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John Wayne

How WWII Set The Stage For John Wayne’s Rise To Superstardom

John Wayne is often canonized as one of America’s greatest heroes, but this wasn’t the case during World War II as his Hollywood star began to rise. As author Garry Wills described in his book “John Wayne’s America: The Politics of Celebrity,” the combat veterans present during his USO tours in the 1940s were furious with his presence, booing the Duke and jeering as he took the stage. In their eyes, Wayne was a coward and a draft dodger who chose Hollywood stardom over joining the war effort. When the attack on Pearl Harbor signaled the United States’ entry into World War II, John Wayne had recently enjoyed his breakthrough performance in “Stagecoach,” which positioned him as the next big thing.

By the time the U.S. joined the war, Wayne was already 34 years old and was the main financial support for his wife and four children. His contemporaries like Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, and Henry Fonda all enlisted, but Wayne never did. The longstanding belief has been that Wayne was fearful he’d be “over the hill” by the time he returned to have a career in Hollywood, and didn’t have the wealthy safety net for his family the way his aforementioned colleagues did. President Roosevelt called the movie theater a “necessary and beneficial part of the war effort,” so Wayne stayed back to support the war effort through his art, successfully obtaining a 3-A status, “deferred for [family] dependency reasons.” Making movies could help support his family, and in his mind, raise morale throughout the country.

(Lest we forget: plenty of other men who were the head of their household did not have the privilege of deferring, but that’s a whole ‘nother article.)

Is Wayne a draft dodger or a loophole exploiter?

Joan Crawford and John Wayne in Reunion in France

John Wayne never actually had to register for the draft, instead starring in 18 films between 1941-1945, many of which had war-related themes that positioned him as a tough American hero who survived the impossible. With his A-lister status now well entrenched, there was no real reason he couldn’t enlist. His family had the money to stay afloat without him, Hollywood clearly loved him and would have welcomed him back with open arms, and director John Ford even had an “in,” getting Wayne to join the naval photography unit. But it didn’t happen. In 1944, Wayne received a 2-A classification, “deferred in support of [the] national … interest.” Meaning that he didn’t have to go to war because it was believed his performance on screen was just as important. Selective Service tried to revoke his deferments shortly after, but the studio system made an appeal and his 2-A status was reinstated until after the war had ended.

Historians believe that Wayne’s guilt inspired by his lack of serving in the war was a major contributing factor to his eventual zealous nationalism and white supremacist ideals. It’s hard to have empathy for someone who completely took advantage of a studio system in need of movie stars because the regular go-to’s were off serving in the war while John Wayne’s support and activism started and stopped with his own quest for fame. 

Meanwhile, superstar Marlene Dietrich also couldn’t serve in the war due to her gender but dedicated countless hours and dollars to helping Jews escape Germany, publicly called Hitler “an idiot” for trying to cast her in propaganda films and put on more than 500 performances for Allied troops throughout the war.

John Wayne is no hero

John Wayne in The Fighting Seabees

When it comes down to brass tacks, John Wayne is nothing more than an opportunistic bigot that has been undeservedly iconized by American culture. In Ronald L. Davis’ book “Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne,” he cites a quote from John Ford’s grandson Dan regarding Wayne’s lack of action during World War II. “Here was his only chance and he knew it,” Dan Ford said:

“He was an action leading man, and there were a lot of roles for him to play. There was a lot of work in A movies, and this was a guy who had made eighty B movies. He had finally moved up to the first rank. He was in the right spot at the right time with the right qualities and willing to work hard. Would I have done any different? The answer is hell no.”

Ford’s honesty is refreshing compared to Wayne’s history of skirting around the question and subsequent unacceptable behavior in the name of “patriotism.” In a delicious bit of irony, Sacheen Littlefeather, the indigenous woman that Wayne had to be physically restrained from attacking at the 1973 Academy Awards ceremony was finally given a formal apology today, nearly half a century later. 

Meanwhile, John Wayne has statues erected of him across the American Southwest and is the namesake of the Orange County, CA airport … all because he took advantage of a dire situation and used it to make him a star.

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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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