RN and John Wayne converse at La Casa Pacifica during a Republican fundraiser on August 27, 1978.
Today is John Wayne’s having been born on May 26, 1907. In honor of the Duke, the New Nixon blog takes a look at his relationship with President Nixon.
During the 1960 presidential race, a quote from John Wayne appeared in an ad for Life Magazine two weeks prior to the Republican and Democratic Conventions.
Very soon the two great political parties of the United States will nominate their candidates for President. One of these men will be assigned the awesome duties of the White House. In this moment when eternity could be closer than ever before, is there a statesman who for the sake of a vote is not all things to all men; a man who will put America back on the high road of security and accomplishment; without fear of favor or compromise; a man who wants to do the job that must be done and to hell with friend or foe who would have it otherwise; a man who knows that the American softness must be hardened; a man who knows that when our house is in order no man will ever dare to trespass.
His statement was an analogy to the heroic men who defended the Alamo and a reference to the movie he was set to release in October of 1960. Without naming names, he effectively publicized his presidential favorite. For John Wayne, the man most apt for the office of the presidency, the man unafraid of making the tough decisions, was Richard Nixon.
His faith would not wither. He supported RN in the presidential elections again in 1968, and 1972, and continued to support him after his resignation in 1974.
Perhaps surprising to some, President Nixon attracted a slew of celebrity endorsements and built some notable friendships out of these. From Ray Bolger and Rudy Vallee, to Sammy Davis Jr. and Jackie Robinson, President Nixon was a popular candidate. John Wayne particularly held him in high regard.
What drew Wayne to RN? Wayne was a vocal mainstream conservative Republican who was an ardent anti-Communist. Around the time Wayne entered into his filming peak, then Congressman Nixon was building his anti-Communist record while sitting on the House Un-American Activities Committee. His prosecution of Alger Hiss, and his relentless drive for victory in this case, likely made a lasting impression on Wayne. When the Republicans triumphed in 1952 with the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket, Wayne was especially satisfied and proud of the party he represented.
When RN lost one of the closest presidential elections in the history of the United States in 1960, Wayne did not kick dirt over the victorious Kennedy. Instead, in a truly patriotic way, he said, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.”
To be sure, when RN made his comeback from the wilderness by winning the 1968 election, Wayne was elated. He celebrated throughout the month of January and the president-elect, grateful for Wayne’s support, made sure to invite him to all inaugural festivities.
RN entered the presidency in the midst of serious social readjustment. The Vietnam War revealed a deepening cultural rift in America. While many vocalized their vehement opposition to the war, it was a painful time for many Americans who directly felt the burden of war yet remained stoic in their resolve believing in the nation’s involvement abroad. President Nixon wanted to reach out to this constituency, of which Wayne was particularly attuned to. Wayne was a proud pioneer of this group—the great silent majority as President Nixon soon called them in November of 1969.
Wayne supported the man who would be able to reach out to the aching hearts of these particular Americans, the man who promised to secure peace with honor. President Nixon would be the only candidate capable of honorably repaying the men who sacrificed their lives in a war publicly lambasted. Wayne was particularly skeptical of the liberal media and the vocal left wing capable of commanding the thrust of public opinion. President Nixon held similar sentiments, but throughout his first term, he was able to balance public opinion and political reality; so much so that Wayne endorsed RN as “the right man in the right office at the right time” for the 1972 elections.
While President, RN met with Wayne on a number of occasions. Wayne visited the western White House in San Clemente on July 10, 1972 and again to have dinner with the president on January 5, 1974.
John Wayne meets with the President and Henry Kissinger at RN’s San Clemente office.
John Wayne joins RN and company for dinner at San Clemente on January 12, 1974.
Perhaps his most impactful appearance came when he was a guest at the White House on May 24, 1973, for a reception held by President Nixon for former Vietnam prisoners of war. The reception was the largest such reception to be held at the White House in the history of the United States. It was also a night dedicated to honoring the men who served their country with the greatest regard and courage possible. Watch as John Wayne addresses the Vietnam POWs.
To enthusiastic applause, Wayne said:
You men, I want to say thanks for showing the whole world [what] the kind of men in a free country could put up with when the going gets rough. The best we have. I’ll ride off into the sunset with you anytime.
On the afternoon of June 11, 1979, John Wayne passed away at the UCLA Medical Center from complications of stomach cancer. He was 72. RN released a statement following news of Duke’s death:
John Wayne was True grit on and off the screen. The roles he played and the life he lived will inspire Americans for generations to come.
In 1968, Governor George Wallace of Alabama asked Wayne to be his running mate in the presidential elections that year. Wayne declined the offer, telling Wallace: “I am working for the other Wallis—Hal Wallis—the producer of True Grit, and I’m a Nixon man.”
A new biography on John Wayne written by Scott Eyman entitled John Wayne: The Life and Legend is available now. Scott Eyman interviewed Wayne, as well as many family members, and he has drawn on previously unpublished reminiscences from friends and associates of the Duke in this biography, as well as documents from his production company that shed light on Wayne’s business affairs.