Along with hard work and commitment to his screen career, family life was another defining element of John Wayne’s existence–and screen image.
Wayne was married three times and was the father of seven children. At the time of his death, in 1979, Wayne was the patriarch of a large clan, composed of seven children and twenty-one grandchildren.
Wayne’s first wife: Josephine Saenz
Wayne’s first wife, Josephine Saenz, was the daughter of a Panamian Consul in Los Angeles. They got married on June 24, 1933, and had four children: Michael in 1934, Toni in 1935, Patrick in 1938, and Melinda in 1940.
After a few years, the marriage was in trouble. Wayne practically lived for his work, which his wife found hard to accept. He was always surrounded by work associates and friends from the film world, which did not interest Josephine very much. The couple also had differences of opinion about how their children should be raised. Consequently, in 1943 they separated and a year later divorced.
Wayne met his second wife, Esperanza Baur Diaz, nicknamed Chata, in Mexico, while vacationing there. They were married on January 17, 1946, in California. Unlike Wayne’s first union, this marriage was rocky and volatile from the very start. His wife was reportedly jealous of his devotion to his work and to his four children; the couple had no children of their own.
Chata accused Wayne of having an affair with Gail Russell, his leading lady in “Angel and the Badman,” which he denied.
The second marriage lasted seven years, coming to an end in November 1953, when a Superior Justice granted them a divorce under a little-used provision of a California law, reserved for cases where neither party concedes the other’s charges.
There were indeed charges and counter-charges of unfaithfulness, drunken violence, emotional cruelty, and “clobbering.” Wayne described his wife as a “drunken partygoer who would fall down and then accuse him of pushing her.” He deplored the publicity his divorce proceedings received in the press, though they did not hurt his career or popularity. Wayne met his third wife, Pilar Weldy (born Palette) in Lima, Peru in 1953, while he was scouting locations for The Alamo.” It was part of a South-American tour, a gift from Howard Hughes, with whom he had a contract.
Younger than Wayne by 22 years, Pilar and came from an upper class family; her father was a Peruvian politician. On November 1, 1954, the very day Wayne’s divorce became final, the couple got married.
Unlike his previous wives, Pilar took an active interest in his career. She herself was an actress, with some stage experience, although she did not pursue her own career. She bore Wayne three children: Aissa in l956, John Ethan in 1962, and Marisa Carmella in 1966; he was then close to 60 years of age.
The third marriage lasted seventeen years, but in November 1973, a trial separation was announced. Pilar complained about Wayne’s lengthy absences from home, even when he was not working; he simply said that they had lost interest in each other.
In his last years, Wayne lived with his secretary Pat Stacy, but this romantic involvement did not get any publicity in the press.
Taste for Latin American Women
The fact that all three of his wives were Latin-American surprised Hollywood; this was the only “non-American” aspect in his life. “I have never been conscious of going for any particular type,” Wayne’s said in response to a challenge from the press, “It’s just a happenstance. Whenever I’ve had free time, I’ve been in Latin America.” Once he described his preference as “some men collect stamps; I go for Latin Americans.” “I never found anything wrong with American women,” he told one columnist, “All I ask is that a girl be attractive and companionable.”
But he made a point to remind that his wives have been as much American as they have been Latin. He was candid about his need for women’s company, but admitted they were a mystery to him. “I still don’t understand women,” he said, “I don’t believe there’s man alive who does.” Asked what he looked for in women, he said, “as long as they’re feminine, I love them all-plump, skinny, tall or short.”
However, the quality most desirable in a woman was being “sympatica,” which he defined as “being on the same wave length.” Comparing American with Latin-American women, Wayne observed: “Unfortunately, most women dress for other women in America, whereas in Latin America, they dress more for men.” He also revealed his preference for “understatement and simplicity in dress,” but that didn’t mean “scarcity of clothing.” He never cared for jewelry because “it’s so easy to overdo and look flashy.”
Pushy Dames Scare Wayne
Wayne claimed that he had never chased women–or courted them aggressively. James Grant, his favorite screenwriter, told Look magazine: “Pushy dames really scare him. Duke’s really old-fashioned about women; no off-color stories in their presence, for instance.” Grant also said that “there are a lot of disgruntled girls around Hollywood who are sore at him for not succumbing to their charms.”
What does the Duke do alone?
Says Grant: “When his wife is not with him, he’ll stay up all night reading or arguing about movie making and politics.”
Like other male stars, who were romantically involved with their leading ladies, Wayne had several affairs with his onscreen women, such as Marlene Dietrich. Tay Garnett, the director of Wayne-Dietrich first film together, Seven Sinners, has described vividly how they met. “Marlene had the choice of all her leading men. I decided not to mention Wayne to her, but simply to place him in the Universal commissary where she couldn’t miss him. He stood between us and our tables as we walked in for lunch, chatting with a couple of actresses I had set up.
Dietrich swept past him, then swiveled on her knees and looked him up and down as though he were a prime rib at Chasen’s. As we sat down, she whispered right in my ear, ‘Daddy, buy me that!’ I said, ‘Honey, it’s settled. You got him.’ Then at a pre-arranged signal, Wayne came to the table. If you didn’t know what was gonna happen, you’d be as blind as a pit pony. Their relationship got off like a fireworks display. They were crazy about each other.”
Wayne and Dietrich starred in two other pictures, “Pittsburgh” and “The Spoilers.” A good sport, Dietrich accompanied Wayne to football games and prizefights, and they fished and hunted together; she was his type of girl–glamorous but tough and down-to-earth, and with a good sense of humor.
Although Wayne was then having problems with his first wife, he liked Dietrich, but was unwilling to give up his family life for her. Their liaison, during which both dated other companions, lasted on-and-off for several years, then faded away amicably.
Late in life, when asked about women, Wayne said: “There were many beautiful dames in my life, and Marlene Dietrich was especially glamorous.”
My Sex Life is None of Your Business
Basically, Wayne was a private man–a difficult task when you are a movie star of his caliber. But he tried to keep his sex life and marital problems away from the public eye. He regretted that he and his second wife had to air their dirty wash during their divorce proceedings. And he refused to discuss his breakup from his third wife for the same reason. He was least cooperative with reporters when it concerned his sex life, summing once his leisure activities as: “I drink as much as I ever did. I eat more than I should. And my sex life is none of your goddamn business.”
The public was unaware that Wayne was such a domestic man, gentle and sentimental with his wives and children, never forgetting a family birthday. Hard to believe, but Wayne selected dresses for his wife. “He loves nothing more than to go shopping for his family,” Pilar once confirmed. What he really liked to do when he was not working, he said, was to be with his children. He was therefore delighted when they told him that they liked to have him around.