John Wayne’s Former Secretary Recalls Working for The Duke

by Joe Rutland

Imagine being the secretary to John Wayne and having people call up all the time wanting to speak to The Duke. Julie Hovanian remembers quite well. At one time, she had the interesting duty of fielding those calls. Not everyone made it past the gatekeeper right there. Still, Hovanian would recall her time working for Wayne. In fact, in this short clip released by the John Wayne Estate, she talks about her role. Hovanian would remember getting a call from TV star Telly Savalas, best known for Kojak.

Talk about sharing a memory from her time with Wayne. Savalas played Pontius Pilate in The Greatest Story Ever Told. Did you know that The Duke also was in this movie? He played a centurion at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Reportedly, Wayne was the first actor cast in this star-studded movie. Yet Wayne only had one line in the entire movie. Wow. Savalas shaved his head for his role, a look that he would keep for the rest of his life.

John Wayne Didn’t Let Health Issues Keep Him Down

There’s no doubt that John Wayne was one of the toughest men ever to appear in movies. He would not be in great health while filming Big Jake. Still, he performed his own stunts there. Director George Sherman would comment about the actor’s resiliency in an interview. “I knew that by 1970 Westerns had changed a lot,” Sherman said. “I admired Duke for playing a character his own age, yet he was still the same tough character people liked.”

Oh, he played Rooster Cogburn. He even played an aging gunslinger in his final movie, The Shootist. Later in his career, Wayne might not have been able to play those roaring, active roles. Still, that did not slow down The Duke one bit. He simply adjusted from a fiery cowboy to a more mature one. Nothing would keep Wayne from performing his best on the big screen. Look back at his fabled movie career. Movies like El Dorado had him side by side with his fellow actor and friend Robert Mitchum. A young Ron Howard got a chance to be in The Shootist with Wayne.

Let’s not forget the many movies Wayne did with director John Ford. Their collaboration remains some of the movie industry’s most beloved Westerns to this very day. Sure, health did play a role in how Wayne approached them later in his life. Yet no one could make a role their own as much as he could do. It’s still amazing to see so many of his movies run on weekends. TV viewers get a chance to fall in love with The Duke all over again.