Thursday, August 7, 2014

John Wayne: Hollywood "icon" of the extreme right

If Clint Eastwood’s embarrassing “talking chair” routine at the 2012 Republican Convention was any example, it is no wonder that Hollywood Republicans tend to keep a low profile—unless, of course, they are playing “tough guys” in movies in which they do their best to depopulate the world. Such was not the case, of course, with Hollywood “icon” John Wayne. I have to admit that I was never a fan of Wayne, whose given name was the somewhat less manly Marion Morrison. I have maybe three of four of his movies in my large collection of DVDs, and the only one I consider “indispensible” to it is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, and not necessarily because he was in the film, since the film was more about the passing of the type of roles he was famous for.

That film was directed by John Ford, who besides directing the Great Depression epic Grapes of Wrath, was, unlike many directors of Westerns, not afraid to expose the hypocrisy of the Western myth. In what is regarded by some as the “greatest” Western, The Searchers, Wayne portrayed a unsubtle, racist fanatic out to “save” a niece who had been kidnapped by Indians, and when he discovers she had become “assimilated” into their culture—essentially becoming one of the hated people—there is the implication that he might kill her, but decides against it. 

One would like to believe that because of such roles, Wayne was more sensitive to the social issues of his times, like actors such as Burt Lancaster (who portrayed an Indian and a Mexican in roles sympathetic to the bigotry they faced) and Kirk Douglas. But alas, this is a “hero” of the silver screen—who was once asked to serve as the vice-presidential running mate of George Wallace—who had a “dark” side that should never have been exposed, for his own good. Wayne has had the good fortune to rarely have his reputation tied to the reprehensible interview he gave in 1971 in Playboy magazine. People today may be surprised to learn that the joke that people only bought the magazine for the “articles” really were not as far off the mark as they liked to believe, since many renowned authors and writers did contribute to it, and many famous people consented to be interviewed for it—and that even included at the time presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. 

In the May, 1971 issue of Playboy, Wayne—who had long been infamous in Hollywood for his extreme right-wing views—faced-off with interviewer Richard Lewis, who was determined to get to the bottom of Wayne’s ideology. The result was a revelation of a dark mind that even diehard Wayne fans could not explain away. The interview started off “innocuously” enough by Wayne complaining about the “vulgarity” of the realism of films like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, claiming that films should offer “illusion,” not realism; of course, one might remember that was the notion that Billy Wilder satirized to such great affect in Sunset Boulevard. After that, Wayne is lulled into a comfortable spot by talking about his view of his place in Hollywood and his alleged appeal to adolescents. 

And then the bottom dropped out, with Wayne falling into a trap of his own making. Consider the following statements:  

PLAYBOY: But isn't your kind of screen rebellion very different from that of today's young people?

WAYNE: Sure. Mine is a personal rebellion against the monotony of life, against the status quo. The rebellion in these kids—especially in the SDSers (Students for a Democratic Society) and those groups—seems to be a kind of dissension by rote.

PLAYBOY: Meaning what?

WAYNE: Just this: The articulate liberal group has caused certain things in our country, and I wonder how long the young people who read Playboy are going to allow these things to go on. George Putnam, the Los Angeles news analyst, put it quite succinctly when he said, "What kind of a nation is it that fails to understand that freedom of speech and assembly are one thing, and anarchy and treason are quite another, that allows known Communists to serve as teachers to pervert the natural loyalties and ideals of our kids, filling them with fear and doubt and hate and down-grading patriotism and all our heroes of the past?"

PLAYBOY: You blame all this on liberals?

WAYNE: Well, the liberals seem to be quite willing to have Communists teach their kids in school. The Communists realized that they couldn't start a workers' revolution in the United States, since the workers were too affluent and too progressive. So the Commies decided on the next-best thing, and that's to start on the schools, start on the kids. And they've managed to do it. They're already in colleges; now they're getting into high schools. I wouldn't mind if they taught my children the basic philosophy of communism, in theory and how it works in actuality. But I don't want somebody like Angela Davis (who is black) inculcating an enemy doctrine in my kids' minds.

