American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light

1969: John Wayne, in his Oscar winning performance as Rooster Cogburn, in scene from the movie 'True Grit' directed by Henry Hathaway in 1969. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
1/44
John Wayne was a titan of Hollywood; he was one of the most popular leading men in movie history as well as a true American icon. In addition to appearing in 179 movies, almost always playing the good guy, he was a passionate patriot and left behind a legacy of support for cancer research. This all-American hero revealed a dark side to his personality, however, that has left modern audiences shocked and appalled.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
2/44
Over the course of his career, Wayne came to define the cinematic image of a cowboy, perhaps only rivaled by Clint Eastwood. As Ronald L. Davis would put it in Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne, “John Wayne personified for millions the nation’s frontier heritage.” And his popularity has endured far beyond his lifetime.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
3/44
 
Harris Poll conducted in December 2015 had John Wayne as the only actor who was no longer living to make it to the top ten when voting for “America’s Favorite Movie Star.” And “The Duke” looked just as convincing as a soldier in uniform as he did on horseback; he would play pioneers and tough guys who were able to beat every other tough guy.


American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
4/44
Considering the enormous impact that Wayne had on Hollywood, it might be surprising to know that he would rather have had a career playing football. Due to an injury, however, he became a prop hand and then an extra. In fact, he took on background parts in almost 20 movies before his big break.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
5/44
While shifting furniture behind the scenes for the production of The Big Trail in 1930, Wayne caught the attention of the film’s director, Raoul Walsh. Astonishingly, Walsh decided to make the young actor the star of the movie. But the man he saw hadn’t truly become John Wayne yet.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
6/44
Born Marion Morrison, Wayne had actually taken the nickname “Duke” after his family’s pet dog. The boy had originally been “Little Duke” beside the Airedale Terrier, which was dubbed “Big Duke.” By the time that Wayne starred in The Big Trail, however, he had undergone another name change.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
7/44
Directors John Ford and Raoul Walsh would both later take credit for coming up with the name “John Wayne.” The man himself apparently had little to say about it. Nevertheless, it was at this point that “Duke” Morrison settled on the moniker which would see him become known around the world.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
8/44
Following The Big Trail, Wayne would go back to smaller roles. Over the course of the following decade, though, he started to make more of a name for himself as a lead. Then, in 1939, John Ford cast him in Stagecoach, which was a huge critical and financial success. This was what really launched Wayne into mainstream stardom.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
9/44
Over the following decades, Wayne would star in iconic Westerns including The Searchers, Rio Bravo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and True Grit. The last of these even earned Wayne a Best Actor Oscar win, coming towards the end of an illustrious career. After his death, Wayne was even given a Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
10/44
And as well as being a leading man, Wayne was something of an alpha male in his romantic life. He married three times, but his dedication to his career had a significant impact on all of his relationships. His first marriage, to Josephine Saenz, was in 1933 when he was still appearing in B-movies. Though they had four children together, Wayne’s investment in his work became a problem. They parted ways in 1943 and divorced not long after.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
11/44
Wayne’s second marriage, to Esperanza Bauer Diaz, also suffered from the star’s devotion to his work life – and it didn’t last as long as his first. Diaz apparently suspected Wayne of having an affair with one of his leading ladies; she also accused her husband of violence and cruelty. Wayne denied this but, either way, their marriage ended in divorce in 1953.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
12/44
And though the divorce proceedings drew publicity, none of the furor appeared to dent Wayne’s popularity or to really slow the progress of his career. The day the star’s divorce was finalized, meanwhile, he married another woman: Pilar Pallete. He had first met the actress in Lima in Peru while scouting locations for a new movie, before coming across her again in Los Angeles.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
13/44
Pallete was more understanding of Wayne’s obsession with work and took more of an interest in his career than either of his previous wives. The couple had three children together, and their union lasted 19 years. However, Pallete eventually took issue with Wayne’s lengthy trips away from home, and the two separated in 1973.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
14/44
And Wayne was reportedly romantically linked to several of his female co-stars. The most notable of these was Marlene Dietrich, who he met on the set of Seven Sinners. Despite all of this, Wayne was a very private character, and he did his best to keep his romantic life – marriages and affairs alike – out of the spotlight. While his love life was occasionally turbulent, Wayne made a point of prioritizing his family and spending time with his children when he wasn’t working. But Wayne’s romantic relationships were far from the only source of conflict in his life.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
15/44
Indeed, Wayne’s failure to fight in World War II was a blot on his record that the star could never shake off. When America joined the war in 1941, Wayne didn’t rush to enlist. Initially, he was granted an exemption based on his age, at 34, and his family status. As he had a wife and four children, for whom he was the sole provider, he wouldn’t be expected to join the fight. This was only intended to be a deferment, though, and not a permanent state of affairs.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
16/44
Ultimately, Wayne’s movie studio submitted an occupational deferment on his behalf to prevent him from being enlisted. At this point, Wayne was the only true star that the studio had under contract. It’s easy to understand why they didn’t want to see their hottest property walking out the door.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
17/44
Director John Ford, meanwhile, then a commander in the United States Naval Reserve, reportedly said that he would help Wayne sign up after he had made another movie or two. It would seem that the time never came, however – and the star never did join Ford’s unit.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
18/44
It’s hard to know whether this hero of the screen ever truly intended to fight. On the one hand, Wayne wrote a letter in 1942 to Ford which seems to indicate that he wanted to serve. In the letter, he wrote, “Have you any suggestions on how I should get in? Can I get assigned to your outfit, and if you could, would you want me?… I just hate to ask for favors, but for Christ sake you can suggest can’t you?”
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
19/44
Wayne also seems to have made an application to the forerunner of the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS). Even more impressively, this application was actually approved. The paperwork apparently went to the home of Wayne’s wife, who he had separated from, however. It’s certainly plausible that she then withheld the letter from him, perhaps worrying that she would have to provide for their children alone if he came to a terrible fate.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
20/44
On the other hand, there’s no evidence that Wayne ever following up on his application. The star perhaps felt that he could have a greater impact on the war effort by continuing to work in film. Indeed, this is just what he did, as he carried on portraying war heroes on the big screen, perhaps inspiring the nation, as well as contributing by touring hospitals and bases in the Pacific.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
21/44
Others speculate, though, that Wayne’s affair with Marlene Dietrich, which began in 1940, was a significant motivator for his staying home. Ford himself apparently scolded Wayne for staying in America and getting rich while other men fought. This failure to serve reportedly caused Wayne great pain – and resulted in him becoming a “super-patriot” for the rest of his life, according to Pallete.
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
22/44
Indeed, Wayne made a point of throwing himself into the anti-communist effort at home. The Duke was concerned by what he saw as a growing left-wing influence in the film industry. In 1944 – several years before the start of the Cold War – he became one of the founding members of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (the MPA).
American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
23/44
 
