Star Wars Episode XV: Why John Wayne Didn’t Sign Up / by Karina Longworth


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No actor on movie screens in the 1940s embodied American patriotism and unpretentious masculinity better than JohnWayne, whose career was revitalized in 1939 with John Ford’s groundbreaking western, Stagecoach. But Wayne didn’t have the defining experience of most adult American men of the 1940s — though he played uniformed men in several movies, off-screen Wayne didn’t enlist to serve in World War II. We’ll talk about the motivations Wayne had to stay home, from his relatively late-blooming stardom to his affairs with Marlene Dietrich and the prostitute he ultimately married; Wayne’s relationship with decorated veteran Ford and their uneasy collaboration on the film They Were Expendable; and the connection between Wayne’s lack of military service and his later right-wing activism. 

Show Notes:

Aside from being a casual fan of movies like The Quiet Man and The Searchers, I knew very little about JohnWayne before deciding to include him in this Star Wars series. In not knowing where to start with learning about one of the greatest, most controversially mythic stars of the 20th century, I decided to compare and contrast two biographies published within months of one another: Marc Eliot’s American Titan: Searching For JohnWayne, and JohnWayne: The Life and Legendby Scott Eyman. I chose Eliot's book specifically because there was a Daily Mail story last year which used it to back up claims that Wayne avoided the war because he was so in love with Marlene Dietrich. But I didn't actually find that assertion in Eliot's book, at least not in any kind of literal way. It seems like it was a willful mis-inference on the part of the British tabloid. 

UPDATE, 4/21/15, 9:11 AM: I can't believe I forgot to include Mark Harris' Five Came Back in this episode's bibliography! It is the first place I learned of John Ford's disapproval of Wayne's approach to the war, so it's more responsible for this episode than any other source.  


I’m Not Dreaming (Instrumental) by Josh Woodward

Keechie by No Age

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

Divider by Chris Zabriskie

Falling In Love Again performed by Marlene Dietrich 

Gagool by Kevin MacLeod

For Better or Worse by Kai Engel

Let’s Call it a Day performed by Marlene Dietrich