PLAYBOY: Angela Davis claims that those who would revoke her teaching credentials on ideological grounds are actually discriminating against her because she's black. Do you think there's any truth in that?

WAYNE: With a lot of blacks, there's quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so. But we can't all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don't believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.

No, you did not read that wrong—Wayne was an unapologetic white supremacist even at a time when the term was recognized as a race hate term.

PLAYBOY: Are you equipped to judge which blacks are irresponsible and which of their leaders inexperienced?

WAYNE: It's not my judgment. The academic community has developed certain tests that determine whether the blacks are sufficiently equipped scholastically. But some blacks have tried to force the issue and enter college when they haven't passed the tests and don't have the requisite background.

PLAYBOY: How do they get that background?

WAYNE: By going to school. I don't know why people insist that blacks have been forbidden their right to go to school. They were allowed in public schools wherever I've been (obviously not in the South at the time). Even if they don't have the proper credentials for college, there are courses to help them become eligible. But if they aren't academically ready for that step, I don't think they should be allowed in. Otherwise, the academic society is brought down to the lowest common denominator.

PLAYBOY: But isn't it true that we're never likely to rectify the inequities in our educational system until some sort of remedial education is given to disadvantaged minority groups?
WAYNE: What good would it do to register anybody in a class of higher algebra, or calculus if they haven't learned to count? There has to be a standard. I don't feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves. 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. I will say this, though: I think any black who can compete with a white today can get a better break than a white man. I wish they'd tell me where in the world they have it better than right here in America.

One should note here the assumption by Wayne, like many other whites then and even now, that minorities do not have the capacity for learning to compete with whites. And even then, here was a person who believed the false illusion that minorities had more “advantages” than whites in this society. 

PLAYBOY: Many militant blacks would argue that they have it better almost anywhere else. Even in Hollywood, they feel that the color barrier is still up for many kinds of jobs. Do you limit the number of blacks you use in your pictures?

WAYNE: Oh, Christ no. I've directed two pictures and I gave the blacks their proper position. I had a black slave in The Alamo, and I had a correct number of blacks in The Green Berets. If it's supposed to be a black character, naturally I use a black actor. But I don't go so far as hunting for positions for them. I think the Hollywood studios are carrying their tokenism a little too far. There's no doubt that 10 percent of the population is black, or colored, or whatever they want to call themselves; they certainly aren't Caucasian. Anyway, I suppose there should be the same percentage of the colored race in films as in society. But it can't always be that way. There isn't necessarily going to be 10percent of the grips or sound men who are black, because more than likely, 10 percent haven't trained themselves for that type of work.

PLAYBOY: Can blacks be integrated into the film industry if they are denied training and education?

WAYNE: It's just as hard for a white man to get a card in the Hollywood craft

PLAYBOY: That's hardly the point, but let's change the subject. For years American Indians have played an important—if subordinate—role in your Westerns. Do you feel any empathy with them?

WAYNE: I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that's what you're asking. 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.

Remarkable how white America can twist reality to “suit” their vision of historical “reality.” Wayne continues:

PLAYBOY: Weren't the Indians—by virtue of prior possession—the rightful owners of the land?

WAYNE: Look, I'm sure there have been inequalities. If those inequalities are presently affecting any of the Indians now alive, they have a right to a court hearing. But what happened 100 years ago in our country can't be blamed on us today.

PLAYBOY: Indians today are still being dehumanized on reservations.

WAYNE: I'm quite sure that the concept of a government-run reservation would have an ill effect on anyone. But that seems to be what the socialists are working for now—to have everyone cared for from cradle to grave.

“Socialists” are to blame for everything—even though the ideology as Wayne understood it didn’t exist when the first reservations were established. The reservation system was set-up to segregate the “savages” from white society—and keep them there, whatever the cost.

PLAYBOY: Indians on reservations are more neglected than cared for. Even if you accept the principle of expropriation, don't you think a more humane solution to the Indian problem could have been devised?

WAYNE: This may come as a surprise to you, but I wasn't alive when reservations were created—even if I do look that old. I have no idea what the best method of dealing with the Indians in the 1800s would have been. Our forefathers evidently thought they were doing the right thing.

