Sunday, May 20, 2018


TRUE GRIT set photo of John Wayne
and Ethan Wayne by Phil Stern

HDNET is celebrating great Western movies with a more than week-long celebration, WESTERN ICONS WITH ETHAN WAYNE. The actor, stuntman, and youngest son of John Wayne will provide introductions to a classic double feature every night, concluding with a 24-hour marathon on Memorial Day, Monday, May 28th. There are three John Wayne classics in the line-up: THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, THE ALAMO, and THE UNDEFEATED. The movies start at 4 pm Pacific Time, 7 pm back east. Today’s double bill is HIGH NOON and TWO RODE TOGETHER. Monday night it’s BILLY TWO HATS and YOUNG BILLY YOUNG.  Get the complete rundown at the HDNET channel on your system, or go HERE.

By Henry C. Parke
Interview Conducted May 17th, 2018

Ethan Wayne today

You may have assumed that Ethan Wayne, the youngest son of incomparable Western legend John Wayne, had the ideal boy’s life. Turns out you were right.  Then again, in 1979, when Wayne Sr. died at age 72, his 17-year-old son would face major challenges.  We discussed Ethan’s relationship with John Wayne, growing up on Western movie sets, Ethan’s career as an actor and stunt man, and his current occupation, heading both The John Wayne Cancer Institute and John Wayne Enterprises.

HENRY PARKE:       You're named after your father's character in THE SEARCHERS, one of his greatest performances, and one of his most complex characters. Was it a favorite of his?

ETHAN WAYNE:     It was. In fact, we found questionnaire from the Academy of Motion Pictures where they asked actors to list their five favorite films. And he did put THE SEARCHERS down at number five.
(Editor’s note: Ethan didn’t know the rest of the list offhand, but he’s getting me the information, and I’ll update the article when I have it.)

HENRY PARKE:       Which are your favorites of your dad's movies?

ETHAN WAYNE:     People ask me that a lot. It's a tough question for me. Obviously I love THE SEARCHERS. I love THE SHOOTIST. And I like different movies for different reasons. For me, it's sort of a window into my DNA. I get to see my dad when he was younger, because I knew him as an older man. So at different periods in my life I'd see him, when he was my age, and I could see what he looked like physically and how he moved. And I'd get that sort of, ‘oh yeah, I see where that comes from.’ For me it changes, and it might not be the greatest film, but I get to see him in a different place. But he died when I was 17, and I was lucky enough to get hired by a couple of guys to do stunt work, and that led to small acting jobs. I would never pose because I thought that my father would never pose for a photo. And it's funny, since I took the Wayne Enterprises over a few years ago, I started looking through all the photos that we’ve been collecting: he poses in everything!
I'm not coming to him from the screen, I'm coming to him, you know, as my dad. I loved my dad. I liked being on location with him, and on the boat. So, it's just different. But again, you're dealing with me having memories that are from the child.

HENRY PARKE:       Of course. I think many Americans feel a great personal connection with John Wayne, but it's nothing like your personal connection.

ETHAN WAYNE:     I didn't come to them through the screen. I didn't really start watching John Wayne films until I was older, and he was gone. So it's just different. Great Dad.

HENRY PARKE:       Was he a very involved dad when you were growing up?

ETHAN WAYNE:     Yeah, he was. When I was doing my best, it was when he had time to sit with me while I did my homework, or we'd read stories together. There was a period of time where we had that time. And then his marriage started getting tough, you know, and there were some business issues; all that starts happening, and he gets pulled away. I certainly noticed that as a young person, the difference. I couldn't articulate it at the time, but it was better when we had our time together.

HENRY PARKE:       I have a friend whose mother starred in a beloved Christmas movie, and she finds it disconcerting to walk into somebody's kitchen and see pictures of her mother all over the place. Do you ever have that kind of moment?

ETHAN WAYNE:     I'm just so used to it; it's just a part of life. You walk into homes that have displays related to John Wayne, or you go to a bar and he's painted on the men's room door (laughs). I think it's all done out of love, and I get a kick out of seeing all the different ways that people pay tribute to him. I haven't really come across anything negative with him.

HENRY PARKE:       But your dad was very controversial especially politically.

