After a group in Orange County, California, started a movement to remove John Wayne’s name from the airport in Santa Ana, the chatter began locally about whether the actor’s name should be on John Wayne Parkway in Maricopa.
It all goes back to quotes from a wide-ranging 1971 interview Wayne gave Playboy magazine that included philosophical comments about African Americans and Native Americans at a time of deep political unrest.
The parallels with modern conflicts have brought the interview back to the surface.
The Democratic Party of Orange County created a legislative resolution condemning the “racist and bigoted statements” and urging the county supervisors to rename the airport.
A Facebook group of about 10 people, calling itself “Rename John Wayne Parkway in Maricopa Arizona,” was launched June 27, requesting the removal of “The Duke’s” name, resulting in new addresses for many businesses. Group creator “Kiki LaPue” introduced the concept with the post: “Did you know that John Wayne hated Black people, Native Americans and gay people? No reason to give someone like that a name-sake. I say we demand that the city change it and let native and Black residents choose what to call it.”
But the man who originated the idea of dubbing the stretch of Maricopa Road through town as John Wayne Parkway does not agree.
“Isn’t that unreal?” said Mike Ingram, founder and chairman of El Dorado Holdings, which developed Rancho El Dorado, The Duke golf course, The Villages and The Lakes.
‘HE WASN’T RACIST. NEVER EVER’
Ingram said he introduced the idea, but insisted it was the residents of Maricopa and Ak-Chin who wanted to name the road John Wayne Parkway to honor the impact he had on the area for many years.
Ingram said rehashing one interview from 49 years ago was “Johnny come lately.”
“He wasn’t racist. Never ever,” Ingram said.
The interview’s content has been available since it was first published, and Wayne was always public about his right-wing politics. The exchange in the interview getting the most notice now came about after Wayne brought up controversial political activist Angela Davis.
“PLAYBOY: Angela Davis claims that those who would revoke her teaching credentials on ideological grounds are actually discriminating against her because she’s black. Do you think there’s any truth in that?
“WAYNE: With a lot of blacks, there’s quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so. But we can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”
Long-time Maricopa resident Alice Johnson McKinney, who knew Wayne well as the wife of the actor’s business partner, Louis Johnson, said she never heard him express such sentiments.
“No, no. I had been with him on trips, giving out cards to his fans,” she said. “I didn’t see that. He had friends who were black in the movie business. We had Black people with him here at our home.”
‘THEY PAINED HIM AS WELL’
McKinney said she and her late husband, Louis, took Wayne with them to Las Vegas for a Charlie Pride concert, visited the singer and his wife Rozene in the country entertainer’s suite and had dinner with them. That evening resulted in a photograph of Pride and Wayne that Pride used in his autobiography.
She said she heard nothing bigoted from Wayne, though they all laughed at the seeming irony of Pride having a white maid.
“I never knew him to be discriminatory toward anyone,” McKinney said, “unlike our president.”
She talked with Gretchen Wayne, the widow of Wayne’s oldest son Michael, and with Ethan Wayne, the actor’s youngest son, about the situation in Orange County. Gretchen told her the situation comes up every few years, but she doesn’t think the movement will succeed.
Ethan Wayne is part of a group that started a petition to keep the name of the airport and has gathered “many, many signatures.” He also told her he didn’t think the change will be made.
In a statement released through TMZ, Ethan Wayne said the family knows his father’s words 50 years ago were hurtful, adding “They pained him as well, as he realized his true feelings were wrongly conveyed.”
Ethan Wayne’s statement also claims his father’s archival records show he did not support white supremacy. “Those who knew him knew he judged everyone as an individual and believed everyone deserved an equal opportunity. He called out bigotry when he saw it.”
‘THAT WAS THE ‘60s AND ‘70s’
Henry Wade, a member of Maricopa City Council, said he sees the “major trend in correcting things that were wrong” by taking down monuments celebrating the confederacy in the South. The situation with John Wayne’s name is difficult.
He said he wanted to see exactly what Wayne said before making a judgment, “to see if it was something he felt in his heart of hearts.”
Wade said no constituents have approached him about the matter. He also recognizes the discomfort such words bring into community conversations.
“Certainly, if it’s someone you have high regard for, you don’t want to believe that they would say such things or feel such a way,” Wade said, adding that in the era, “that was the ‘60s and ‘70s, I think there are a lot of people who said and did things they wouldn’t want to be held accountable for today and maybe not even feel the same way.”
The Playboy interview, besides including a couple of common-at-the time but derisive terms for gays, also hit a sore spot with Wayne’s take on Native American circumstances, including:
“PLAYBOY: For years American Indians have played an important—if subordinate—role in your Westerns. Do you feel any empathy with them?
“WAYNE: I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that’s what you’re asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”
McKinney said she was called some years ago by the Wall Street Journal asking if John Wayne should not be honored “because he had killed so many Indians in his movies.”
“I said, ‘You know, it’s not real life. It’s just movies.’”
The question of removing John Wayne’s name from the Parkway has come up on several Maricopa social media platforms in the past week, but much of the response has been strong pushback.
“I think it’s really sad,” McKinney said.
From its beginning, Rancho El Dorado has identified itself tightly with the persona of John Wayne. Though a convenient selling point, Ingram said it wasn’t so much the celebrity factor as the history.
“They knew him. They respected him, Maricopa and Ak-Chin and Stanfield,” Ingram said. “He was so good to that whole community.”
What do you think? Should John Wayne’s name be removed from the parkway and the businesses receive new addresses?