John Wayne gave an interview almost a half century ago to a British journalist. What’s so unusual about that? It feels like it could’ve been conducted in today political given that it featured the same sort of themes.
In politics, what’s old is new again.
Michael Parkinson, the journalist, said John Wayne already was cranky before the interview started because of his jet lag and health. It was January, 1974. That year, Wayne starred in McQ, a crime drama. He still was two years away from his final movie, “The Shootist.” Wayne died of cancer in 1979.
Parkinson directed some of the questions to an earlier time in the Duke’s life, back when Wayne headed the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Wayne presided over the group from 1949 through 1953. The goal of the group was to protect “the American way of life” in movies, guarding them from “communists and fascists.” Future U.S. president Ronald Reagan was a member of the organization. So were Walt Disney and Ginger Rogers. The group 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.
Anyone recognize this discussion as reflective of the current right versus left, politically-charged split in this country? Maybe sub out communist for socialist.
Parkinson asked John Wayne about the group. Here’s the question Parkinson asked:
“Can I talk to you now about another much-publicized aspect of your life, which is the political views you hold. I’d like to ask you about that period in Hollywood when you were to the forefront of people who were blacklisting alleged communist members of the industry.”
John Wayne Says His Group Never Black Listed
John Wayne disputed whether his group did any black listing.
“No,” he said, “they were blacklisting. We didn’t name anybody, we stayed completely out of it and said: ‘We are Americans.’ Anybody who wanted to join us, it was fine. We gave no names out to anybody at any time, ever.
“I think it was probably a very necessary thing at the time,” Wayne said. “Because the radical liberals were going to take over our business and you wouldn’t have had any pictures like that then.”
Parkinson and Wayne then got into a tiff on whether some writers were blacklisted and why. Parkinson asked Wayne if it was ok to ban writers who shared different political ideas.
“At the time, it seemed rather serious, and they were getting themselves into a position where they could control who would do the writing.”
“Definitely, anytime, if that’s their opinion. But the trouble was that they were spouting by rote somebody else’s way of life, and that’s all right for those fellas over there, that’s the way they want to live, but we don’t have to have it in our country.”
Wayne Hated ‘High Noon’
In the interview, John Wayne also talked about his distaste for the iconic movie “High Noon.” It starred Gary Cooper as the marshal in a territory in New Mexico. Four outlaws were headed Cooper’s way to kill him. His wife wanted him to leave the town before they got there. Few of the towns people wanted to help Cooper. They worried about their businesses or were scared of getting killed. A deputy wanted to be made marshal after Cooper left. It sounds like modern-day dysfunction, too.
Gary Cooper killed the bad guys in a shoot out. Then he took off his badge, threw it on the ground and stepped on it. John Wayne said none of that rang true to him.
“I don’t think that’s the United States of America,” Wayne said.
The 1959 film “Rio Bravo” was Wayne’s response to High Noon.
John Wayne also talked to Parkinson about his other ideals. Parkinson said Wayne’s capitalist views were his way of life. How was that any different than what the writers believed?
“Well, I don’t think ‘capitalist’ is such an unpopular word,” John Wayne said. “In 200 years we’ve taken a wilderness and built a factory that feeds the world, a farm that feeds the world. And we’ve been doing our best to help everybody out that we can. I think it’s a pretty good way of living.”