John Wayne was one of the few men in the audience. He was surrounded by women, most of them middle aged, and they all were so very curious about one of Hollywood’s best-known stars.
The Duke was doing a taping of the Phil Donahue Show in 1976. Donahue was the first TV host to use audience participation as part of his format. And he passed around the microphone to allow audience members to pepper John Wayne with questions.
No topic was off-limits that day. That’s why you got some very odd queries. Like this one. A woman asked John Wayne if he’d go home with her.
“Don’t say anymore,” he said. “The short answer is yes.”
John Wayne was in Chicago to promote his new movie, The Shootist. He probably didn’t know it at the time, but it would be his final movie. The movie also starred Lauren Bacall, Jimmy Stewart and Ron Howard. Maybe women would want to see it, which was why John Wayne was appearing on a show with a decided female viewership.
In the movie, Wayne played J.B. Books, a dying gunfighter. At the beginning of the movie, a doctor tells Books he’s got terminal cancer. And the doctor suggests he may prefer being killed than dying of the disease. Books plans his death and invites three contenders to finish him off. That was the plot of the movie. Kill John Wayne quickly and with dignity to save himself from a lingering, painful death.
And by this point in his career, Wayne didn’t need to sell himself or his image. He could be himself. So if a bunch of women wanted to ask flirty questions, he’d flirt right back.
A woman asked him if he’d go to lunch with her. John Wayne quipped “sure, you buying?”
Can You Imagine? Audience Member Asked the Duke About His Love Life
Then another lady asked Wayne “how’s your love life these days?” This tickled him.
“I’m 69, come next month,” John Wayne said, “So …. Then he grinned and shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t answer the question. Time for Donahue to pass around the microphone.
The women in the audience also asked him about his family. In his lifetime, John Wayne was married three times. He had a big family, with four kids with his first wife, Josephine, and three with his third wife, Pilar. He was married to Pilar when he did the interview with Phil Donahue.
“I have seven children that I am very proud of,” John Wayne told the ladies in the audience. “Four of them are already grown up. And, I know a lot of it’s luck. And I know also a lot of it is that they’ve felt love and security at home. That’s all I can tell you.”
Wayne died in 1979. It’s fun to go back and rewatch his old interviews, especially like this one in 1976 when everyone was having a good time, audience included.