John Wayne: The Story of the Duke’s Own Radio Series, ‘Three Sheets to the Wind’

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: Earl leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

John Wayne was not only one of cinema’s biggest stars. He also lent his voice to a weekly radio serial called “Three Sheets to the Wind.”

That’s a perfect title for the radio broadcast. Because the Wayne radio series is three sheets to the wind itself. Forgotten by many, it’s become a bit of a fable among fans of the Duke. Diehard collectors have tried and failed to track down a surviving copy of the radio series. So far, the only copy of the show doesn’t include Wayne. The whole thing feels like one of those lost mysteries.

The series was short-lived. “Three Sheets to The Wind” aired on NBC from February 15, 1942, to July 5 of that year. Wayne starred as private detective Dan O’Brian in the production. NBC produced a total of 26 half-hour episodes of the series. Additional actors include Helga Moray, Joan Lockwood, Sharon Douglas, and Lee Bonnell as well.

The first episode, “The Sultan’s Curse,” explored the deaths of seven people on a boat at a dock. Like most serials, there was a bit of adventure and mystery to the production. The murders were linked to a black diamond, which was supposedly cursed. In the episode, the detective also teamed up with a British Intelligence Agent to solve the mystery.

John Wayne Joins the Radio Broadcast

So why did Wayne, who refused to star in TV shows, decide to star in a radio series? Well, the entire idea was the brainchild of director Tay Garnett. Garnett and Wayne had worked together on the film “Seven Sinners” in 1940. The director first developed the idea for a story about the adventures of the private detective back in 1930. But by 1941, he had developed a film script.

Reportedly, Garnett approached Wayne about a hybrid package. Wayne would star in a film version of “Three Sheets to the Wind,” and promote the film via a radio series. The actor agreed to star in the radio series as a promotion for the upcoming film. He even agreed to do it mostly for free in exchange for 10 percent of the film’s profits and a standard freelance fee.

But Garnett never got around to filming “Three Sheets to the Wind,” and it was never made. However, the radio series was produced starring Wayne. But over the years, that too has been lost, making the entire ordeal something of a lost page in the Duke’s long and storied career.