Tough guy screen legend John Wayne took on dozens of desperadoes in his storied career — but he was no match for the California state assembly.
A resolution to honor Wayne got shot down Thursday after opponents raised an uproar over remarks they deemed racist.
The "John Wayne Day" resolution snagged just 35 votes — six short of the majority needed for passage — after critics said the state has no business honoring an actor who questioned the intelligence of African-Americans and the rights of Native Americans to their own land.
“I think when we come here to support a resolution, it’s something we believe in, it’s something we can wrap our arms around,” said Assemblyman Mike Gipson, a Democrat and an African-American. “Certainly his movies are one thing, but in terms of his private life, and also his views, I find them very offensive.”
Another Democrat, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, cited a 1971 Playboy interview in which Wayne was quoted as saying: "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."
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, also a Democrat, noted that in the same interview Wayne defended uprooting Native-Americans from their lands. And she cited this passage:
"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."
“There was a lot of slaughtering of Native Americans” in Wayne's movies, Gonzalez added.
Wayne, who died in 1979 at age 72, was also knocked for his support of anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee and the far right John Birch Society.
Assemblyman Matthew Harper, the Republican from Orange County who sponsored the resolution, blasted the vote.
“Today is the day that political correctness prevailed over a profoundly American figure recognized throughout the world,” Harper said. “Opposing the John Wayne Day resolution is like opposing apple pie, fireworks, baseball, the Free Enterprise system and the Fourth of July!”
“Recognize that not any one of us is only the product of our worst feelings or statements, we are all much much more than that,” Assemblyman Don Wagner, another Republican, added. “Everyone of us is imperfect.”
“He stood for those big American values that we know and we love,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen, another Orange County Republican.
Wayne should also be remembered for helping Vietnamese refugees, Allen said.
Born Marion Mitchell Morrison, Wayne was an iconic actor who came to personify a quintessentially American he-man attitude and won an Oscar for "True Grit." In addition to starring in many westerns, Wayne played the lead in gung-ho patriotic movies like "The Longest Day" and "The Green Berets."