John Wayne, whose real name is Marion Mitchell Morrison, was born in Winterset, Iowa but grew up in southern California near Los Angeles.
Wayne was raised a Presbyterian with a Scotch-Irish bloodline. One of his sons claims that he was not religious. But another says he would hand-write letters to God. Whether particularly religious or not, Wayne married three devout Catholic women in his life, and all seven of his children were raised Catholic.
He apparently converted to Catholicism a few days before his death. He did not, however, convert to the Crystal Cathedral congregation after receiving a note from a girl with a broken leg, despite rumors.
It’s possible that this turn towards Catholicism on his deathbed had been a long time coming. After all, he was surrounded by Catholics his whole life–between his wives, children, the priests who were in and out of the house, and his friends. Or he could have been a very sick man who was not terribly aware of what he was doing. In either case, it appears he was baptized, and so according to the Catholics, he won’t be spending an eternity in hell.
John Wayne was a committed conservative Republican, a role he was keen to discuss in public and play in his films. From his portrayals of the rugged individual in his westerns to the American commie-fighting hero in war films, Wayne acted on film what he idealized in real life.
His political views stemmed from his patriotic fervor:
Sure I wave the American flag. Do you know a better flag to wave? Sure I love my country with all her faults. I’m not ashamed of that, never have been, never will be.
He was attracted to the rugged individualism of nineteenth century America–a country where opportunity abounded if you were willing to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But his was not a worldview that included food stamps and social security:
I don’t think a fella should be able to sit on his backside and receive welfare. I’d like to know why well-educated idiots keep apologizing for lazy and complaining people who think the world owes them a living.
When anti-commie fever broke out after World War II, Wayne jumped right on the bandwagon. He was a founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and also, for a time, a member of the controversial John Birch society. His fervent hatred of all things communist also led him to support the Vietnam War–which didn’t win him any friends in Hollywood.
Not surprisingly, he was and is a favorite of the Republican party. He spoke at the Republican National Convention in 1968 during Nixon’s first successful bid for the presidency. And Republicans are still talking about him as the ideal representation of their party.