In 2001, the book John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth by Michael Munn came out on bookshelves.
Within it was the explosive assertion that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin had targeted John Wayne for assassination due to his anti-communist stance.
Wayne’s fame and influence was such, Stalin believed, that his death would help put an end to the anti-communism that the Soviet leader saw in the film industry in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
According to author Michael Munn, who interviewed Wayne and others for his book, the increasing influence of Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was detrimental to Stalin’s clandestine programs of spreading communism through subtle means, such as film and radio.
Wayne’s support for HUAC and his open anti-communism put him on Stalin’s “hit list,” according to Munn.
During the second iteration of the “Red Scare” in the late 1940s and early ’50s, HUAC and McCarthy led a search for suspected communists within the ranks of all sorts of occupations – from labor unions to the military to Hollywood.
Most of the accusations leveled at those accused were false and tainted with hearsay. Still, the effect of McCarthyism was such that many famous actors and directors found it difficult to find work.
Two of the many were Burgess Meredith and John Garfield, both noted actors of the 30’s and 40’s (younger readers will know Meredith as both “The Penguin” from the classic Batman show (it was the only work he could get), and as Rocky’s manager “Micky” in the first Rocky movies.
Many people inside Hollywood and out disliked John Wayne for his support of the Un-American Activities Committee.
To add fuel to the fire, they pointed out Wayne’s staying at home during the war, when other stars of his caliber, such as Jimmy Stewart, were actively fighting at the front.
This was something Wayne always felt bad about, but the truth, in short, is that Wayne tried multiple times to join the armed forces and was turned down – he was viewed as too important to the recruiting and propaganda drive that Hollywood played such a big part in.
Sadly for Wayne, he did not discover until after the war that his application to join the OSS (the forerunner to the CIA) was successful. The envelope holding the acceptance letter was sidelined by his producers.
Still, Wayne’s image, both on-screen and off, was larger than life and had a huge impact. Stalin decided he had to go.
In 1951, when Stalin was near his end and at his most paranoid, two agents were sent to kill Wayne. They showed up at his offices at Warner Brothers studios.
The men were arrested and they later asked for political asylum, according to Munn’s book.
Munn also alleges that American communists under orders from Moscow plotted to kill “the Duke.” Word reached Wayne’s posse of stuntmen, and they supposedly “ran the communists out of town.”
Munn states that in a 1974 interview with Wayne, the star told him that during a 1966 visit to Vietnam to raise troops’ morale, a sniper took a shot at the star.
The book also quotes Nikita Khrushchev, who came to power after the death of Stalin. Khrushchev was a huge fan of American movies and a huge fan of John Wayne.
On one of his famed visits to the United States, the Soviet leader met with Wayne, and allegedly (according to the star) told him that “That was a decision of Stalin during his last five mad years. When Stalin died I rescinded that order.”
Stalin wasn’t always so unsuccessful. Many of his enemies, both real and imagined, fell to his assassins, most notably one of the original Bolsheviks, Leon Trotsky, who was killed with an ice-pick to the brain while in exile in Mexico, on orders from Stalin.