John Wayne

Did KGB agents really try to kill John Wayne?

Even if you’ve never watched a western movie, you will undoubtedly be familiar with John Wayne and his close association with the genre. Beginning his career in the silent era, Wayne soon became an icon of the silver screen thanks to his collaborations with John Ford.

Wayne was given several uncredited roles in some of Ford’s first early sound films before giving a breakthrough performance in 1939’s Stagecoach. From there, he collaborated with directors like George Sherman, Raoul Walsh, Cecil B. DeMille and Howard Hawks, appearing in movies such as True GritRio Grande, Fort Apache and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

However, Wayne was also known for being incredibly racist and conservative, going as far as to say, “I believe in white supremacy”, during an interview with Playboy. He hated communism, even co-founding the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Wayne also supported McCarthyism and wanted anyone suspected of having remotely communist sympathies blacklisted from Hollywood.

Put simply, Wayne was not a nice man, yet that didn’t stop him from becoming known as a legend of Hollywood and one of the most celebrated actors of the western genre. However, his anti-communist stance was not received fondly by Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin, who reportedly authorised the attempted assassination of the actor.

We must preface that this story is largely made of speculation, although it is fascinating nonetheless. It has been told in many accounts of Wayne’s life, but we will never truly know if Stalin actually sent members of the KGB to kill Wayne, believing his politics to be a threat.

The story begins with Stalin reportedly sending several KBG agents to murder Wayne, which the actor became aware of before they arrived. Thus, Wayne allegedly teamed up with the FBI to stop the KGB in their tracks and catch them red-handed. Disguising themselves as FBI agents, the KGB arrived, only to be met with Wayne and several real FBI agents, who subsequently took the Soviet agents to a beach and pretended that they were going to execute them.

The entire thing sounds rather unbelievable; however, in Hollywood, it seems like anything is possible. The story can be found in Michael Munn’s book John Wayne – The Man Behind The Myth, which also suggests that Orson Welles had found out about the planned attack on Wayne through some of his filmmaker friends, such as Sergei Gerasimov.

While the whole story’s authenticity is questionable, it is likely that Stalin was vocal in his hatred for Wayne’s politics. Many sources suggest that Stalin did want Wayne assassinated, but whether he actually sent agents to kill him remains unconfirmed.

Still, Wayne was the recipient of several other attempted assassinations in the future, most notably in 1966, when a sniper was caught attempting to shoot the actor in Vietnam. The sniper alleged that Chairman Mao Zedong ordered the shooting. Again, whether this is true or not remains speculation.

Regardless, these stories reveal the insane level of controversy that surrounded the Hollywood actor, who died of stomach cancer in 1979.

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