John Wayne Spoke on What Would Break ‘American Habit’ of Moviegoing in 1969 Interview

by Matthew Wilson

John Wayne knew a few things about making movies. After all, he starred in over a hundred movies during his lifetime. And he also occasionally got behind the camera and directed himself. The industry changed a lot over the course of Wayne’s career. He saw the rise and fall of both celebrities and studios alike. But Wayne didn’t quite like the direction the industry was going toward the end of his life.

Wayne believed the industry would chase shock factor to greater extremes until studios alienated their audiences. In a 1969 interview with Roger Ebert, Wayne discussed what it would take for audiences to stop turning up at movie theaters.

“The idea of the movies is to provide the most inexpensive and accessible entertainment in the world,” Wayne said. “Well, we’ve gradually talked ourselves out of being the most economical. And now the thing that will finally stop the movies from being an American habit is that parents have to guard their children against pornography. It’s like when strippers took over burlesque.”

John Wayne on Cinema

For Wayne, cinema was about family. He believed real movies should be wholesome and cater to people of every age and size. Wayne’s films certainly featured violence and gunfights. But they never tried to disturb the viewer. The actor made a career on an image of the good-natured, noble cowboy.

But Wayne saw a shift in filmmaking. He believed films were growing more violent and raunchy than they had in the past. Studios started trying to one-up each other. And the number of genres greatly expanded, particularly the horror genre.

“All the real motion picture people have always made family pictures,” Wayne said. “But the downbeats and the so-called intelligentsia got in when the government stupidly split up the production companies and the theaters. The old giants–Mayer, Thalberg, even Harry Cohn, despite the fact that personally, I couldn’t stand him – were good for this industry.”

Wayne said the increase of violence and sex in films would be the death of the industry. The actor would certainly feel shocked by movies of today’s standard. He believed Hollywood had turned corporate, stamping out creativity for the dollar.

“Now the god d–ned stock manipulators have taken over,” Wayne said. “They don’t know a god d–ned thing about making movies. They make something dirty. And it makes money. And they say, ‘Jesus, let’s make one a little dirtier. Maybe it’ll make more money.’ And now even the bankers are getting their noses into it.”