Did you know that the Duke wore a toupee from about 1948 onward? He never once denied it either. A reporter once asked him about his “phony” hair, and he said, “It’s not phony. It’s real hair. Of course it’s not mine, but it’s real.”
John Wayne’s hair had begun thinning in the 1940s, and by the end of the decade he chose to start wearing a hairpiece. Occasionally he was seen without wearing the hairpiece (most notably was at Gary Cooper’s funeral).
Mostly famous for starring in Westerns, the Oscar-winning Wayne appeared in 175 films. He had had several high-profiled affairs during his career, one with Marlene Dietrich that lasted three years, and another with Merle Oberon that spanned from 1938 to 1947.
In 1973, after Wayne separated from his wife Pilar, he became romantically involved with his former secretary Pat Stacy. They moved in together, and stayed together until his death in 1979. Stacy published a biography of her life with him in 1983 that was titled, Duke: A Love Story.
The only film in which Wayne went totally ‘au naturel’ was The Wings of an Eagle. After he made Wake of the Red Witch (1948), John Wayne wore a toupee for every film, except for the later scenes of The Wings of Eagles (1957), in which he played Frank Wead (aka Spig Wead), a naval aviation pioneer and screenwriter.
Wayne shows his own balding head in the WWII era scenes, in which the older Spig Wead has a noticeably bald head. During both The Fighting Kentuckian (1949) and North to Alaska (1960), his hairpiece is knocked off during fight scenes and goes unnoticed until after each release of the films. Something similar happens in The Quiet Man (1952), except this time, his hat falls off after a punch was landed and he does not have the hairpiece on his head.
At an auction in 2007, at Julien’s, which stocked rare movie props and memorabilia, John Wayne’s hat from the 1970 western classic Chisum sold for close to $2,000. A toupee Wayne wore in the 1967 film El Dorado went on auction at Bonham’s in 2010. The toupee, brown with a hint of gray, sold for $1,244.
In 2013 a custom made dark brown toupee for John Wayne was found, it had been made for an unknown MGM production. It was made of human hair, tied one strand at a time to a lace mesh with silk bands in the interior to make the appearance of a scalp. At the time, studio wigs were custom made/fitted for the actor’s head and hairline.
“1259” is what the MGM label reads, with the original box that was labeled “1259 Dk. Brown 1850 J. Wayne,” and it corresponded with the MGM wig stock record card that had typed on it “1259 John Wayne Dark Brown 1850.” There were notes typed on the wig stock card that said the wig was checked out for an additional use after the original production (“10-24-63 #1815 H. Boden”), which was possibly for The Unsinkable Molly Brown film (MGM 1964). Upon the closing of the MGM hair and wig department, the wig was acquired by a buyer. Along with the wig was a canvas wig block, both sold for $6,250.
Here are some other interesting facts: Wayne was married and divorced three times, he was a Freemason, avoided fighting in WWII, campaigned for Richard Nixon and smoked six pack of cigarettes a day prior to getting lung cancer. “Duke” was the name of his dog, but eventually people began using the name on Wayne and it stuck.
When John Wayne first met Michael Caine, Wayne gave Caine some friendly advice. “Talk low, talk slow and don’t say too f—— much”. Wayne then stunned the Brit by adding “and never wear suede shoes”. When Caine asked “Why?”, Wayne replied: “Because one day a guy in the next stall recognized me and turned towards me and said ‘John Wayne you’re my favorite actor! And p—-d all over my suede shoes. So don’t wear them when you’re famous, kid.”
Wayne Was In Awe Of Churchill, and would often tell people that he had a complete set of the British Prime Minister’s writings on his book shelf.
John Wayne won his Best Actor Oscar for playing Rooster Cogburn in True Grit in 1969. When he went onto the stage to accept the award, he whispered in the presenter Barbra Streisand’s ear “beginner’s luck.”
After the awards were over, Wayne spent the evening drinking with Richard Burton, who had also been nominated for his role as King Henry VIII in Anne of the Thousand Days. When Burton answered Wayne’s knock on his door, Wayne thrust the Oscar statue at Burton saying: “You should have this, not me.”