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John Wayne

The smearing of John Wayne

In 1973, Marlon Brando orchestrated an Oscars scandal.
And thus was born an absurd myth targeting John Wayne.

Rather than accept the best actor award for his role in the Godfather, Brando skipped the Academy Awards altogether. Instead, he sent an Apache activist, Sacheen Littlefeather, in his stead to protest Hollywood’s infamously poor treatment of Native Americans. Littlefeather’s surprise appearance roiled a town filled with easily roiled people. In fact, during her very brief, 74-second “acceptance” speech, Wayne, known even then as a reactionary right-winger, attempted to rush the stage, likely with the intention of physically removing, or even assaulting, the slight Native American woman.
Wayne’s effort to remove Littlefeather by force was thwarted only after the intervention of no fewer than six security guards. Don’t believe me? Ask the New York Times, which parroted the security guard anecdote as fact in its Oct. 3 obituary for Littlefeather.
“Her appearance at the 45th Academy Awards was the first time a Native American woman had stood onstage at the ceremony, she in a glimmering buckskin dress, moccasins and hair ties,” the paper reported . “But the backlash and criticism was immediate. The actor John Wayne was so unsettled that a show producer, Marty Pasetta, said security guards had to restrain him so that he would not storm the stage.”

It’s shocking! It’s terrible!
But – did this really happen? Did a 65-year-old John Wayne, who had recently undergone surgery for lung cancer, including the removal of two ribs, really attempt to charge at Littlefeather, only to be stopped by a half dozen security guards? From my own brief, off-and-on-again research, it doesn’t appear so. It appears the story is mostly fiction, the product of years of re-telling and revisions, with only a small kernel of truth at its center.
For the truth of the matter, we turn to film historian and journalist Farran Smith Nehme, whose exhaustive investigation turned up no evidence Wayne ever attempted to rush Littlefeather or that he had to be restrained by a half dozen security guards. In fact, according to Nehme, who reviewed Oscars footage, inspected press archives, and spoke with biographers, the story appears to be the invention of a single producer, whose recollection of Wayne’s reaction to Littlefeather’s speech has grown more fantastic and unbelievable with the number of times he has told it.
The problems with the anecdote are many, according to Nehme, including the timing of the alleged incident, Wayne’s personal health, the secrecy surrounding Littlefeather’s surprise appearance, the absence of corroborating eyewitness accounts, the lack of mentions in contemporaneous news reports, and even the Oscars stage design itself.

