SANTA ANA, California — John Wayne’s son defended his father amid calls to remove the movie icon’s name from a California airport after controversial quotes from 1971 resurfaced.
“It would be an injustice to judge someone based on an interview that’s being used out of context,” Ethan Wayne told CNN’s Michael Smerconish on “Smerconish” Saturday. “They’re trying to contradict how he lived his life, and how he lived his life was who he was. So, any discussion of removing his name from the airport should include the full picture of the life of John Wayne and not be based on a single outlier interview from half a century ago.”
In the Playboy interview, the star made disparaging remarks against black, gay and Native American people.
“I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” he said. He used an anti-gay slur to describe films he considered “perverted” and said Native Americans “were selfishly trying to keep (the US) for themselves.”
Referring to the anti-gay slur, Ethan Wayne said his father “used a terrible word, no doubt about it.”
“But he used it not in the context of an individual’s sexuality. He used it in the context of the changing landscape of the motion picture business, something that distressed him,” Ethan Wayne said. “My father worked in Hollywood for 50 years, and Hollywood is probably, you know, one of the most progressive and diverse communities on Earth. He didn’t care what race, gender, sexual orientation you were. He cared how well you did your job. He took everyone at face value.”
Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote a column encouraging John Wayne Airport south of Los Angeles be renamed after the interview resurfaced. He told Smerconish that Orange County has changed dramatically since the 1970s.
It was a “hive of rock-ribbed, conservative Republicanism that was exemplified in fact by the political views of John Wayne. That Orange County does not exist anymore,” Hiltzik said.
“The views that he expressed in 1971, I think, were extremist even for 1971. That was not a prehistoric period. … The civil rights movement was at high tide,” Hiltzik said.
Ethan Wayne praised his father’s record.
“They put my father’s name on that airport for the same reason that Congress voted to give him a Congressional Gold Medal, for the same reason that the President decided to give him a Medal of Freedom. And it’s recognition of a lifetime of significant contributions to this country, his community and to his industry,” he said.
John Wayne, who died from stomach cancer in 1979 at age 72, starred in many popular Westerns and won an Academy Award for “True Grit.”