John Wayne Explained How He Became Less Angry, How Folks Had ‘Hard Time’ Getting Him Mad

by Josh Lanier

John Wayne played a street-fighting man and lived as one for a few of his earlier years. But over time, he said, that internal rage was rung out of him through loss. The loss of close friends, loss of money, and loss of time. He just didn’t care as much about getting angry unless it was on screen.

He told the Saturday Evening Post about his newfound philosophy in 1962. This was during a particularly low period for Wayne. He was nearly broke after some bad financial decisions and sinking most of the last of his money into making The Alamo. He was working constantly, but the traditional Western was beginning to fade out of prominence. And he’d recently had three close friends die unexpectedly. Actor Grant Withers, who killed himself; actor Ward Bond, who died of a heart attack; and his press agent Bev Barnett. His 74-year-old mother also almost died in a car wreck, but she survived.

All of this loss and turmoil had helped him, oddly. It had calmed him and helped him see what actually mattered in his life.

“I found out once,” John Wayne said, “that some of the toughest men I knew, when they really get mad, have a little smile and a look and they’re talking low. This is the way I get mad. But it happens very seldom anymore. I really like people. Unless people go out of their way to insult me, they’re going to have a hard time having any trouble with me. My last street fight was with a couple of boilermakers, but that was years ago.”

But there were still a few things that could always get him angry. One was politics. Wayne was a staunch conservative who wasn’t a fan of the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and 1970s. And television. Mostly that TV westerns were lazy. They missed the point of the genre, in his opinion.

“In their westerns, they’re getting away from the fact that those men were fighting the elements and the rawness of nature, and didn’t have time for this couch work,” he said of TV westerns. “For me, basic art and simplicity are most important. Love. Hate. Everything right out there without much nuance.”

John Wayne Taught These Lessons to His Family

John Wayne’s granddaughter Anita La Cava Swift told American Cowboy that the Duke taught her to live by the Golden Rule.

“Treat others as you would like to be treated; no matter how much you have or don’t have, you’d better be nice to everyone you meet because you’re no better than the guy sitting next to you,” John Wayne’s granddaughter said in 2014 when asked what she learned from her famous forebear.

“One thing I never understood is why stars are horrible to their fans — why they don’t take time to give an autograph or say hello. My grandfather always knew that his fans were responsible for him being where he was, and he appreciated them tremendously. He was always polite — there’s no reason not to be.”