“John Wayne, then 65 years old, had undergone lung-cancer surgery in 1964,” she writes. “The surgeons made a 28-inch incision, removing two ribs and the entire upper lobe of his left lung. The operation saved his life, but left Wayne with daily breathing problems that he worked mightily to conceal, despite requiring a supplemental oxygen tank on the sets of some subsequent movies.”
Yet, we’re to believe this same man flew into a rage 45 seconds into Littlefeather’s speech and then battled six security guards? Oh, and he did all this within the span of 29 seconds! Wayne would’ve had only these few precious seconds to react because the protest portion of Littlefeather’s address lasted only 29 seconds, and it came at the very end of her speech. Further, as the Native American activist herself has stated repeatedly, no one knew the content or purpose of her prepared remarks. Wayne didn’t have time to prepare a response. He would’ve had to react on the fly, in the moment.
Moreover, in a 2021 documentary, Littlefeather describes John Wayne as being “in the wings.” Yet, as footage of the event shows, the stage that year had “no wings to speak of,” as Nehme notes, and “no John Wayne.”
Perhaps Wayne was somewhere further backstage. This only complicates the story, as it suggests he sprang into action, made it to the “wings” of the stage somehow, and tussled with six security guards all in less than 30 seconds. One wonders whether he brought his oxygen tank with him. There’s also the damning fact that none of the trade papers at the time mentioned the alleged incident, according to Nehme’s review of dozens of entertainment reports published between 1973 and 1974. In a town that loves celebrity gossip nearly as much as it loves itself, it’s hard to believe news editors passed on a story involving John Wayne wrestling security guards at the 45th Academy Awards.
There’s more ( you really should read Nehme’s entire report ), but we’ll stop at this last point: The man who appears to be solely responsible for the security guard legend is Oscars show director Marty Pasetta. He claimed in a 1988 interview Wayne needed to be held back by six men. This interview is the thing everyone cites when they repeat the story. The problem with Pasetta’s 1988 version of events is this: It’s one of many. He recounted the Oscars incident in interviews in 1974, 1975, and 1984. With each telling, Pasetta’s memory of Wayne’s reaction evolved slightly to include increasingly unflattering details. Though there are slight deviations in the stories told between 1974 and 1984, none of them mention security guards or attempts to rush the stage. It wasn’t until the late 1980s, long after Wayne’s death, that Pasetta “revealed” the actor needed to be restrained.
Equally as notable as the gradual changes in Pasetta’s recollection of that night at the Oscars is the fact no eyewitnesses have ever corroborated his tale.
“John Wayne angry and yelling, yes, I imagine so,” Nehme writes at the conclusion of her investigation. “Six security guards holding him back lest he race onstage and attack like he’s King Kong: Until one steps forward, I’m going with ‘never happened.’ After a great deal of research, my conclusion is that this began as an exaggerated tale Marty Pasetta told to interviewers — he wasn’t the first Hollywood personality with a story that got more exciting each time it was told, and he won’t be the last — and has become a persistent urban legend.”
She adds, “And another thing. There is a lot of highway between ‘John Wayne was angry backstage about Sacheen Littlefeather’s Oscar speech,’ and what it’s morphed into, ‘John Wayne had to be physically prevented from dragging her off stage’ or, and this is simply a lie, ‘John Wayne tried to assault’ the activist. A leap across a chasm of logic is being made by people who plainly have never read much, if anything, about John Wayne the actual person, versus John Wayne, player of manly roles, far-right conservative, and giver of racist interviews. But the off-screen and off-duty John Wayne wasn’t a brawler, especially not with women.”
Wayne biographer Scott Eyman himself told Nehme the allegation is ludicrous. “I don’t doubt he would have been pissed off by Brando’s rejection of an award Wayne and his generation had considerable respect for, but the idea of him trying to storm the stage like Lawrence Tierney on a bender is ludicrous,” he said.
Yet, despite all the obvious red flags, Pasetta’s 1988 version of events is accepted now as fact. It’s an article of faith, as evidenced by its casual mention in the New York Times’s obituary this week for Littlefeather.
It makes sense.
The nation is currently in the throws of an iconoclast revolution, where onetime heroes and legends are being torn down in the name of “equity” and “social justice.” John Wayne is exactly the sort of person this revolution targets. He supposedly represents the worst of the U.S.: A privileged white male, an outspoken conservative, and a traditionalist. That he also has an unsavory record of racially problematic remarks makes the security guard myth “too good to check,” as they say. It’s not surprising, then, that an anecdote alleging John Wayne attempted to assault a Native American woman would be accepted at face value by the Left, the Too Online, and New York Times staffers. They’re already inclined to believe it. To them, it’s exactly the sort of thing a traditional American “hero,” especially one with a history of racially insensitive and derogatory remarks, would do.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Once Revealed the Real Reason Why He Didn’t Serve in the Military: ‘I Was America’

Actor John Wayne often defines the Western movie genre. He also stands as an American cultural icon for many folks around the country. However, Wayne didn’t serve in the military, which always haunted him throughout the rest of his life. The actor once revealed the real reason why he didn’t serve and the purpose he truly wanted to fulfill in the war efforts.

John Wayne gave excuses to keep him from serving in the military

Actor John Wayne, who refused to serve in the military, on the set of 'Cast a Giant Shadow' with his leg hanging out the side of a military vehicle.