PLAYBOY: Do you think the Indians encamped on Alcatraz have a right to that land?

WAYNE: Well, I don't know of anybody else who wants it. The fellas who were taken off it sure don't want to go back there, including the guards. So as far as I'm concerned, I think we ought to make a deal with the Indians. They should pay as much for Alcatraz as we paid them for Manhattan. I hope they haven't been careless with their wampum.

Wayne's idea of a "joke." 
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about the government grant for a university and cultural center that these Indians have demanded as "reparations"?

WAYNE: What happened between their forefathers and our forefathers is so far back—right, wrong or indifferent—that I don't see why we owe them anything. I don't know why the government should give them something that it wouldn't give me.

Well, the “government” took land and resources from the original owners and “gave” it to you.

PLAYBOY: Do you think they've had the same advantages and opportunities that you've

WAYNE: I'm not gonna give you one of those I-was-a-poor-boy-and-I-pulled-myself-up- by-my-bootstraps stories, but I've gone without a meal or two in my life, and I still don't expect the government to turn over any of its territory to me. Hard times aren't something I can blame my fellow citizens for. Years ago, I didn't have all the opportunities, either. But you can't whine and bellyache 'cause somebody else got a good break and you didn't, like these Indians are. We'll all be on a reservation soon if the socialists keep subsidizing groups like them with our tax money.

PLAYBOY: In your distaste for socialism, aren't you overlooking the fact that many worthwhile and necessary government services—such as Social Security and Medicare—derived from essentially socialistic programs evolved during the Thirties?

WAYNE: I know all about that. In the late Twenties, when I was a sophomore at USC, I was a socialist myself—but not when I left. The average college kid idealistically wishes everybody could have ice cream and cake for every meal. But as he gets older and gives more thought to his and his fellow man's responsibilities, he finds that it can't work out that way—that some people just won't carry their load.

For ice cream and cake after every meal? This is the kind of unreality that only a right-wing actor could live in.

PLAYBOY: What about welfare recipients?

WAYNE: I believe in welfare—a welfare work program. I don't think a fella should be able to sit on his backside and receive welfare. I'd like to know why well-educated idiots keep apologizing for lazy and complaining people who think the world owes them a living. I'd like to know why they make excuses for cowards who spit in the faces of the police and then run behind the judicial sob sisters. I can't understand these people who carry placards to save the life of some criminal, yet have no thought for the innocent victim.

As usual, a right-winger like Wayne avoids answering the question by attacking the victims of society and implying negative traits to them.

PLAYBOY: Who are "these people" you're talking about?

WAYNE: Entertainers like Steve Allen and his cronies who went up to Northern California and held placards to save the life of that guy Caryl Chessman. I just don't understand these things. I can't understand why our national leadership isn't willing to take the responsibility of leadership instead of checking polls and listening to the few that scream. Why are we allowing ourselves to become a mobocracy instead of a democracy? When you allow unlawful acts to go unpunished, you're moving toward a government of men rather than a government of law; you're moving toward anarchy. And that's exactly what we're doing. We allow dirty loudmouths to publicly call policemen pigs; we let a fella like William Kunstler make a speech to the Black Panthers saying that the ghetto is theirs, and that if police come into it, they have a right to shoot them. Why is that dirty, no-good son of a bitch allowed to practice law?

PLAYBOY: What's your source for that statement you attribute to Kunstler?

WAYNE: It appeared in a Christian Anti-Communism Crusade letter written by Fred Schwarz on August 1, 1969. Here, I'll read it to you: "The notorious left-wing attorney, Bill Kunstler, spoke on political prisoners and political freedom at the National Conference for a United Front Against Fascism, which was held in Oakland, California, July 18, 19 and 20, 1969. He urged blacks to kill white policemen when they entered the black ghetto. He told the story of how a white policeman, John Gleason, was stomped to death in Plainfield, New Jersey. The crowd broke into prolonged applause. Kunstler proceeded to state that, in his opinion, Gleason deserved that death.... Kunstler pointed out that no white policeman has set foot in the black ghetto of Plainfield, New Jersey, since July 1967." That could turn out to be a terrible thing he said. Pretty soon there'll be a bunch of whites who'll say, "Well, if that's their land, then this is ours. They'd better not trespass on it." It can work two ways.

