Legendary tough guy John Wayne never served a day in the US military and has long been accused of being a ‘draft dodger’
A shocking new book claims that he was so mesmerized by Dietrich, five years his senior, he refused to sign up fearing he would lose her
The Duke also feared military service might end his career by dragging on so long he would be too old to be ‘an action-oriented leading man’
He used an old shoulder injury as an excuse although it had never impacted his movie work as a stuntman
Eventually he regretted not doing his bit for his country and became a ‘super-patriot’ as a result, according to his second wife
John Wayne was a hard-nosed Marine sergeant, a naval lieutenant and a commander of an airborne battalion during the invasion of Normandy. But those were his movies.
Wayne never served a day in the US military and has long been accused of being a ‘draft dodger’ because he staunchly avoided putting on a uniform and going to war when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.
The truth is that he did avoid military service but not because he was a coward. It was so that he could continue his torrid affair with the older German film star Marlene Dietrich, then aged 40.
As other leading men in Hollywood were enlisting, the Duke dodged war duty for the ‘best lay he ever had,’ says the author of a new book, Marc Eliot, in American Titan: Searching for John Wayne, published tomorrow by Dey Street, an imprint of Harper Collins.
When Japan dropped the bombs on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Wayne was 34 and had become a bankable star after making a few bombs of his own with his ‘on-screen lack of authority’ acting.
At the time of the call to military service, the married Wayne was wrapped in the arms of the lusty German film star, Marlene Dietrich after co-starring with her in the 1940 film, Seven Sinners, in which Wayne traded his chaps and cowboy boots for navy whites.
He had fallen madly in love with the actress whose insatiable desire for American boys and men spiked if she could also break up their marriages or humiliate them in some way.
‘When she came into Wayne’s life, she juicily sucked every last drop of resistance, loyalty, morality, and guilt out of him, and gave him a sexual and moral cleansing as efficiently done as if she were draining an infected sore’, writes the author.
Dietrich had star approval after the film ‘Destry Rides Again’ with Jimmy Stewart and met Wayne in her dressing room at Universal Studios.
She invited him in, closed and locked the door. She lifted up her skirt to reveal a timepiece attached to a black garter. ‘We have plenty of time’, she said.
Dietrich had just brutally dropped actor Jimmy Stewart, who was also head over heels in love with her. There were rumors that she had gotten pregnant by Stewart and had an abortion.
But she had now dropped him cold and set her sights on her new co-star, John Wayne. He was going to be the next notch of her belt. Just like Stewart and Gary Cooper before him, Wayne got caught up in her web and couldn’t get enough of the blonde tigress.
She lifted up her skirt to reveal a timepiece attached to a black garter. ‘We have plenty of time’, she said.
‘He had never before had a real whiff of the kind of feral sexuality Dietrich exuded,’ writes Eliot.
This consuming sexuality didn’t exist at home with his first wife, Josephine Alicia Saenz, whom he married in 1933 – or for that matter with actress Claire Trevor, who became his lover when his marriage began to fail.
‘He was crazy for Dietrich from the first time she led him to her bed. He stayed there, at her beck and call, for the next three years and didn’t appear to care who knew it. She was the bad girl he’d never had, the forbidden fruit he’d never tasted.
‘Dietrich made him not just like sex with her but crave it.’
They carried on in public, kissing over dinner at restaurants, at nightclubs. There were no restrictions.
‘He was in love with Dietrich…they were two opposites strongly attracted to each other’.
She was exotic, sultry and teased him with flashes of her frilly undergarments. She was sexually uninhibited and wild representing his fantasy of European women. He was her fantasy of the big, tough American male who could beat any sophisticated German male to a pulp.
She made him her own personal King Kong.
Every able-bodied man and actor was expected to answer the call to military service in 1941 and put on a uniform to go fight the enemy.
Young guys lied about their ages, old men as well to get into the service. All except John Wayne…
‘He was still clinging to his relationship with Marlene Dietrich, whom he described as ‘the most intriguing woman I’ve ever known and ‘the best lay I’ve ever had’.
‘He wasn’t quite ready to give her up for anything, even, perhaps, his country’, writes author Marc Eliot.
Duke also feared military service might end his career by dragging on so long he would be too old to be ‘an action-oriented leading man’, or a character actor not making the same kind of money he was now used to earning to support his soon-to-be ex-wife.
With all the leading men in Hollywood gone he became a valuable acting commodity – and he knew it.
Henry Fonda had enlisted in the navy at 37. Jimmy Stewart tried to enlist at age 33 but was underweight. He put aside his Academy Award winning career and went on a diet to fatten up that included candy, beer and bananas. He reached the minimum weight and proudly flew dozens of missions over Germany.
