6 Things You Never Knew About Western Icon John Wayne

John Wayne, 1972.
David Sutton/Guide/Courtesy Everett Collection

When you think of the golden age of Westerns, there are a few names that come to mind and John Wayne is certainly one of them. He appeared in so many iconic films including Stagecoach, Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers and many, many more. In honor of the anniversary of his passing on June 11 (he was 72 when he died in 1979), let’s learn some shocking and interesting facts about the star.

1One of his films caused cancer

The Conqueror John Wayne, 1956

Everett Collection

Known as one of the worst movies he ever made, Wayne was cast as Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan in the 1956 film The Conqueror. It was filmed outside of St. George, Utah, in the Escalante Desert about 100 miles away from an atomic bomb test site in Nevada. The federal government approved the location for filming, assuring the filmmakers that it was safe.

Unfortunately, one of the main filming locations was actually a radioactive hot spot and years later, many of the cast members and crew started getting cancer diagnoses. They traced many of these back to the filming of this movie and the radiation they were exposed to. Reportedly, about 91 of the over 200 people working on the film had cancer, and 46 died from it.

2He wore a toupee

MCQ, John Wayne, 1974

Everett Collection

Beginning in the late ’40s, Wayne reportedly wore a toupee and often joked about it. Several of his wigs have even gone to auction over the years.

3Joseph Stalin tried to have him assassinated

1949: Soviet statesman and Premier Joseph Stalin (1879 - 1953).

Keystone/Getty Images

According to biographer Michael Munn, Stalin had two Russian hitmen hired to take out Wayne in 1951 due to his anti-communist views. Luckily, the FBI became aware of the plan and stopped them before Wayne was injured or killed.

4John Wayne is not his real name

The Searchers John Wayne, 1956

Everett Collection

His real name is Marion Robert Morrison. He was called “Duke” as a kid and the nickname stuck. Duke was the name of his childhood dog, an Airedale Terrier. His family would call the dog “Big Duke” and Wayne “Little Duke” because they were such good pals. His name was eventually changed in Hollywood but many still knew him as “Duke.”

5He loved playing chess

American actor John Wayne (1907 - 1979) (in costume as Cole Thornton) plays a game of chess the set of 'El Dorado' (directed by Howard Hawks), 1967

Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Wayne brought a mini chess board with him wherever he went so that he could play between filming scenes and apparently he was quite good at it!

6John Wayne and Frank Sinatra had a feud

All-Star Tribute to John Wayne Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, 1976

Everett Collection

Wayne and crooner/actor Frank Sinatra did not get along because of differing politics. Wayne generally had Republican views while Sinatra was more of a Democrat. Once, they were staying at the same hotel in Las Vegas and Wayne made a noise complaint to Sinatra which was not taken very kindly and ended with Wayne knocking out Frank’s bodyguard. It seems that they patched things up in their later years though, as is evident in the photo above.

Comment and tell us what else you know about John Wayne!

TV Westerns of the 50's & 60's
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TV Westerns of the 50's & 60's

September 2021

’50s and ’60s TV Westerns roundup, celebrating the shows and stars of their golden age.

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