Wayne certainly seemed “prepared” with his “evidence for this interview, keeping on hand a “newsletter” by a right-wing extremist organization whose business was to “expose” the “left” in the most lurid terms.

PLAYBOY: What's your opinion of the stated goals of the Black Panthers?

WAYNE: Quite obviously, they represent a danger to society. They're a violent group of young men and women—adventurous, opinionated and dedicated—and they throw their disdain in our face. Now, I hear some of these liberals saying they'd like to be held as white hostages in the Black Panther offices and stay there so that they could see what happens on these early-morning police raids. It might be a better idea for these good citizens to go with the police on a raid. When they search a Panther hideout for firearms, let these do-gooders knock and say, "Open the door in the name of the law" and get shot at.

PLAYBOY: Why do you think many young people—black and white—support the Panthers?

WAYNE: They're standing up for what they feel is right, not for what they think is right—'cause they don't think. As a kid, the Panther ideas probably would have intrigued me. When I was a little kid, you could be adventurous like that without hurting anybody. There were periods when you could blow the valve and let off some steam. Like Halloween. You'd talk about it for three months ahead of time, and then that night you'd go out and stick the hose in the lawn, turn it on and start singing Old Black Joe or something. And when people came out from their Halloween party, you'd lift the hose and wet them down. And while you were running, the other kids would be stealing the ice cream from the party. All kinds of rebellious actions like that were accepted for that one day. Then you could talk about it for three months afterward. That took care of about six months of the year. There was another day called the Fourth of July, when you could go out and shoot firecrackers and burn down two or three buildings. So there were two days a year. Now those days are gone. You can't have firecrackers, you can't have explosives, you can't have this—don't do this, don't do that. Don't...don't...don't. A continual don't until the kids are ready to do almost anything rebellious. The government makes the rules, so now the running of our government is the thing they're rebelling against. For a lot of those kids, that's just being adventurous. They're not deliberately setting out to undermine the foundations of our great country.

The Black Panthers thought like children, at least according to Wayne. He obviously never heard Fred Hampton’s articulate stating of the goals of the organization—the primary reason why he was assassinated by Chicago police in 1969, likely with the connivance  of Mayor John Daley.

PLAYBOY: Is that what you think they're doing?

WAYNE: They're doing their level worst—without knowing it. How 'bout all the kids that were at the Chicago Democratic Convention? They were conned into doing hysterical things by a bunch of activists.

PLAYBOY: What sort of activists?

WAYNE: A lot of Communist-activated people. I know communism's a horrible word to some people. They laugh and say, "He'll be finding them under his bed tomorrow." But perhaps that's because their kid hasn't been inculcated yet. Dr. Herbert Marcuse, the political philosopher at the University of California at San Diego, who is quite obviously a Marxist, put it very succinctly when he said, "We will use the anarchists."

PLAYBOY: Why do you think leftist ideologues such as Marcuse have become heroes on so many of the nation's campuses?

WAYNE: Marcuse has become a hero only for an articulate clique. The men that give me faith in my country are fellas like Spiro Agnew, not the Marcuses. They've attempted in every way to humiliate Agnew. They've tried the old Rooseveltian thing of trying to laugh him out of political value of his party. Every comedian's taken a crack at him. But I bet if you took a poll today, he'd probably be one of the most popular men in the United States. Nobody likes Spiro Agnew but the people. Yet he and other responsible government leaders are booed and pelted when they speak on college campuses.

Wayne’s “hero,” Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign as Richard Nixon’s vice president following indictments for extortion, bribery and tax evasion while governor of Maryland.

PLAYBOY: Beyond the anti-administration demonstrations on campuses, do you think there's any justification for such tactics as student occupation of college administrative offices?

WAYNE: One or two percent of the kids is involved in things like that. But they get away with it because 10 percent of the teaching community is behind them. I see on TV how, when the police are trying to keep the kids in line, like up at the University of California at Berkeley, all of a sudden there's a bunch of martyr-professors trying to egg the police into violent action.

PLAYBOY: If you were faced with such a confrontation, how would you handle it?

