John Wayne Estate Pays Tribute to His Longtime Secretary The Duke Called ‘The Glue’ in His Life

by Josh Lanier

John Wayne was an in-demand actor for decades. So, the burden of running his day-to-day business fell to one woman, “the glue” in his life: his secretary Mary St. John.

The estate of John Wayne shared a photo of The Duke and St. John, thanking her for her meticulous filing system that helped preserve thousands of Wayne’s letters.

“Duke & his trusted secretary, Mary St. John. Mary was referred to as “the glue” in Duke’s life. She began working for him in 1946 & he regarded her as close as family. Mary helped keep Duke’s communication organized, she would create copies of his incoming & out-going mail and created a filing system for all of his correspondence. We still use her filing system today. And thanks to Mary’s organization, we still have 1,000’s of pieces of correspondence preserved in the Archive. Some of those pieces are on display at John Wayne: An American Experience. Have you stopped by to see them yet?” the caption on the photo of Wayne and St. John said.

St. John had a fiercely independent streak, not unlike John Wayne. The two met when she ran the secretarial pool at Republic Pictures in 1937, John Wayne’s estate says in its official blog, which has a page dedicated to her.

When Wayne got into a heated argument with her boss, Herb Yates, the head of the studio, St. John helped Wayne pack his things as he left the lot. Upset that she would help him, Yates yelled at her, demanding to know where her loyalties were. “With Wayne,” she said, following him out.

John Wayne hired her as his personal assistant, a job she kept for nearly four decades until she retired in 1975.

She Cared For John Wayne Like a Family Member

Mary St. John was one of the few constants throughout most of The Duke’s life. And was often his connection back home when he was shooting a movie in far-off locations.

She wrote to him often to tell him about what was happening in the lives of his wife and children, and he would send her gifts from wherever he was.

Pilar Wayne, John Wayne’s third wife and mother of his three children said The Duke’s and St. John’s relationship went further than employer and employee. She was his confidante.

“Mary was as dedicated to [Duke] as if they were related,” she said. When John Wayne married Pilar in a private ceremony, St. John was her only attendant in the wedding procession.

St. John felt the sense to protect Wayne from the seemingly endless number of people who tried to take advantage of his wealth and success. She acted as gatekeeper, vetting those who wished to do work with her boss or needed his help.

“I always approached your problems in a very personal way—as if they were my problems too,” she once wrote to Wayne in a letter. “… My primary purpose in this job is to help solve as many of the problems that confront you as it is possible for me to solve.”