John Wayne: Politics–Right Wing (Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals)

The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA), which was founded to combat what the organization believed was the increasing involvement in and domination of the film industry by Communists.  Additionally, Hollywood established its own “Fact Finding Committee on Un-American Activities,” under the leadership of Jack B. Tenney.

“Let no one say that a Communist can be tolerated in American society and particularly in our industry,” Wayne said in one of his most famous speeches as president of MPA, “We don’t want to associate with traitors.”

He further hoped that “those who have changed their views will cooperate to the fullest extent…so that they can come back to the fellowship of loyal Americans.” “The bankers and stock holders must recognize,” he concluded, “that the investments in the movie industry are imperiled as long as we have these elements in our midst.”

There were rumors at the time that MPA gave the HUAAC names of suspected Communists and that it was indirectly connected with the imprisonment of the Hollywood Ten. Wayne repeatedly denied these accusations, “I never in my life did any such thing.”

John Wayne’s most political movie: Big Jim McLain

Moreover, he claimed that it was the Communists who did the blacklisting, by forming writers’ cells so that those who did not belong to them could not get writing jobs. He really believed that the Communists aimed at taking control of the industry through violent strikes.

When Ronald Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), he was confronted with leftist attempts to take over the union’s leadership. He asked Wayne, then president of MPA, for help, and the latter attended a crucial meeting. “I watched rather helplessly,” Reagan recalled, “as they filibustered, waiting for our majority to leave so they could gain control.” But then he heard a call for adjournment and “seized on this as a means to end the attempted take over.”

Reagan’s opponents demanded to know who called for adjournment and Reagan realized there were only few willing to be publicly identified as opponents of the Communists. “Why, I believe John Wayne made the motion,” Reagan said,” shortly after which he heard the latter’s strong and familiar voice, “I sure as hell did!” The meeting was over. “Standing up and declaring which side he was on,” Morrie Riskind later claimed, “was Wayne’s biggest contribution to the fight against Communism.”

The movie colony was in fact sharply divided along political lines. Many actors were appalled by the HUACC hearings and the MPA alike, as they were against any political interference with and within the film industry.

Committee for First Amendment

In 1947, the Committee for the First Amendment was organized by writer Philip Dunne and supported by such liberal actors as Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fredric March, John Garfield, and directors John Huston and William Wyler. It did not last long, though some of its members, most notably Bogart, continued to fight against the HUACC’s infringing free speech.

But even Bogart found it difficult to express his politics openly and maintain good standing in Hollywood as well. When he became the target of criticism and was labeled a Communist sympathizer, he moderated his statements and in l948 even wrote an article entitled, “I’m No Communist.” Bogart later admitted that the Washington Trip he had organized, with actors stopping en route from California to give press conferences against HUAAC, had been a mistake.

Wayne was quite active as president of MPA. He reportedly visited Clark Gable on the set of Key to the City (1951), to warn him there was a Communist on the crew.

John Wayne Versus Gary Cooper

In 1951, when Cooper announced his plan to form a production company with Carl Foreman, Wayne was extremely critical about it. Foreman was labeled an “Unfriendly Witness,” because he refused to discuss his former affiliation with the Communist Party.

Cooper came under such severe attack that he had to pull out, though in a statement to the press, he said he was still convinced of Foreman’s loyalty, Americanism, and ability as a picture-maker. His statement amounted to little more than lip service, as he did in fact withdraw from the plan. Foreman understood Cooper’s delicate position and behaved gentlemanly, releasing him from his commitment in order to avoid damage to his career.

Wayne was vocal about his criticism of Foreman’s screenplay for High Noon, which he described as “defeatist,” and “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” He was especially offended by Cooper putting his U.S. marshal badge under his foot and stepping on it at the end of the film. Wayne said he never regretted “having helped run Foreman out of this country.” When asked, “what gave you the right” he did not hesitate to reply, “I thought he’d hurt Gary Cooper’s reputation a great deal,” ignoring the fact that Cooper won his second Oscar for this movie, which also rejuvenated his declining career.