WAYNE: Well, when I went to USC, if anybody had gone into the president's office and shit in his wastepaper basket and used the dirt to write vulgar words on the wall, not only the football team but the average kid on campus would have gone to work on the guy. There doesn't seem to be respect for authority anymore; these student dissenters act like children who have to have their own way on everything. They're immature and living in a little world all their own. Just like hippie dropouts, they're afraid to face the real competitive world.

PLAYBOY: What makes you, at the age of 63, feel qualified to comment on the fears and motivations of the younger generation?

WAYNE: I've experienced a lot of the same things that kids today are going through, and I think many of them admire me because I haven't been afraid to say that I drink a little whiskey, that I've done a lot of things wrong in my life, that I'm as imperfect as they all are. Christ, I don't claim to have the answers, but I feel compelled to bring up the fact that under the guise of doing good, these kids are causing a hell of a lot of irreparable damage, and they're starting something they're not gonna be able to finish. Every bit of rampant anarchy has provoked a little more from somebody else. And when they start shooting policemen, the time has come to start knocking them off, as far as I'm concerned.

After that, Wayne discusses the Vietnam War and his support of its fight to the finish because of his distaste for “communists,” as well as his admiration for Nixon. Then this:

PLAYBOY: Was the Motion Picture Alliance formed to blacklist Communists and Communist sympathizers?

WAYNE: Our organization was just a group of motion-picture people on the right side, not leftists and not Commies. I was the president for a couple of years. There was no blacklist at that time, as some people said. That was a lot of horseshit. Later on, when Congress passed some laws making it possible to take a stand against these people, we were asked about Communists in the industry. So we gave them the facts as we knew them. That's all. The only thing our side did that was anywhere near blacklisting was just running a lot of people out of the business.

PLAYBOY: That sounds a good deal worse than blacklisting. Why couldn't you permit all points of view to be expressed freely on the screen?

WAYNE: Because it's been proven that communism is foreign to the American way of life. If you'd read the official Communist doctrine and then listened to the arguments of these people we were opposing, you'd find they were reciting propaganda by rote.

And this:

I also knew two other fellas who really did things that were detrimental to our way of life. One of them was Carl Foreman, the guy who wrote the screenplay for High Noon, and the other was Robert Rossen, the one who made the picture about Huey Long, All the King's Men. In Rossen's version of All the King's Men, which he sent me to read for apart, every character who had any responsibility at all was guilty of some offense against society. To make Huey Long a wonderful, rough pirate was great; but, according to this picture, everybody was a shit except for this weakling intern doctor who was trying to find a place in the world. I sent the script back to Charlie Feldman, my agent, and said"If you ever send me a script like this again, I'll fire you." Ironically, it won the Academy Award. High Noon was even worse. Everybody says High Noon is a great picture because Tiomkin wrote some great music for it and because Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly were in it. So it's got everything going for it. In that picture, four guys come in to gun down the sheriff. He goes to the church and asks for help and the guys go, "Oh well, oh gee." And the women stand up and say, "You're rats. You're rats. You're rats." So Cooper goes out alone. It's the most un-American thing I've ever seen in my whole life. The last thing in the picture is ole Coop putting the United States marshal's badge under his foot and stepping on it. I'll never regret having helped run Foreman out of this country.

PLAYBOY: What gave you the right?

WAYNE: Running him out of the country is just a figure of speech. But I did tell him that I thought he'd hurt Gary Cooper's reputation a great deal. Foreman said, "Well, what if I went to England?" I said, "Well, that's your business." He said, "Well, that's where I'm going." And he did.

Unfortunately for Wayne’s view, High Noon and Cooper’s performance continue to be held in high regard in motion picture history and a statement against the injustices that Wayne supported. After that, the interview returns to a certain degree of “innocuousness,” with Wayne discussing the “virtue” of his image of all-American “virility” and a few more jabs at “liberals” and how “great” everything was in the past compared to the present time with its questioning of “traditional” values.

But the damage had been done. Wayne’s view were hardly new then and are still held now by those who still don’t understand the harm caused by the extreme, bigotry, ignorant nature of their views.

No comments:

Post a Comment