John Wayne: Harvard Lampoon Club (1974)–Duke’s Sense of Humor

John Wayne at Harvard Lampoon Club

The Harvard Lampoon Club invited Wayne in January 1974 to premiere his film McQ at Cambridge, challenging him to debate the school’s famously liberal students.

The club’s editors sent Wayne a rather cynical invitation: “We’ve heard you’re supposed to be some kind of legend, everybody talks about your he-man prowess, your pistol-packing, rifle-toting, frontier-taming, cattle-demeaning talents, your unsurpassed greatness in the guts department.” “You think you’re tough,” wrote James M. Downey, in the invitation, “We’re not so tough. We dare you to have it out, head on, with the young whelps here who would call the supposedly unbeatable John Wayne, the biggest fraud in history.”

Wayne liked the “guts” of the challenge, but replied, “Sorry to note in your challenge that there is weakness in your breeding, but there is a ray of hope in the fact that you are conscious of it.

Provoked by their suggestion that he didn’t have the courage to go, he decided to attend. He was not in the greatest company; the previous visitor of the Lampoon Club was Linda Lovelace, the star of the porn movie Deep Throat.” However, amused by the mockery of it, he showed up with an iron horse and soldier sidekicks, provided by the Army Reserves, much to the dissatisfaction of the Pentagon.

Wayne arrived in a tank-like personnel carrier, stood in the hatch carrying an unloaded and inoperative gun. Some Lampoon members dressed as cowboys, firing toy guns, while others threw snowballs at him. But he took the whole thing humorously and throughout the ceremony waved and signed autographs.

Wayne first met with the Club’s editors, then faced a mass meeting of students, who fired questions fast, but he answered all of them.

The following is a sample of the interchange:

Q: Do you look at yourself as the fulfillment of the American Dream

A: I don’t look at myself more than I have to.

Q: Is the session being taped

A: Well, if it is I hope the guy taping it is a Democrat, because if he’s Republican you would lose it.

Q: Would Nixon portray John Wayne in the filmed biography of Wayne’s career

A: Well, Richard’s good enough actor to do it, I suppose.

Q: What’s your opinion of the women’s liberation movement

A: I think women have a right to work anywhere they want to…as long as they have dinner when we want it.

Once again, Wayne proved that he could handle any crowd and any query with a certain charm and even wit. Extremely relaxed, he seemed to have great fun communicating with the students. As time went by their initial hostility subsided and he won the students over.

I don’t care what they say, you’re still a man!

In the midst of the debate, a female student got up and shouted, “I don’t care what they say, you’re still a man!”