John Wayne's covert support for the Militant Liberty programme was as predictable as it was valuable for Washington. No other Hollywood star had the same power to move audiences, or was so willing to use his influence for political purposes. Wayne had been making movies since 1927, but it was not until 1949 that he broke into the exhibitors' annual list of the nation's top ten box office stars. There he remained for all but one of a record-breaking twenty-six consecutive years.26 In that time, Wayne became for many people the finest representative of American patriotism. Though he had not served in the military in the Second World War, because of his roles in numerous war films made during and after that conflict — most notably Back to Bataan (Edward Dmytryk, 1945), Sands of Iwo Jima (Allan Dwan, 1949) and The Longest Day (produced by Darryl Zanuck and released in 1962) — Wayne came to be regarded as the model American soldier.27 One of America's most decorated soldiers, General Douglas MacArthur, once told Wayne at an American Legion convention that he represented the American serviceman
The star and stripes: John Wayne aboard the USS Saint Paul in August 1964. Batjac Productions, Inc.
better than the American serviceman himself. The Veterans of Foreign Wars gave Wayne their gold medal and the Marines gave him their 'Iron Mike' award.28
In the genre he almost made his own, the Western, Duke Wayne came to embody the potent myth of the American frontiersman taming the world. Cultural historians claim the three 'Seventh Cavalry' pictures he made with John Ford and Merian C. Cooper from 1948 to 1950 - Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande - helped project America's new post-1945 role as the world's protector of freedom, and put Wayne at the centre of a Cold War sensibility favouring social discipline in time of trial.29 Wayne's labour of love was The Alamo (1960), his directorial debut and a project financed by $1.5 million of his own money.30 Ostensibly the film was a story about Texans fighting for independence from Mexico in the 1830s, but Wayne saw it as a Cold War call to arms. In his view, many of his fellow Americans were falling prey to 'the growing defeatist attitude in the Cold War imposed on us by the Soviet [Union]', and consequently needed to 'appreciate the struggle our ancestors made for the precious freedom we enjoy'. 'We must sell America to countries threatened by communist domination', he told Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons during filming. The Alamo was also meant as a retort to 'certain quarters of Hollywood' that were 'splashing garbage' on the screen and 'giving the world a false, nasty impression of us'. Wayne cited Stanley Kramer's recently released On the Beach by way of illustration.31
Evidence suggests that Wayne's image and messages could be extremely pervasive. Film historian Michael Munn claims that in the early 1950s Stalin even ordered the KGB to assassinate Wayne because his anti-communist rhetoric threatened the Soviet Union.32 In the 1960s and 1970s, both friends and critics of American foreign policy said it was afflicted with a 'John Wayne syndrome'. In the mid-seventies, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger drew explicitly on the Wayne legacy when he attributed his diplomatic achievements to Americans' admiration for cowboys who came into town alone.33 In the 1970s and 1980s, Vietnam War veterans were venomous about Wayne's and others' 'guts and glory' Second World War films, for making the US military look unbeatable and combat seem noble. Many claimed they had been encouraged to enlist in the hope of re-enacting what they had seen on screen. 'I gave my dead dick for John Wayne', wrote Ron Kovic, who emerged from Vietnam confined to a wheelchair.34
Wayne's characters and persona carried such weight partly due to his political activism off screen. Many in the audience knew that when Wayne saved Hawaii from Red fifth-columnists in Big JimMcLain (1952) or helped Chinese children escape to freedom in Blood Alley (William Wellman, 1955), he was doing more than playing a movie role.35 Similarly, his outspoken patriotism and loudly publicised dedication to the anti-communist cause helped lend his parts in Westerns and other genres larger meaning. Wayne succeeded in integrating his politics and his profession far more than other film stars of his era. He actively embraced the attack on Hollywood leftists in the McCarthy period, serving three consecutive terms as MPA president in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Thereafter, Wayne openly supported Republican party policies and candidates, developing a particular soft spot for the resolutely anti-communist Richard Nixon.36
In 1960, Wayne joined the John Birch Society, a group that suspected the American government was secretly run by communists, and in 1965 became a trustee of the Americans for Constitutional Action, which opposed taxation and 'big government'. Before the 1968 presidential race, which Nixon won, the Duke was urged by a right-wing Texas billionaire to serve as vice-presidential running-mate to the segregationist George Wallace (he declined, leaving General Curtis LeMay to run instead).37 By this point Wayne had helped make anti-communist publicity material for numerous branches of the federal government, including the Defence Department, the air force and the FBI.38 J. Edgar Hoover sent Wayne his condolences when Wayne's mother died in March 1970, and his warmest congratulations when Wayne won his first Oscar for True Grit (Henry Hathaway, 1969) a month later.39 Overseas, Wayne owned mineral rights in the Congo, and in 1959 had been accused by the left-wing Panamanian government of financing a coup through his business dealings with a former president's son.40 Just prior to his death in 1979, Congress struck a medal in the star's honour. The inscription was simple: 'John Wayne, American'.41
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