Why John Wayne Once Called Out President Kennedy, Frank Sinatra

by Suzanne Halliburton

John Wayne was a well-known conservative when he was a Hollywood heavyweight.

From 1949-53, Wayne headed the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. The group’s goal was to protect “the American way of life” in movies, guarding them from “communists and fascists.” Future U.S. president Ronald Reagan, when he was an actor, was a member of the group. So were Walt Disney and Ginger Rogers. Wayne and some of the more conservative actors and executives supplied witnesses to the investigations of the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Conversely, opponents of the group said its members were anti-semetic, fascist, anti-union, isolationist and supportive of Jim Crow laws.

John Wayne even criticized iconic western High Noon, which starred Gary Cooper. Wayne thought the movie wasn’t very American. His reasoning was no town ever would desert its sheriff.

And John Wayne didn’t mind voicing his opinion about his chosen causes. He never worried that his words would lose him a movie deal.

Back in 1960, John Wayne Criticized Frank Sinatra for Hiring Blacklisted Writer

But they did cause issues for his friend, singer Frank Sinatra, while putting pressure on John F. Kennedy, who was then a U.S. Senator running for president. The Saturday Evening Post had a story about it in 1962.

For background, some Hollywood writers were blacklisted for their political beliefs. And Sinatra hired one of them, screenwriter Albert Maltz, in 1960. The writer served jail time after he refused to testify in front of the Congressional Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.

Reporters called John Wayne to ask him about Sinatra’s hiring of Maltz. Sinatra liked Maltz, who won an Academy Award for a documentary on the singer in the 1940s. This was before Maltz was blacklisted. Sinatra hired him in 1960 to write the screen play for the movie The Execution of Private Slovik.

Wayne told reporters: “I don’t think my opinion is too important. Why don’t you ask Sinatra’s crony, who’s going to run our country for the next few years, what he thinks of it?”

Wayne was referring to John F. Kennedy. Sinatra eventually was forced to fire Maltz. And right after Sinatra fired Maltz, he appeared at the same Hollywood benefit as John Wayne. Sinatra wanted no confrontation with his friend, so he walked off stage.

The Saturday Evening Post said Wayne found Sinatra and said: “Frankie, what the hell did you walk away from me for?”

Sinatra said he was mad about the quotes. He told Wayne: “Well, you cried. You blasted off your mouth.”

Wayne said “You mean the Maltz thing?” Sinatra said yes. But Sinatra told Wayne he didn’t want to talk about it.

“Some other time,” Sinatra told John Wayne. “Duke, we’re friends, and we’ll probably do pictures together. Let’s forget the whole thing.”

The Saturday Evening Post pointed out that John Wayne enjoyed the friendship of many Hollywood liberals. He also campaigned for a Texas Democrat, who also happened to be a Dallas radio and theater entrepreneur, four years after he criticized Sinatra and Kennedy.