The estate of the late western film star John Wayne released a photo of him on Instagram that shows him enjoying his favorite hobby–playing chess.
“In between scenes, you could find Duke playing chess with his co-stars,” the post reads. It then asks readers, “If you could play chess with Duke on the set of any movie, which one would it be?”
Several fans answered with classic movies like “McLintock,” “The Searchers,” and “The Quiet Man.” Others said they would love to play The Duke in a match, but would probably let him win.
Chess in The Duke’s Work
If Wayne hadn’t suffered an injury while playing football at the University of Southern California, he may never have found his way onto the screen. However, this bruising background served as a platform for The Duke to craft some of his most memorable characters.
One such character was Johnny Munroe from the film “Tycoon”. Munroe had to walk a tightrope between appealing to his industrialist boss’s demand to build a railroad and Munroe’s love interest in his boss’ daughter. The part obviously needed someone who holds exceptional strategic skills. It is said that Wayne brought a miniature chessboard with him while filming. He would often challenge his co-stars to matches in between takes, too.
In 1948, Wayne played Robert Marmaduke Hightower in the film “3 Godfathers”. That same year, Wayne played at least a dozen matches with Pierce Lyden. According to the book Duke: We’re Glad We Knew You by Herb Fagen, Wayne won every game.
Wayne Played Chess in Private, Too
While The Duke often played brutish men on screen, he was more complex in real life. The book John Wayne: American by Randy Roberts and James Stuart Olson depicts him as a “fine student.”
“He got A’s all the way through,” Chess.com quotes the book as saying. ” He headed the school’s debate team, won honor pins several years in a row, played an aggressive game of chess. He was all but unbeatable at bridge and hearts because of an uncanny ability to count cards, and graduated with a four-year average of ninety-four, the salutatorian in a class of two hundred students.”
Wayne also raised several chess players. During his first marriage to Josephine Alica Saenz, the two raised four children. An article by Chessmaniac.com says all of the children played chess throughout their lives.
Wayne later played chess with Marlene Dietrich when they met in the 1940s. The two had an affair that lasted for several years. Wayne reportedly described her as “the most intriguing woman [he’s] ever known,” according to Chessmaniac.com.