John Wayne garnered a reputation for being as tough as grit. In fact, he once shut down an angry driver on the road with just a single word.
Wayne’s tough-guy persona wasn’t just for the silver screen. It was something he also lived in his personal life as well. According to Cowboys and Indians, his friend and frequent co-star Maureen O’Hara told a story in 1979 of Wayne’s real-world tenacity.
Wayne had come to visit O’Hara at her home in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. While there, they had borrowed a truck to go out on the town. Wayne’s large frame had been too big for a normal car. While driving, the two encountered an angry driver. The driver had a bad case of road rage and honked his horn repeatedly for Wayne to go faster.
“One day [Wayne] was driving a big red truck, which we borrowed for him because he won’t fit in an automobile you know — he has to drive a truck,” O’Hara recounted. “He was driving down to Christiansted, and he was going slowly because he was looking on both sides of the street and ogling everything he could see. And suddenly there’s a big truck behind him and they blow the horn ‘beep, beep, beep, beep,’ and [tell] him, ‘get out of the way’ … . And they pull up beside him and say, ‘Hey,’ and he says, ‘Yah,’ and that was the end of it. They didn’t challenge Duke anymore!”
John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara
Maureen O’Hara recounted this story and others to a government subcommittee in 1979. Wayne was in the hospital, slowly succumbing to stomach cancer. And his friend wanted the government to create a medal in Wayne’s honor. With her various stories of the Duke, she convinced them to mint a medal celebrating Wayne and his contribution to cinema and pop culture.
O’Hara and Wayne were frequent collaborators in film. But behind the scenes, they became fast friends. O’Hara’s strong will made a lasting impression on the cowboy. And he admired her for both doing her own stunts in films but also for overcoming challenges life threw her way. The duo ended up starring in several classic films together including “The Quiet Man,” “Rio Grande,” and “Big Jake” as well.
When Wayne became ill, O’Hara rallied around her friend in an effort to make him feel better. But she sensed that Wayne wasn’t going to beat this battle. So, O’Hara tried her best to secure Wayne’s legacy as one of Hollywood’s leading men. After all, he was the type to stop a potential fight with just a single word.