ETHAN WAYNE:     Controversial. I guess he was. He had his viewpoint, and he shared his viewpoint civilly with people who were at the far, far other end of the spectrum. And they could still get along, and they could still work together.  He was very capable of articulating his point of view and why he had certain feelings. Today we have a lot of people making a lot of noise, but they can't articulate exactly why they feel that way, and they're not doing it in a civil manner, which is not good for any of us.

HENRY PARKE:       That's very true. What's the first visit to one of your father’s sets that you can recall?

ETHAN WAYNE:     He was older when I was born, and he knew we weren't gonna have a lot of time together, and I'd eventually turn into a teenager and we'd probably spend some years apart. So he took me with him on every film. I mean, I can remember Old Tucson, and Dean Martin, so that would be RIO BRAVO. So that'd be one of the early ones. I have these small images. Probably the first true memories were TRUE GRIT. To run around and have some freedom. And then BIG JAKE, obviously I was very involved. In THE COWBOYS I was getting old enough to be independent in the sort of wild country, and I could get on a horse and leave the set and go exploring. It was terrific. Great Childhood.

Ethan and John

HENRY PARKE:       Speaking of THE COWBOYS, I find it very interesting that you first appeared with your father in RIO LOBO, and then you had a very nice part in BIG JAKE. And the next picture your dad did was THE COWBOYS. I was surprised that you weren't one of the cowboys.

ETHAN WAYNE:     It's funny. I don't know why. Maybe they didn't like, me in BIG JAKE (laughs) -- you never know. Even on BIG JAKE, I kinda remember coming home and he said, “Put this on.” And I'm like, “Why?” This is the weirdest outfit I've ever seen. Green felt shorts. Why would I put this on? “Because you're going to be in the movie. We're leaving tomorrow.” At least for me you were just sort of told, and you did it. It's like, you come home and you get your dog and we're going on a road trip. The dog has no idea what's happening. I think it was that way for me as a young guy; I honestly don't know why I wasn't in THE COWBOYS. I was there with my father, but I don't know.

HENRY PARKE:       I’ve read that you had an uncredited appearance in RIO LOBO. I just watched it again. I could not spot you. What do you do in it?

ETHAN WAYNE:      I have no recollection of being in RIO LOBO. I have seen photographs of me dressed in some sort of costume on the set, but I don't remember if I did anything. I'll have to go back to watch the movie.

HENRY PARKE:       RIO LOBO was directed by the great Howard Hawks. I know you were just a little kid, but do you have any memories of Hawks?

ETHAN WAYNE:     I do. I liked him. There was something about him, he had like a cool look. I don't know how to describe it. And some of those guys were pains, you know? Richard Boone was kind of painful to be around; you'd get pinched, or he'd put duct tape on your hair, do something to you, you know? Very antagonistic with some of those people.  But I remember Hawks was a nice guy.

HENRY PARKE:       As long as we're are talking about directors, did you ever meet John Ford?

ETHAN WAYNE:     I did. And he was my godfather. But again, I was pretty young by the time he passed and my memories of him are just like little images. Maybe the smell of a wet cigar.  That's all I’ve got.

HENRY PARKE:       How about Henry Hathaway on the TRUE GRIT set?

ETHAN WAYNE:     I was seven then. I liked Henry Hathaway too. Very nice guy, nice to me. He could wear a cowboy hat and a sweater and he looked Western but still professional. They had a good style, those guys.

HENRY PARKE:       In BIG JAKE you’re Little Jake McCandles, the kidnapped grandson of Big Jake. Did you think it was odd at the time, that you’re playing your father’s grandson and not his son?

ETHAN WAYNE:     I did. It was a little like, well that's weird. Why is that? But again, I'm like eight years old.  

HENRY PARKE:       As an eight-year-old you got to do a lot of cool stuff. You're grabbed off of horses, chased, shot at, you fire a derringer.

ETHAN WAYNE:     That was kind of normal life around our house. I mean, I can't remember a time when there wasn't a loaded gun around the house. That was a tool, like anything else. You had to do the lawn mower a certain way and you had to take care of the gun a certain way; it was just the way it was. You know, on all the movie sets, I loved the wranglers, I loved the stunt guys. And they would help me figure stuff out or show me how they did things. So it was just something that you absorb by being there. So by the time I got to actually be involved in the film, they'd drop you into the pads, or shoot squibs on you, or let you shoot the blank guns. It was just part of part of my life as a little boy,

HENRY PARKE:       It sounds like an ideal childhood to me.