Foreman was forced into self-exile in England, working there “underground,” using various pseudonyms. He received no credit for his screenplay for The Bridge On the River Kwai” (1957), which won Best Picture and Best Screenplay, honoring the book’s author, who had nothing to do with the script.

John Wayne Vs. Robert Rossen

Another figure regarded unfavorably by Wayne was writer-director Robert Rossen, whose film, All the King’s Men (1949), dealt with political corruption. Wayne described him as doing “things that were detrimental to our way of life,” Rossen was identified as Communist by several witnesses and was subsequently blacklisted by the industry. But after two years of inactivity he requested a second hearing, at which he admitted to membership in the Communist Party.

Rossen’s name was restored to respectability and he was able to work again, directing with great success The Hustler (1961), starring Paul Newman in His strongest performance, but he never returned to mainstream Hollywood.

Wayne actually belonged to the more “liberal” element of the MPA. When Larry Parks, for example, admitted he had been member of the Communist Party, Wayne said, “Too bad,” but he showed respect for Parks’s repentance, “it takes courage to admit you’re wrong.”

And unlike his more chauvinistic colleagues, he expressed hope that Parks’s career would not be hurt. Screenwriter John Lee Mahin also recalled that Wayne was one of the first to publicly battle for those who broke from the Communist Party. But other members, like Hedda Hooper, who served as one of his vice presidents at the MPA, could not forgive Parks and could not understand Wayne forgiving him. “Duke is a little dumb about these things,” she said, publicly chastising Wayne. “The life of one American soldier,” Hopper is reported to have said, “Is worth all the careers in Hollywood. We must be careful lest we give sympathy to those who do not deserve it–and Parks certainly does not. Hopper “gave me fifteen minutes of the roughest go,” Wayne recalled, “‘Our boys are dying in Korea and the whole bit.’ Real enough. And I had to take it.”

Wayne believed that some of MPA’s active members later paid with their own careers for their involvement. Adolphe Menjou was out of work for three years and worked only sporadically afterward. Ward Bond made few movies, mostly directed by Ford, until his comeback in the television series, Wagon Train.” And Morrie Riskind, a successful writer and winner of both Pulitzer Prize and Oscar Award, also found himself out of work. Wayne and Ford’s careers remained unaffected, probably because they were then too popular and too established.

Long after MPA disbanded, Wayne continued to express his anti-Communist ideas. He considered Senator McCarthy to be one of America’s “most misunderstood heroes,” “the awakening of America,” who rang “the bell to get up.” “I admired the work he did,” he said in l960, “whether he went overboard or not, he was of value to my country.”

Wayne said that McCarty was a close friend, respected for “the courage to take on everyone,” but “like most of our so-called conservative leaders, he did not have the backing of the Eastern establishment press, which ultimately ruined him.” Wayne did believe that McCarthy was “murdered by the leftists,” and regretted that “now his name is a bad word.”

Even in the 1960s, Wayne was boastful about MPA’s achievements. “Five years ago, Communism seemed to be almost a fad in Hollywood,” he said, but “I think we’ve driven most of them underground now.” But he was still concerned that “many of the leaders in this country don’t seem to worry about what’s going on.”

John wayne Vs. Frank Sinatra

In 1960, when Frank Sinatra hired screenwriter Albert Maltz, one of the Hollywood Ten, to do a script, he came under severe attack and, under pressure, had to fire him. Wayne did not approve of Sinatra’s hiring, but asked for a response, he snapped, “I don’t think my opinion is too important.”

There were also rumors, denied by Wayne, that when the two met at a Hollywood nightclub they had an argument. Nonetheless, as time went by, both forgot the whole thing, which was typical of Wayne; he always knew how to maintain old friendships–despite political differences.