John Wayne | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Marc Eliot’s American Titan: Searching for John Wayne explores the ins and outs of the actor’s career, personal life, and his hardships involving military service. Many celebrities, such as Jimmy Stewart, still served in the military in one way or another. However, the initial story was that Wayne couldn’t serve in the military, but begged to do so.

Eliot explained that this story was a complete fabrication. The actor’s local board called him, but he claimed to be exempt on the grounds that he’s the sole supporter of his family. However, he failed to mention that he was going through a divorce. Additionally, Wayne excused himself from military service because of an old soldier injury. He was ultimately granted an exemption “for family dependency reasons.”

Wayne supposedly wanted to join the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), which would later become the CIA. They sent him a letter urging him to sign up, but he claimed that his wife, Josephine, hid it from him.

John Wayne revealed that he wanted to serve another purpose in the military than serving in it

American Titan: Searching for John Wayne pointed to how Wayne changed his story about why he didn’t serve in the military. The actor got much more personal with Dan Ford, John Ford’s grandson. Wayne didn’t think a traditional military position would work for him but believed that he could add value to the war efforts in other ways.

“I didn’t feel I could go in as a private, I felt I could do more good going around on tours and things,” Wayne said. “I was America [to the young guys] in the front lines … they had taken their sweethearts to that Saturday matinee and held hands over a Wayne Western. So I wore a big hat and I thought it was better.”

Wayne certainly made his passion for America and the military very clear. However, even his mentor, Ford, continually picked on him for not serving in the military. Meanwhile, Ford praised Stewart for serving America, which certainly got under Wayne’s skin. It was all in favor of getting a better performance out of the actor.

The actor always regretted his decision to not serve his country

Eliot’s book explained how much of an impact having no military service had on Wayne. His third wife, Pilar, said that his decision not to serve in the military was the real reason why he became a “super-patriot for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying at home.”

Regardless of the various reasons Wayne gave for not serving in the military, he certainly didn’t like to discuss it. However, he certainly uplifted those who did serve in the military. Wayne once defended a veteran when a group of USC students against the Vietnam War harassed the young man.

Wayne also displayed where his heart was for the military in some of his motion pictures, including The Green Berets. Critics ripped the movie apart, but it was a major success at the box office.

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John Wayne

John Wayne’s Weird Voice Cameo in ‘Star Wars’ Sounds Nothing Like Him

John Wayne spent much of his Hollywood career playing tough-as-nails characters. Many of The Duke’s portrayals came in westerns and war movies; sci fi movies like Star Wars weren’t part of his repertoire. Wayne’s grandson, Brendan Wayne, has a role in the Star Wars universe with his work in The Mandalorian. It turns out he’s following in his grandfather’s footsteps. Wayne’s weird voice cameo in A New Hope means he was the first Wayne to travel to a galaxy far, far away.

Several John Wayne movies have perfect Rotten Tomatoes scores

Wayne earned three Academy Awards nominations in his career. He picked up a win for best actor in 1970 for playing Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.

Yet neither The Alamo, which he directed and starred in, nor True Grit earned favorable ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. Twelve Wayne movies earned 100% scores on the Tomatometer, but Sands of Iwo Jima was the only one for which he also earned an Oscar nomination.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope scored better than 90% with critics and fans on Rotten Tomatoes. He doesn’t show up in the credits, but Wayne has a voice cameo thanks to a sound designer who held on to audio snippets he no longer needed.

Wayne has a voice cameo in the first ‘Star Wars’ movie as Garindan — sort of

He doesn’t appear on screen, and we don’t hear his signature drawl, but John Wayne shows up in A New Hope. The Duke voices a crucial character and it was a complete accident, according to sound designer Ben Burtt.

Burtt once revealed how Wayne’s voice cameo in Star Wars happened (h/t to SlashFilm):

“I always wanted to do an insect man – we didn’t really have an insect man come along until Poggle the Lesser [from Episodes II and III]. We had that character that looked kind of like a mosquito from the first Star Wars [Garindan] that we found we needed a sound for. 

