The historic footage marks an incredible moment in American history, as John Wayne meets Harvard students for what amounts to a political celebrity roasting today.
If the sight of John Wayne astride an armored personnel tank is shocking, that’s because this event would never happen in today’s America. But in January of 1974, Hollywood icon John “The Duke” Wayne steamrolled onto Harvard University’s campus amongst the U.S. Army’s 5th Armored Calvary Troop.
The occasion? Wayne received a letter from Harvard’s campus satirical newspaper, The Harvard Lampoon. Within, the university wrote to the actor:
“You’re not so tough, the halls of academia may not be the halls of Montezuma and maybe ivy doesn’t smell like sagebrush, but we know a thing or two about guts.”Harvard Lampoon
Within, the letter would not only insult John Wayne with Harvard tongue-in-cheek flair, but challenge him to appear at “the most intellectual, the most traditionally radical, in short, the most hostile territory on Earth.”
In full: the immensely liberal students of Harvard were challenging the deeply conservative Wayne – whom they referred to as “the biggest fraud in history,” to a standoff on their own territory. And he accepted.
Few today would take such a letter in stride. Even fewer would actually show up. But there’s never been anyone quite like John Wayne, has there?
John Wayne Storms Harvard In Style
For The Duke, the invitation was a chance to show the Harvard ‘Lampooners’ he was made of sterner stuff – and possessing of the same sense of humor as they. As such, Wayne entered Harvard Square in a tank, fully flanked by the U.S. Military – an institution Harvard students took great issue with at the time.
Yet despite all their differences, Wayne was met with a marching band (playing in his honor), television crews, and thousands of adoring fans. It took several police forces just to get the icon from his tank to the theater in which his “roasting” was to take place.
There, John Wayne would sign autographs before taking the stage. There, the real – and remarkable – fun would begin.
“I accepted this invitation over a wonderful invitation to be at a Jane Fonda rally,” Wayne lauded sarcastically to thunderous applause. The liberal students even presented the actor with a custom trophy: two big, brass balls.
Indeed, it was an affair unlike any other. Despite their polar opposite political views, the debate, or “roast” of John Wayne held by Harvard students was far from hostile. It was the opposite, in fact. According to The New York Times, their shared banter was full of “little antagonism, the questions often whimsical and the actor frequently drew loud applause.”
Watch: The Duke vs Harvard
“Has President Nixon ever given you any suggestions for your movies?” one student asks.
“No, they’ve all been successful,” Wayne fires back.
Watch this incredible moment in history for yourself, and celebrate the one-of-a-kind man that was John Wayne:
Wayne takes on … college kidsYouTube