Why John Wayne thought “disg*sting” movies would k**l Hollywood
As well as being the king of the Western genre during Hollywood’s Golden Age, John Wayne was also one of the most unapologetic characters in the history of cinema, and alongside his obvious talent, he came complete with an array of controversial views, regardless of him being a product of his era.
From supporting the Vietnam War to being extremely homophobic about the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy in a notorious Playboy interview, Wayne remains one of the most divisive figures in popular culture even some 43 years after his passing.
The poster boy of Republican America, Wayne wasn’t afraid of speaking his mind in the name of what he regarded as the righteous cause. In Carolyn McGivern’s 2001 biography John Wayne: A Giant Shadow, the actor’s opinions on the state of modern films were laid bare, which came with his idea of the image that he wanted Hollywood to convey.
Interestingly, he didn’t want a rating system for movies to inform parents of what their children were watching. Instead, he called for the industry to control its own censorship instead of outsourcing it.
Strangely though, he had a problem with what he labelled “perverted films”, such as Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider, although he was an ardent opponent of censorship. The Rio Bravo star then proceeded to argue that because films were allowing more adult content, it was leading to families watching TV at home instead of heading to the cinema.
In the book, McGivern points out that Wayne wasn’t necessarily against sex in movies, but he was against certain portrayals of it, such as that of male sexuality, a clear indicator of the kind of views he held. Adding to this anti-modernist sentiment, he was also against the increased level of violence that was making its way into film.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m awfully happy there’s a thing called sex,” Wayne explained. “I see no reason why it shouldn’t be in pictures. Healthy, lusty sex is wonderful, but when you get hairy sweaty bodies in the foreground, it becomes distasteful. I can remember seeing pictures in the thirties that were wonderfully risqué. They were done with intimation.”
Wayne then made an analogy between Hollywood and how banks operate, revealing his true thoughts on where he believed the industry was at the time, which he described as “shit” because it was forgetting the “magic” that it was founded on in favour of this new “vulgarity”.
He said: “When you think of the wonderful picture fare we’ve had through the years and then realize we’ve come to this shit, it’s disgusting. If they want to continue making these films, fine, but my career will have ended. I feel the business is going to fade out from its own vulgarity. When the curious go to see gore and violence they make the bankers think that is what the public want. They seem to forget the one basic principle of our business … illusion. We’re in the business of magic. Perhaps we have run out of imagination.”