“[I] was wondering back a few months ago how I did it – because I keep notes and tapes – and I discovered it was an electronic buzzing which had come off of my synthesizer that was triggered by a human voice. And I listened to it and realized it was John Wayne – I had found some loop lines in the trash from the studio that had been thrown away. So the buzzing was triggered by some dialog like ‘All right, what are you doin’ in this town’ or something like that.”‘Star Wars’ sound designer Ben Burtt

Wayne’s voice cameo in Star Wars— looped and filtered through synths — shows up in Star Wars. He just doesn’t commandeer a stagecoach or call anyone pilgrim.

Stunt performer Sadie Eden played Garindan on screen, according to IMDb. Garindan is the character that alerts stormtroopers about Luke, Ben, C-3PO, and R2-D2 in Mos Eisley. The stormtroopers then attack the Millennium Falcon before it blasts off to Alderaan.

Like his grandfather, Brendan Wayne is part of the Star Wars universe. Unlike his grandad, this Wayne isn’t limited to weird voice cameos.

Pedro Pascal voices Din Djarin in The Mandalorian, but the younger Wayne is the person in the suit battling the mudhorn and tangling with a krayt dragon. He plays a key role on the show, and he channeled his grandfather to deliver the physical mannerisms.

At one point, Brendan Wayne resembled his grandfather too closely. During one headstrong moment, co-star Carl Weathers had to stop the scene when he started laughing at Wayne acting out the scene just like his grandfather.

John Wayne’s voice cameo in Star Wars was modified and filtered through synths. Meanwhile, grandson Brendan Wayne keeps the tradition going with his role in The Mandalorian.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Movies: The Duke Got Trademark Look From Director John Ford

John Wayne was unmistakable in movies. His career lasted six decades because of his indelible presence on camera. One of his trademark attributes could be credited to his frequent director, John Ford. Ford directed Wayne in 14 movies and had a relationship with him via the studios even when he wasn’t directing. It was Ford who gave Wayne his key look on film.

Paramount Home Entertainment released the Wayne/Ford classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance on 4K UHD on May 17. In some of the bonus features, Ford’s grandson Dan and film critic Molly Haskell discuss what Wayne brought to movies, and how Ford inspired him.

John Ford told John Wayne to create ‘an intense look’ for movies

In a John Wayne movie, the audience knew that when Wayne’s character looked intensely at the villain, he meant business. As a director, Ford knew the importance of an intense look. Cinema is a visual medium, after all. 

“My grandfather always told Duke Wayne, he says ‘When you need to convey something you need to just, give ‘em an intense look. Give ‘em an intensity. Let the audience read into that look,’” Dan Ford said. “John Wayne was a fabulous nonverbal communicator. John Wayne was a much better actor than people give him credit for.”

Critics underestimated John Wayne movies

Haskell said that critics underestimated Wayne throughout his career. Wayne became such a staple in westerns and war movies that critics assumed he was playing himself. Of course, Wayne was not actually a sheriff or veteran, though he did have his own ranch. Haskell gave Wayne credit where it’s due. 

“The idea of acting so often has been disguising yourself, playing characters who are completely alien from what is perceived as your basic personality,” Haskell said. “So an actor who seems to just be playing himself or playing a role that is close to what he is is not seen as acting at all.”

The critical tide has turned 

Haskell was happy to see critics raise their esteem for Wayne to match that of his fans. Near the end of Wayne’s career in the ‘70s, and after his death, critics could be dismissive of that singular look that Ford taught him.

“John Wayne’s one of the great movie actors of all time,” Haskell said. “In the ‘70s and ‘80s this was not a popular point of view. He was a national icon but among critics and the eastern liberal establishment he was not a favorite, partly because of his politics but mostly because he acted in westerns and westerns themselves were not taken seriously.”

As the dominant genre of Wayne’s work, westerns themselves have risen in esteem too. Especially the westerns Ford directed, with or without Wayne, now get their due. His grandson was happy to see that. 

“He had a tender, sentimental side that certainly shows in his work,” Dan Ford said. 

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