John Wayne Survived Alleged Soviet Assassination Attempt in the 1950s

by Josh Lanier
(Photo by R.K.O. Radio/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

In the 1950s, there was no one more synonymous with American strength and toughness than John Wayne. And we exported him all around the world through his films. Meaning during the Cold War, to beat America meant you also needed to topple its idols.

That’s why in 1953, Russia’s Communist leader Joseph Stalin ordered to have John Wayne killed, or so goes the story. Oddly enough, the tale begins with director Orson Wells, according to the book John Wayne – The Man Behind The Myth. Wells, who did not like Wayne, said he had sources who had told him about the supposed murder plot. A Russian director corroborated the story with the book’s author, Michael Munn. Anecdotes about the attempted killing also were frequently passed around Hollywood, Munn said.

Reportedly, the FBI learned of the plot and flew to Hollywood to meet with Wayne. Stuntman Yamina Canutt, who Wayne once said “saved his life,” told Munn about what happened next.

“Yakima told me that the FBI had discovered there were agents sent to Hollywood to kill John Wayne,” Yakima told Munn, according to The Guardian. “He said the FBI had come to tell John about the plot. John told the FBI to let the men show up and he would deal with them.”

Things Did Not Go Well For the Would-Be Killers

John Wayne supposedly cooked up a plot of his own. Working with a screenwriter, Wayne concocted a plan to kidnap the two would-be assassins, drive them to a secluded location, and conduct a mock execution.

But that’s where the intrigue ends and the farce begins. Because this story is less fit for a Russian spy thriller but a comedy. Reportedly, when the agents came to kill Wayne, he and a team of stuntmen beat them up, and had them crying for Mother Russia, Munn said. What became of the bumbling assassins is unclear, but Munn said he’d been told they stayed in the U.S. to work with the FBI.

For good measure, I suppose, John Wayne would then attend communist meetings in the United States and start brawls with the members.

“He then gathered all the stuntmen, went to the communist meetings, and had a huge fight,” Munn told the Guardian. This was when it’s believed Canutt saved Wayne’s life.

There was a second attempt made in 1953 while Wayne was in Mexico working on the movie Hondo. Though, not much is known about this plot.

In 1958, new Russian Czar Nikita Krushchev reportedly met privately with Wayne to apologize. “That was a decision of Stalin during his last five mad years. When Stalin died, I rescinded that order,” the book claims he said.

Other Governments Tried to Kill Wayne As Well

The Russian plot wasn’t the only time a foreign government tried to kill John Wayne. Munn also recounts a time when, in 1966, Wayne went to Vietnam to visit American troops during the Vietnam War. The Chinese sent a sniper to shoot The Duke during his trip.

Thankfully, the sniper was captured. He said Chairman Mao Tse Tung hired him to kill Wayne and that there was a bounty on the actor’s head, the book claimed.