Kirk Douglas’ amazing kindness to John Wayne despite ‘never seeing eye-to-eye’

Kirk Douglas’ amazing kindness to John Wayne despite ‘never seeing eye-to-eye’

September 3, 2023

The War Wagon: John Wayne stars in trailer for 1967 film

Back in 1966, John Wayne shot The War Wagon with Kirk Douglas, whose liberal political views and hiring of the blacklisted communist Dalton Trumbo as Spartacus’ screenwriter were in stark contrast to Duke’s conservative outlook.

The pair avoided talking politics when working, but one day during the Western’s production, Douglas was late to set as he had been shooting a commercial to endorse Edmund G Brown, a Democrat, as Governor of California.

This enraged the right-wing Wayne, who was late himself the next day as he’d been filming an advert to endorse the Republican candidate, fellow actor and future President Ronald Reagan.

Although the two Hollywood stars had their political differences, they did eventually become friends and had a mutual respect for each other.

In a 1971 interview with Dick Cavett, Douglas shut down being asked about Duke’s controversial views on the US taking Native American land.

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Cavett brought up that Wayne had said it was “because a lot of people needed land and the Indians were being selfish and thought that they ought to have it.”

Yet Douglas replied: “I don’t want to get involved in a conversation about John Wayne. I’ve made quite a few pictures with John Wayne and, by the way, I’ve always called him John. Everybody calls him Duke. We have never seen eye-to-eye on a lot of things.” However, he did compliment the Western star, saying he was “one of the most professional actors I’ve ever worked with.”

Douglas shared how when working on a movie together, he would only have dinner with Wayne on just one night. He said: “We get along well, we never discuss politics. But he’s the first guy on the set, the hardest worker I’ve ever worked with, and I think he’s quite a character.”

Given Duke’s towering 6 ft 4 height, Cavett joked that it was no wonder the two never saw eye-to-eye. In fact, during his first scene with Wayne, Douglas wore huge lifts so he would look in line with Duke.

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Weeks before Wayne’s death in 1979, on the date of his 72nd birthday, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. This was after fellow Hollywood stars, both Republicans and Democrats, supported the award with statements praising Duke as an American icon and patriot. 

In his statement, Douglas wrote: “I strongly believe that John Wayne should receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. He is an authentic chunk of Americana. His personal and artistic life represent the best qualities of America admired by people around the world. He has always been a strong force for the American way of life. He has personified that force privately and artistically for many, many years. The world would applaud -the action of bestowing this medal on a great American.”

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