Maureen O’Hara did one final favor for her best friend, John Wayne. The Duke was dying in a California hospital. And the actress flew to Washington, D.C. to testify in front of Congress.
Why? She wanted Congress and then President Jimmy Carter to honor her dear friend with a medal. This was in May, 1979. And on Tuesday, more than 42 years after O’Hara’s speech, the John Wayne estate mentioned it in an Instagram post.
The photo was fantastic and oozing happy nostalgia. Duke and O’Hara were sitting next to each other on a movie set. They both were wearing hats. Each had their legs crossed as O’Hara pointed to something she wanted her friend to see.
The family estate captioned the photo with an O’Hara quote:
“He is just the same. He doesn’t change. That is the wonderful thing about Duke: you can depend on him.” – Maureen O’Hara on her friend, John Wayne, during her speech for John Wayne’s Congressional Gold Medal. Do you have values like John Wayne?”
O’Hara Described Wayne As ‘the United States of America’
Back in 1979, O’Hara spoke to Congress’ banking subcommittee. The topic was whether to honor John Wayne with a Congressional gold medal. Duke was suffering from cancer and didn’t have long to live.
According to the New York Times, Rep. Frank Annunzio (Democrat-Illinois) told the committee that the medal was “a way to honor this last of the old‐time movie actors.”
Annunzio introduced O’Hara. The actress blinked back tears as she talked of her dear friend. She told them: “I have known John Wayne for 39 years, and in those 39 years I have called him my dearest friend — my best friend .
“To the people of the world, John Wayne is not just an actor — and a very fine actor — John Wayne is the United States of America.”
O’Hara finished her testimony: “I beg you to strike a medal for Duke,” she said, “to order the President to strike it. And I feel that the medal should say just one thing: ‘John Wayne, American.’ ”
How could you not be swayed by O’Hara? Congress approved the medal, unanimously. Hours later, the Senate passed the proposal by voice vote. It was a rare honor. When Congress approved the medal for Duke, the legislative body had done so only 83 times before. Previous honorees included George Washington and Walt Disney. Carter also awarded Duke, posthumously, with the presidential medal in 1980.
The two stars met early in their careers. They were introduced by director John Ford. The director cast them together in Rio Grande. They were in four more movies, including The Quiet Man, The Wings of Eagles, McLintock! and Big Jake. Duke’s estate is celebrating the 50-year anniversary of Big Jake.