Cowboy singing star Gene Autry joined the Army Air Corps. Tyrone Power went into the Marines. Robert Montgomery joined the army along with Clark Gable. Ronald Reagan also signed up but his lousy eyesight kept him from going overseas.
Even Hollywood’s ‘Beverly Hills Brits’ faced extradition and imprisonment in Britain if they didn’t head home to do their duty.
Any story that Wayne had tried to enlist was a complete fabrication, the author insists.
‘Wayne never tried to enlist and never ‘pleaded’ with John Ford to get him into the navy,’ writes the author.
Wayne was 35 years old when most draftees were 20. He was called in by his local draft board but he argued that he was exempt being the sole support of his family. He neglected to mention he was getting divorced.
He also brought up an old shoulder injury that he considered made him ineligible although it never impacted his movie work as a stuntman or as a cowboy riding horses and getting into brawls.
When Wayne received a letter from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) that later became the CIA, urging the actor to join without delay.Wayne denied that he got the letter saying that his wife Josephine hid it from him.
This last attempt to get Wayne to commit to the war effort was made by director John Ford who helped make Wayne into a big star.
Wayne later told the truth to Dan Ford, John Ford’s biographer and grandson: ‘I didn’t feel I could go in as a private, I felt I could do more good going around on tours and things…
‘I was America [to the young guys] in the front lines…they had taken their sweethearts to that Saturday matinee and held hands over a Wayne Western. So I wore a big hat and I thought it was better.’
He also made the preposterous excuse that Herb Yates, head of Republic Pictures at the time, was going to sue him if he let himself be drafted.
There is no proof of this because when the war ended, the government had destroyed Wayne’s service-related papers.
Duke had been so desperate to stay out of the military and in the arms of Marlene Dietrich, yet by 1942, Dietrich was through with the six foot four inch actor who had represented every branch of the military in his movie roles.
She attempted to keep him out of the film, The Spoilers, the scheduled film reunion of the pair.
The fickle star’s passions had moved on to actor George Raft, who played gangsters in crime melodramas in the 1930s and 1940s. Simultaneously she was having a passionate affair with France’s biggest movie star, Jean Gabin, now in the States after escaping the Nazis.
Wayne was brokenhearted and couldn’t bear seeing her around town so he decided to take a trip to Mexico to get over his heartache — ‘where life was cheap and women cheaper’.
Along for the joy ride were actors Ward Bond, Fred MacMurray, and Ray Milland.
Milland introduced the despairing Wayne to his Mexican ‘girlfriend’ who was a bit film player and full time call girl to the stars, Esperanza Baur Diaz Ceballos – Chata for short – who switched her allegiance to Duke.
She liked that he was taller than she was but she was no beauty having dark hair, bad skin and a moustache.
The only thing she had in common with Dietrich was ‘their high-octane sexuality and the fact that both of them had worked at one time or another, as professional escorts’.
Chata would become the second Mrs. John Wayne in 1946.
The actor declared it was the biggest mistake he ever made in his life.
At one point, Wayne felt guilty that he had bailed out of military service.
He thought he could make up for it by making appearances at USO shows in the South Pacific and Australia – ‘his version of military service’ but he was greeted with raucous booing by the enlisted men who had served in hard combat.
The press didn’t write about the booing but the soldiers viewed Wayne, along with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Al Jolson as Hollywood entertainers just looking for some good p.r.
Wayne went to hospitals and ‘told the press he felt he belonged at the fronts with the boys’. He told them he’d be back after his picture commitments. But he never went back to Burma and China not only because he didn’t have time but because of the less-than-warm welcome.
Wayne’s third wife, Pilar Pallete, an actress from Peru who he married in 1954 as soon as he divorced ‘pug nose’ Chata, stated that Wayne became a ‘super-patriot for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying at home’ and not serving in the war effort.
Throughout his life, Wayne remained uncompromising in his anti-Communist stance and unforgiving battle against subversives.
He began as a supporter of FDR and became ‘one of the toughest and most unforgiving political soldiers in Hollywood’s war on communism’. He was ‘willing to throw out the cream of Hollywood’s talent, with the bathwater of their perceived politics’.
He wanted to participate and help rid the film capital of the perceived Red menace and win the respect of the Academy.
It was a tragic era of hate and paranoia in America – the 1950’s witch hunts that ruined so many lives.
‘Wayne’s resistance to change was granite hard and the more doctrinaire he became, the more out of fashion he sounded’.
He was convinced he had never won a gold statuette, an Oscar, because of the Communists.
He would win his one and only Oscar in 1970 for his starring role in True Grit. He had never even been nominated before. He was bitter but said he was laughing all the way to the bank.
Nine years later, in 1979, Hollywood’s reigning symbol of the American fighting soldier had succumbed to stomach cancer at age seventy-two after smoking five packs of cigarettes a day for years.
He had appeared in some 150 movies. His only military service was on the silver screen.