An effort to declare May 26 as John Wayne Day was rejected Thursday by members of the California State Assembly. Republican Assemblyman Matt Harper introduced Assembly Concurrent Resolution 137 on Feb. 11 with several co-sponsors and had expected John Wayne Day to be declared on what would have been the late actor’s 109th birthday.
The resolution noted Wayne’s commercial and critical success in motion pictures, praised him for his consistent support of the United States military, and his family’s dedication to funding cancer research. Wayne died of cancer in 1979.
Following the actor’s death, the name of Orange County Airport was changed to John Wayne Airport. In 2007, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named Wayne to the California Hall of Fame. Considering past honors for Wayne in California and elsewhere, Harper thought naming a day for Wayne would be a routine matter.
Instead, several legislators rose to express opposition to giving Wayne a special day, alleging the cowboy icon was a racist. One of the comments attributed to Wayne was a statement he made in an interview with Playboy Magazine. “ “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” Wayne is quoted as saying. “I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”
Known in later years as a staunch Republican, in his younger days Wayne – like fellow actor Ronald Reagan – was a supporter of presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. One issue Wayne and Reagan had in common was strong opposition to communism, which both men decided the Democratic Party did not oppose effectively. Both became known for their support for the controversial U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. The two men became political allies, with Wayne supporting Reagan for governor of California in 1966.