Maureen was strong and tough and he probably didn’t think he could control her he married women he thought he could control
John Wayne was a man of many contradictions.
America’s favorite film cowboy preferred sailing on his yacht, The Wild Goose, to a riding in a saddle. He was often awkward and shy with his on-screen love interests but when the cameras stopped rolling he was a brazen womanizer. And the nation’s most revered soldier on film put his career first during World War II and never served in the military.
Wayne became an airport, a postage stamp and a Congressional Medal, but the iconic screen actor was beset by demons: he drank copious amounts of alcohol, smoked four to five packs of unfiltered Camels every day and was an unrepentant philanderer, having multiple affairs throughout his three ill-fated marriages
‘The guy you see on the screen isn’t really me. I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne. I know him well. I’m one of his closest students. I have to be. I made a living out of him’, Wayne is quoted in a blockbuster book about the 6’4” American icon: John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman and published by Simon & Schuster.
‘I’ve found the character the average man wants himself, his brother or his kid to be. It’s the same type of guy the average wife wants for her husband’, Wayne said.
It was that embodiment of the perfect Everyman, the display of masculine charm that exuded from Marion Robert Morrison when he arrived in Hollywood in the late 1920s and began his career by lugging props before moving on to westerns that would make him box office gold.
But if the on-screen Wayne was the ideal mate, the reality was he was anything but. Wayne was married three times and had seven children, but none of his wives were good company for him and it was a mystery to his friends why he even married them.
He was playing around with other women throughout his marriage to his first wife, Josephine ‘Josie’ Saenz in 1933, a society girl from Pasadena, who was bored with his friends and with time spent on film sets.
Wayne tried to be a better husband, but that attempt failed when sultry German actress and singer, Marlene Dietrich sauntered into his life. She was hot off of her career-changing movie Destry Rides Again and ready to have a roll in the hay with Wayne.
Dietrich was always in the company of a masculine-looking lesbian, but that didn’t quell the couple’s long-term sexual ardor for each other.
When she first spotted the cowboy star in the Universal commissary before filming Seven Sinners in 1940, Dietrich told her director, Tay Garnett, ‘Daddy, buy me that’.
She would make the first move and invite Wayne into her dressing room.
When he asked her for the time of day, ‘Dietrich lifted her skirt to reveal a garter with a watch attached. She looked at the watch, then moved toward Wayne, saying, ‘It’s very early, darling. We have plenty of time’, according to the author.
Neither ever attempted to conceal their affair. When Wayne arrived daily on the movie set, Dietrich would leap into his arms and wrap her legs around him.
She had ice-cold champagne brought to the set for everyone and played the musical saw while waiting for the lights to be moved between takes. ‘She would open her legs, put a regular saw in it and with a violin bow, play ‘Annie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ with a wow in it’, writes Eyman.
Wayne never discussed his three-year affair with Dietrich, but later recalled, ‘She was great, just a German hausfrau. She used to cook pressurized beef to make beef bouillon for everybody. It may have been an act, but it brought her a great deal of enjoyment’.
During her affair with Wayne, the FBI was monitoring Dietrich’s sex life and her bank accounts, snooping to learn whether or not she was a Nazi sympathizer. They did learn she was sleeping with Wayne as well as with French film actor Jean Gavin who starred in Le Grand Illusion, German author Erich Remarque who wrote All Quiet on the Western Front and movie star Kay Francis who at one point was the highest-paid American film actress.
When asked about the single most exciting sexual episode in his life, he told his close friend, Cecilia Presley, the granddaughter of Cecil B. DeMille, ‘Rome. The Excelsior Hotel. Dietrich. I took her on the staircase’.
‘You can tell – the way they look, the way they talk to each other, the way they flirt. Of course, Marlene was double-gated, you know She had a very masculine-looking young woman that hung around the place a lot. But even so, Duke was quite taken with her and I could tell that Marlene was taken with him as well’, Eyman quotes the wife of actor Harry Carey.
The affair infuriated Josie and she asked her priest to counsel Wayne on his cheating ways.
‘Wayne had been indulging himself with actresses for years, but Dietrich was very near the last straw’, Eyman writes. The actor promised he’d quit if Josie would stop bringing up Marlene’s name.
But as soon as the priest left the house, Josie went back to her rant. ‘That’s when I knew the marriage was over’, Wayne is quoted.
Wayne would later comment that in spite of the fact that they had four children together, Josie was cold and they had slept together four times in ten years.
Wayne would marry twice more – both times to Spanish women. In 1946, He married Esperanza Baur Diaz Ceballos, ‘Chata’ or ‘pug-nose’. His close friends tried to talk him out of his infatuation with the courtesan he had met south of the border but he was hot for the Mexican spitfire.
Her mother was a madam and came out of the brothels of Mexico and she was regarded as actor Ray Milland’s port of call when he was in Mexico City. Director John Ford boycotted the wedding and asked Wayne, ’Why’d you have to marry that whore’?
Chata could keep up with Wayne drink for drink and was hot in bed but the relationship quickly deteriorated when she became a real alcoholic and they endlessly argued.
His third wife was a young actress from Peru, Pilar Pallete, the child of a Peruvian senator. She had a difficult time adjusting to Hollywood.
Throughout the years of turmoil with women, Wayne’s long love affair with film star, Maureen O’Hara was no secret.
He first met Maureen in 1941 at a party at the home of director John Ford.
‘Wayne would have to sing for his supper which caused great merriment because he couldn’t sing, Maureen said.’
‘He had credibility. He had manliness.He had the magic.’
‘They would meet in Arizona, at the ranch he owned with a friend. It went on for years, before and during his marriage to Pilar’, according to a friend.In the winter Wayne would set sail on his yacht, The Few people were allowed on the boat, The Wild Goose. Maureen was one of them
Christopher Mitchum, Robert’s son, who worked with them both in Big Jake stated, ‘Duke was truly in love with that woman.’And he didn’t marry her ‘because Maureen was strong and tough and he probably didn’t think he could control her. He married women he thought he could control. Then he found out he couldn’t.’