John Wayne (1907 – 1979) is probably the most recognized name in movie history.

His real name was Marion Michael Morrison. He made a lot of movies and was a top box office draw for several decades. In 1969, he won the Academy Award® for Best Actor in the film True Grit.

I remember seeing his movies when I was a child, probably more than the movies of any other actor of the time.

What was so appealing about him? Well, I am sure there were many things that factored into it. Mainly though, he was the epitome of being an American male. Tall (6’4’), lean (at least when he was young), masculine, rugged, and handsome.

John Wayne

This photo (copyright 1953 Wayne-Fellows Productions and Warner Brothers) from his 1953 film, Hondo, is my favorite of all the promotional photos. Perhaps every adult male in America would have loved to look like this.

Here is a list of some of his more well-known films (he made 169 feature-length movies):

Movie Role Year1
The Shootist John Bernard Books 1976
Rooster Cogburn Rooster Cogburn 1975
The Cowboys Wil Anderson 1972
Big Jake Jacob McCandles 1971
Rio Lobo Cord McNally 1970
Chisum John Chisum 1970
True Grit “Rooster Cogburn” 1969
Cast a Giant Shadow Gen. Mike Randolph 1966
The Sons of Katie Elder John Elder 1965
The Greatest Story Ever Told The Centurion 1965
In Harm’s Way Capt. Rockwell Torrey 1965
Donovan’s Reef Michael “Guns” Donovan 1963
McLintock! George McLintock 1963
How the West Was Won Gen. William Sherman 1962
The Longest Day Lt. Col. Ben Vandervoort 1962
Hatari! Sean Mercer 1962
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Tom Doniphon 1962
North to Alaska Sam McCord 1960
Rio Bravo Sheriff John T. Chance 1959
The Barbarian and the Geisha Townsend Harris 1958
The Searchers Ethan Edwards 1956
Hondo Hondo Lane / Producer 1953
The High and the Mighty Dan Roman / Producer 1954
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon Capt. Nathan Brittles 1949
The Quiet Man Sean Thornton 1952
Flying Leathernecks Maj. Dan Kirby 1951
The Bullfighter and the Lady Producer 1951
Rio Grande Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke 1950
Sands of Iwo Jima Sgt. John M. Stryker 1949
Red River Tom Dunson 1948
Fort Apache Capt. Kirby York 1948
Angel and the Badman Quirt Evans / Producer 1947
They Were Expendable Lt. J.G. “Rusty” Ryan 1945
The Flying Tigers Jim Gordon 1942
Reap the Wild Wind Capt. Jack Stuart 1942
The Long Voyage Home Ole Olsen 1940
The Dark Command Bob Setton 1940
Stagecoach The Ringo Kid 1939
Hell Town Dare Rudd 1937
Baby Face Jimmy McCoy 1933
The Big Trail Breck Coleman 1930
Bardelys the Magnificent Guard 1926


However, it is not all golden. There have been accusations that Wayne was a racist, a national supremacist, and a homophobe. Much of this is based on a 1971 interview in Playboy Magazine. Here are some links that support the accusations.

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He said such things as, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” and, in reference to Native Americans, “I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that’s what you’re asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”

In April, 2016, a California assemblyman proposed that May 26 (Wayne’s birthday) be designated as John Wayne Day, but legislators mentioned the controversial remarks that Wayne had made. So, the proposal failed.

There was also a proposal to remove the label John Wayne from the Orange County, California airport with his name because of these resurfaced revelations from those old days. There has been no official move to actually do this, however.

Here is a link that discusses this proposal:

Of course, this was half a century ago when he was interviewed for the now infamous 1971 article in Playboy Magazine. In those days, racism and homophobia were standard issue for the majority of people. Words like nigger, kike, gook, spik, faggots, etc. did not make us uncomfortable to hear or see. Well, maybe a bit, but not much. Certainly not as much as they should have. Wayne did not use all of these words, but, well, read the notes on the interview in the links shown above for yourself.

Now, in the 21st century, if those words don’t make you uncomfortable, well perhaps you should just get the hell out of Dodge.

I remember in the 1950’s when my mother took me to stores in downtown Fort Worth, Texas (I was born there and lived there until I was 12). One store in particular sticks out in my mind. Going into the store, it had the shopping area on the right, while on the left was a wall with two drinking fountains. One fountain had a sign over it which read “White”. The other, which was about 20 feet away, had a sign which read “Colored”. I routinely drank from the Colored fountain because I thought that the water would be colored, and hopefully, be Kool-Aid, preferably cherry or grape. I never found it to be colored water or to be Kool-Aid, and could not understand, at that time, what the word “Colored” referred to.

There were also two restrooms near the drinking fountains. They were also named “White” and “Colored”. I used the Colored restroom, expecting that the walls would be colored, and therefore more interesting than the black & white tiles in the White restroom. There, again, I was not rewarded with anything other than the black & white tiles present in the White restroom.

The movie industry has made great changes since then. We not only have African Americans as headline movie actors playing the same types of roles that Caucasians do, but an African American having served as President of the United State, African Americans and a gay man running for President in 2020, and a very large number of African American women running for Congress in 2020. In a recent movie, Captain Marvel, the super-hero star is a woman, and she has been for the past six years. The original, from the 1940’s, was a boy who turned into Captain Marvel whenever he shouted, “Shazam”. There was a Ms Marvel in the 1970’s.

These are huge changes for America. It is interesting that movies reflect our culture as it grows and changes. I don’t think these changes are welcomed by everyone, but they are welcomed by the majority, and that is what rules our democracy.

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I welcome them.

If for two generations (one generation is 25-30 years), we would not discriminate at all against anyone based on whether they are male, female, old, young, straight, gay, transgender, tall, short, fat, thin, white, black, brown, red, or any other color, we would be in pretty good shape. Better than at any other time in our history.

John Wayne was a good actor, and his films define the American Male in the 20th century, including our imperfections. I am sure that if he were alive today, he would apologize for his earlier remarks and be supportive of our more tolerant attitudes that are emerging with gusto now that we are 20% into the 21st century. In fact, if he had been born in the 21st century instead of the 20th, he probably would never have made any racist or homophobic comments because these things are learned. They are not something we are born with, and that is the point. Our movie star role models should be extremely careful because they can have an effect on the behavior of so many people. Our politicians can too. Our teachers, our religious leaders. All can shape our society.