John Wayne reportedly said, “I don’t get on a horse unless they pay me”


John Wayne was one of the most iconic stars to ever appear on the silver screen, embodying American masculinity through his roles in Westerns and war movies. Since his death in 1979, however, his legacy as an actor and his personal life have both been the subject of debate.

Wayne’s movie persona was solidified when his friend, the legendary director John Ford, cast him in Stagecoach in 1939. The film won two Oscars and carved out the type of tough-talking role Wayne would play in later films like The Searchers, The Quiet Man, and True Grit. The man himself, on the other hand, couldn’t always live up to that archetype of rugged American individualism.

John Wayne wasn’t quite the tough straight-shooter he played in movies

ohn Wayne may have taken part in many thrilling on-screen battles, playing war heroes in films like Flying Tigers, Sands of Iwo Jima, and The Longest Day. In reality, however, Wayne was exempted from military service when World War II broke out. As a 34-year old father of four, he received a 3-A (family deferment) after Pearl Harbor and never had to fight. So while other movie stars like Paul Newman, Henry Fonda, and Jimmy Stewart put their careers on hold to enlist, Wayne benefited from their absence and became Hollywood’s biggest leading man.

Letters (via War History Online) have emerged over the years suggesting that Wayne was looking for a way to join up, but Republic Studios was firmly against anything that would threaten the money he earned them in ticket sales. His inability to serve earned him the unenviable title of draft dodger later in life, which caused a rift between him and his friend John Ford, who became a commander in the U.S. Navy.

His image as a Western hero has also been called into question by the revelation that he might not have been a fan of horses. According to his biographer Scott Eyman, Wayne reportedly said, “I don’t get on a horse unless they pay me,” and his son Michael was taught how to ride by various stuntmen on sets, rather than his famous father.


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