John Wayne and the KGB
One of my all-time favorite movie stars, John Wayne, was born on this date in 1907. He was 6'4" and weighed 250 pounds.
He hated communism. A lot. He was an American patriot who believed strongly in personal freedom.
His iconic image had been painted and sculpted by many famous artists including Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol.
But he was much more than just a movie star and the airport in Anaheim.
Did you know that John Wayne was nearly assassinated by Russian agents of the KGB? It's an incredible story, but true. I just read a new biography about John Wayne by Michael Mumm called John Wayne, The Man Behind The Myth, and I learned these facts (gleaned here from Guardian.co.uk).
From a review at Guardian.co.uk, Nick Walsh writes:
Joseph Stalin ordered the KGB to assassinate John Wayne because he considered his anti-communist rhetoric a threat to the Soviet Union, according to a new biography of the film star based on interviews with Wayne's close associates and the movie legend Orson Welles.
Stalin apparently learned of Wayne's popularity from the Russian filmmaker Sergei Gerasimov, who attended a peace conference in New York in 1949. Michael Munn, a film historian and author of John Wayne - The Man Behind The Myth, said Gerasimov told Stalin of Wayne's fervent anti-communist beliefs.
"Stalin decided that he would have him killed," said Mr Munn, who says he was told of the plot by Orson Welles at a dinner in 1983. Welles had said that the KGB was given the task of assassinating Wayne.
A prominent Russian filmmaker, Alexei Kapler (who was imprisoned for an affair with Stalin's 16-year-old daughter, Svetlana), had told another Russian filmmaker, Sergei Bondachuk, about the order. Bondachuk was sceptical at first, but after Gerasimov confirmed the story, Bondachuk told Welles.
Mr Munn said Wayne had also told him that his friend, the stuntman Yakima Canutt, had "saved his life once". Mr Munn later asked Mr Canutt what he had meant by this comment. The incident is thought to have taken place in the early 50s.
"Yakima told me that the FBI had discovered there were agents sent to Hollywood to kill John Wayne," said Mr Munn. "He said the FBI had come to tell John about the plot. John told the FBI to let the men show up and he would deal with them."
Wayne then apparently hatched a plot with his scriptwriter at the time, Jimmy Grant, to abduct the assassins, drive to a beach and stage a mock execution to frighten them. Mr Munn said he did not know what transpired, but heard the two men stayed in the US to work for the FBI.
A further attempt to kill Wayne was made in Mexico on the set of the film Hondo (which was released in 1953), led by a communist cell, according to Mr Munn.
Wayne also told Mr Munn about an attempt to kill him by an enemy sniper while he was visiting the troops in Vietnam in 1966. "One of the snipers was captured," said Mr Munn, "and said there was a price on John's head, put there by [China's communist leader] Mao Tse Tung."
Wow! What a story! What other actors can you name that have been targeted by the KGB? It's like something out of 24. Did you get the part where the hapless Russian filmmaker had an affair with Stalin's 16 year old daughter? What a death wish! Plus, the guy was a Jew! A Jew in Stalin's Russian having a fling with the dictator's underage daughter? Outrageous! He was later thrown in prison for life, of course. But what was he thinking?
Anyway, I thought you might enjoy that little bit of Hollywood history.