As I read the news about John Wayne’s estate engaging in a legal battle with Duke University over the use of the name Duke, it reminded me of the time I had a drink with the Duke.
The estate wants to put the name “Duke” on the label of bottles of Kentucky bourbon. Duke University reportedly opposes that idea. From personal experience, I know that Wayne did like bourbon.
He had just finished shooting some scenes for The Green Berets, a film about the Vietnam War at Fort Benning. Meeting him on location the night before, I had so upset him when I asked if he was making a propaganda movie that he cut the interview short and stormed off, saying, “You’re just trying to provoke me. I’m trying to make an entertaining movie.”
The next morning his publicist called me to say that Duke felt bad about the episode with me, that he had been upset by something else and that he would give me another interview if I wanted it. The publicist and I met him at his apartment after that day’s filming. He gave me his famous smile and a hardy handshake, explained that he had been in a bad mood the night before because of problems he was having with one of his actors who had a drinking problem, said he understood I was just doing my job and I could ask him anything I wished. I responded by honestly telling him I was a fan and had really enjoyed his latest movie in the theaters, The War Wagon. He invited me to join him at the apartment’s kitchen table to do the interview. He also asked me if I would like to have a bourbon and water with him. Usually, I didn’t drink on the job, but there was no way I was going to not have a drink with John Wayne.
I interviewed him for an hour. He gave me a lot of interesting inside stories about such things as the mafia’s influence in Hollywood. I sent both the short interview from the night before and the hour interview to CBS. They only used the one with the verbal fireworks from the night before.