The MPA’s Statement of Principles announced, “We resent the growing impression that this industry is made of, and dominated by, communists, radicals, and crackpots.” The conservative organization would be fundamentally opposed to individuals with communist connections of any kind.


American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
24/44
 
Wayne was also an active supporter of blacklisting actors, screenwriters and directors who had been, or were believed to have been, communists or communist sympathizers. Although Wayne claimed that there was no blacklist, he willingly admitted to pushing people out of work if they had expressed communist views. This was a fight that Wayne was front and center of.


American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
25/44
 
Wayne was offered the lead part in High Noon, for example. The film sees a marshal who is forced to stand alone against a criminal when the local townspeople refuse to come to his aid. Wayne took issue with the movie, however, describing it as being un-American, as it offered a critical allegory of the McCarthy trials.


American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
26/44
 
Years later, Wayne would say that he was proud of his role in blacklisting the movie’s writer, Carl Foreman. Looking back, according to Ronald L. Davis’s biography, he said, “I’ll never regret having helped run Foreman out of the country.” This was a story that The Duke was more than happy to recall.


American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
27/44
 
Wayne was also a staunch supporter of Senator McCarthy. In the film Big Jim McLain, he actually played an investigator for the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC). Speaking in 1960 about his opinions of McCarthy – widely seen as driving a witch hunt for his own political ends – Ronald L. Davis quoted Wayne as saying, “Whether [McCarthy] went overboard or not, he was of value to my country.” And never one to back down from sharing an opinion, Wayne would go on to make headlines for some of his other controversial views.


American Icon John Wayne’s Darkest Moments Are Now Coming To Light
28/44