John Wayne, the Hollywood legend of Westerns, war movies and everything in between is one of the most famous and inspirational leads to come out of the Golden era of filmmaking. Having worked on over 170 productions, he was a true master of his craft. Not only that, he was extremely outspoken about his anti-communism beliefs.
Communism is a philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a communist society, namely a socioeconomic order structured upon the ideas of common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state. As one of the most famous people on the planet, Wayne’s public displays of anti-communism were dangerous to those he opposed. So dangerous in fact, that Wayne’s life had been in danger. Join us as we take a look at John Wayne’s dark connection to communism.
The power of movies
It’s an odd thing, but it seems that dictators absolutely love movies. I mean, who doesn’t? But in the hands of the wrong people, those with absolute power for example, movies can be a dangerous thing. Gaddafi, the Libyan revolutionary, politician and political theorist was condemned by many as a dictator whose authoritarian administration systematically violated human rights and financed global terrorism. Alongside that, he had a channel set up just to play his favorite movie, his one favorite movie.
Kim Jong-Il, the second Supreme Leader of North Korea, led the North Korean government to be known as among the world’s most repressive governments. They had up to 200,000 political prisoners according to U.S. and South Korean officials, with no freedom of the press or religion, political opposition or equal education. Virtually every aspect of political, social, and economic life was, and still is, controlled by the government. Kim kidnapped his favorite actors and actresses to star in North Korea’s movies. Then, Kim moved into directing his own movies. Kim Jong-Il made several films.
Benito Mussolini was an Italian politician and journalist who founded and led the National Fascist Party. He was Prime Minister of Italy from the March on Rome in 1922 until his deposition in 1943, and leader of Italian Fascism from the establishment of the Italian Fasces of Combat in 1919 until his execution in 1945 by Italian partisans. As dictator of Italy and founder of fascism, Mussolini inspired and supported the international spread of fascist movements during the interwar period. As a fan of movies and desire to direct his own, he pitched to Columbia pictures.
Saddam Hussein was an Iraqi politician, and the fifth President of Iraq. Hussein’s rule was a repressive dictatorship. The total number of Iraqis killed by the security services of Saddam’s government in various purges and genocides is conservatively estimated to be 250,000. Saddam’s invasions of Iran and Kuwait also resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Hussein saw himself as a film director, and made a $30 million war epic.
Joseph Stalin was the Soviet Union’s ultimate censor. While global Communism was very much a growing threat, Stalin wanted it to continue to spread around the world, under Soviet leadership. Stalin saw how much power and influence films, as well as the stars in them, held over large audiences. He witnessed this in the Nazi German propaganda during the Second World War and he used it himself in order to further his own personality cult.
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Stalin ordered John Wayne killed
When Stalin saw John Wayne’s power as a dangerous anti-Communist on the rise, he ordered the actor killed. He did so by allegedly sending more than one hit squad to do the job. He saw Wayne as a threat to the spread of Communism around the world, especially in the United States. It’s believed that Soviet filmmaker Sergei Gerasimov told Wayne of the KGB’s plot to assassinate him, in 1949. What’s the most mind blowing, is what the Hollywood legend and his friends did to the hit squad.
While many Hollywood stars play tough guys on screen, the majority in real-life aren’t quite as formidable. The KGB assassins were going to find out that that isn’t the case with John Wayne. Not willing to let a thing like Communist assassins get him down, Wayne and his scriptwriter Jimmy Grant allegedly abducted the hitmen. They took them to the beach, and staged a mock execution.
While no one knows exactly what happened after that, Wayne’s friends have been outspoken about the matter and claim that the Soviet agents began to work for the FBI from that day on. But that isn’t the only incident. It’s been alleged that KGB agents tried to murder John Wayne while on the set of the 1953 movie, Hondo. A captured sniper in Vietnam claimed that he was hired by Chairman Mao to take the actor out on a visit to troops there. Chairman Mao, originally named Mao Zedong, was a Chinese communist revolutionary who was the founder of the People’s Republic of China. He ruled as the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976.
Stalin passed away in 1953 of a Cerebral hemorrhage. In 1958, Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, met privately with Wayne. In this meeting, Khrushchev informed him that the order for his assassination had been rescinded. Wayne allegedly told his friends that Khrushchev called Stalin’s last years his “mad years” and then apologized for his actions. During the entire time that Wayne knew of the price on his head, he refused the FBI’s offer of federal protection. Even more impressively, he never told his family. What he did do was move into a house that had a big wall around it.
Strangely, and what sounds more like a John Wayne movie than real life, once word got out about the communist plot against him, Hollywood stuntmen loyal to Wayne began to infiltrate Communist Party cells around the country and expose plots against him.
John Wayne never publicly spoke of the incidents.
Head of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals
During John Wayne’s years in the limelight, he was famously conservative. This led him to becoming the head of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals from 1949 to 1953. It’s goal was simple, to fight off fascists and communists. How did they do this? By protecting the American way of life in the media. Wayne’s passion in this subject would see him condemning both JFK and Frank Sinatra.
So what happened to actors and entertainers who didn’t keep their craft or political voice in line? They would often be blacklisted and barred from work. That included screenwriter Albert Maltz, who wrote The Naked City and Broken Arrow. The famously vocal communist served jail time after refusing to testify for the Congressional Un-American Activities Committee back in 1947. By being blacklisted, he was supposed to be banned and kept from work. However, Sinatra was a friend of Maltz, whose documentary on Sinatra actually earned him an Academy Award.
Sinatra hired Maltz, and this didn’t go down well with Wayne. As far as he was concerned, there was a conspiracy in play. When asked by reporters about Sinatra’s tied with Maltz, Wayne gave a sharp and firing answer. “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?” That crony in question is President Kennedy.
Sinatra heard Wayne’s answer and confronted the Western legend about it. Things didn’t go anywhere for Sinatra who understood that the movie business in Hollywood was a tight group. He knew that one day he would likely work with Wayne, and he didn’t want bad blood between them. In the end, Sinatra was forced to fire Maltz.
The Red Scare, which is the promotion of a widespread fear of a potential rise of communism, anarchism or other leftist ideologies by a society or state, would derail numerous careers in numerous areas. The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals gained a reputation for containing fascists, as well as supporters of Jim Crow laws, antisemitism, and the like. Those years were defined by division, even among friends like Frank Sinatra and John Wayne.
Anti-communism, not anti-communist
While it’s easy to get the terms confused, John Wayne was not anti-communist, but in fact, anti-communism. In other words, Wayne didn’t like the communist ideology, but he didn’t automatically dislike someone simply because they were a communist. Back in the 1950’s, during what has since become known as the “McCarthy era” witch hunts, a promising young actor by the name of Larry Parks admitted under oath that he had been a member of the communist party.
But that wasn’t all, Parks also stated that he had renounced the communist party. However, he would not provide the names of anyone he knew that were still members. In spite of his renouncement, there were many calls and great pressure from the conservative members of the Screen Actors Guild to blacklist him. Wayne, who at this time was president of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, refused to join their call.
Wayne took a different stance and one that was surprising to many. He believed that because Parks had renounced the communist party, he actually was showing great courage in doing so. Wayne said that Parks’ refusal to name names took great courage, and he refused to call for Parks’ blacklisting. Unsurprisingly, Wayne took a lot of flak for this, but in good old fashioned John Wayne style, he never backed down from his stand.
What surprised you most about John Wayne’s connection to communism? Do you believe what they say he did to communist hitmen, or is that just another unproven tale out of Hollywood?
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