all actors would be more like Duke and speaking as a person, it would be nice if all people could be honest and as genuine as he is. This is a real man," she said.prevnext
In 1966, Robert Mitchum co-starred in Howard Hawks' El Dorado with Wayne. The movie was essentially a remake of Hawks' own Rio Bravo. "John Wayne had four-inch lifts in his shoes. He had the overheads on his boat accommodated to fit him," Mitchum said after Wayne's death. "He had a special roof put in his station wagon. The son of a b—, they probably buried him in his goddamn lifts."prevnext
Charlton Heston, another Hollywood Republican, only worked with Wayne on the 1965 Biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told. Heston played John the Baptist, while Wayne had a small cameo in the film. There are actors who can do period roles and actors who can't. God knows John Wayne couldn't play a first-century Roman!" Heston once remarked.prevnext
In 1969, Rock Hudson finally got to work with Wayne on the 1969 Western The Undefeated. "John Wayne was then the Hollywood legend, and I was on-screen with him. The guy is an angel. He saved my life back then when no other filmmaker wanted to know me," Hudson said.
The one drawback of making a movie with Wayne, who was nicknamed "Duke," was that you got to see what Wayne did to become the "John Wayne" Americans know. "I did a movie with Duke Wayne and was very surprised to find out he had small feet, wore lifts, and a corset. Hollywood is seldom what it seems," Hudson said.prev