Controversial interview john Weyne. 1971
John Wayne is never going to be confused for a progressive by anyone familiar with his life and career.
The actor was famous as one of Hollywood’s staunchest conservatives: a onetime member of the reactionary anti-Communist John Birch Society, a producer for and actor in a film about the ignominious House Un-American Activities Committee and a vocal supporter of the Vietnam War after much of the public had turned against it.
But this week snippets of an old interview he did with Playboy magazine, in which he expressed racist and homophobic sentiments and railed against socialism, began circulating on Twitter. A tweet with portions of the interview sent Sunday night from a screenwriter in Tennessee went viral — and, with that, Wayne’s politics were news again.
In the 1971 interview, Wayne railed against “perverted films,” giving the interviewer, Richard Warren Lewis, two examples when asked: “Easy Rider” and “Midnight Cowboy.”
The actor described the characters in the latter film with a homophobic slur, then went on to extol the virtues of sexual intercourse between men and women.
“I believe in white supremacy,” he said, and spoke harshly about African Americans, saying, “We can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks.”
“I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people,” he said.
Of slavery, he said that he didn’t feel any guilt about the U.S. history.
“I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves,” he said. “Now, I’m not condoning slavery. It’s just a fact of life, like the kid who gets infantile paralysis and has to wear braces so he can’t play football with the rest of us.”
And he spoke harshly about Native Americans when asked whether he felt any empathy for them, given the centrality many of them played in the Westerns he had worked on.
“I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that’s what you’re asking,” Wayne said. “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 discussion about Wayne’s interview online, reactions were split — not just along political lines but with many expressing surprise that Wayne’s views were being given attention nearly 40 years after his death.
Some conservatives seized on it as an example of liberal hypocrisy.
John Wayne’s life has long been noted for its contradictions. In a 1996 review of a biography about him, The Washington Post noted the deferments that kept Wayne from serving in World War II.
“Other actors did risk all, and some lost, returning to the public’s indifference. Some of them were supplanted by Wayne himself, who took his deferments until service became a moot point, a fact he was ashamed of for the rest of his life,” the report noted.
Two of his biographers, Randy Roberts and James S. Olson, suggested “that Wayne’s subsequent anti-communist fervor, which became the most notorious aspect of his persona, was his way of compensating,” the review noted at the time.
“Yes, he did what others did or tried to, but those others weren’t necessarily so quick in later years to urge other men to risk their lives in war,” The Post’s r..
Matt Williams, the Twitter user whose post about Wayne went viral, said he stumbled upon the interview while doing research for a Western script he plans to write. The feature had been linked in the comments section of a review he was reading on “The Searchers,” which features one of Wayne’s most iconic roles.