ETHAN WAYNE:     You left the set, where everything's sort of make believe, and then you got on my father's boat, which was a World War II minesweeper that was converted for pleasure use. Then it was another outdoor kind of lifestyle. He gave you a lot of freedom, but he expected you to be somewhat responsible. I always had to watch my little sister (Marisa Wayne). I could never do anything that would put her in trouble. And if I did, I caught hell, even if it was a misunderstanding. There were chores, just like on the set. The boat had chores, and the boat had guns, and the boat had fishing, and the boat had exploring -- and bears, and all these things that you encountered when you were exploring British Columbia and Southern Alaska. You just had to be aware. It's like the kid who grows up on a ranch. He's aware of different things than when a kid who grows up in the city. It's just a certain set of things that you learn about.

John, Ethan and Patrick Wayne aboard the Duke's
beloved Wild Goose
from Vanity Fair

HENRY PARKE:       Any favorite memories of the shooting of BIG JAKE?

ETHAN WAYNE:     I love that I got to do the pitchfork! I loved the dogs. There was one dog that you could pet, and one that didn't want you to pet him. My tutor was a guy named Tom Hennessy, who was much bigger than my father. He has the scene in the movie where my dad hits him (and he doesn’t go down). He was a giant man and kind of a big teddy bear, but pretty gruff. I spent three hours a day in studies with him, and the rest of the time we would go into town; he'd explain why I'm learning this or that, why you do division, or how you add a percentage. He showed me in real life how that translated and it was just a great, great time. I lived with my dad, and Bruce Cabot, we all stayed in the same house. We’d make Bruce a little vodka in the morning, threw him in the shower. I helped my dad with his stuff to get ready, and read the script with my dad at night. I don't think I ever had a script. They’d just tell me what to say before we shot the scene. I’d always go to bed with my father, and he would be studying the story. 

HENRY PARKE:       How did you like Bruce Cabot?

ETHAN WAYNE:     I liked him. He was a great guy. I love my brother Patrick. He was there. Michael was a producer. We had great stunt guys. A number of guys that I grew up with were on that movie. Maureen O'Hara, Hank Warden, a family from Nogales, Arizona, the Wingfields, were there, the boys were in it. Man, it was great. I was old enough to ride away from the set on a horse, and I knew all the guys. It was just, it was really living for me.

HENRY PARKE:       Did your interest in being a stuntman start here?

ETHAN WAYNE:     No, not really. You know, if the stunt guys had their kids there, we'd run around and fake fight scenes, fall off little ledges or fall off the horse -- do whatever we could do to try to impress the older guys. After my father died, I'd reached out to (stunt coordinator) Gary McLarty about a motorcycle race somewhere and he just said, how old are you? Do you want to work? I was pretty rudderless at that time and he gave me a job. I got to be there and I got to learn and got a paycheck, and was hooked up with another guy when I got back to L.A. who put me to work on series, in the eighties.  B.J. AND THE BEAR, KNIGHT RIDER. A bunch of shows and I got little acting parts out of it. And just kind of grew.

HENRY PARKE:       Now Chris Mitchum was in RIO LOBO and BIG JAKE. And you certainly had something in common in terms of parentage. Any memories of him?

ETHAN WAYNE:     I do and I've seen Chris recently. He's come down to the office and we've talked about licensing. He's in Santa Barbara. He ran for a Congressional seat. I probably haven't seen him in a year, but it was nice to cross paths with him and see him again. He looks great. He and my brother both look very young, you know; those guys are very well preserved.

HENRY PARKE:       Your dad did not put you into movies after BIG JAKE. Do you think that your parents didn't want you to be a Hollywood kid or didn't want to push you into it?

ETHAN WAYNE:     Gosh. As soon as I was born my parents moved out of town, and then moved down to Newport Beach. Going to the set was not about (Hollywood), it was like going to the ranch. You know, where my father filmed was Durango, Mexico. Or outside of Santa Fe, or Ridgeway. We weren't near civilization. He’s my dad. That's what he did and that's what we did, and I went with him. I loved the guy, loved all the adventure, and to do my schoolwork, and not stepping in anybody's a line of sight, or block a light, or step on a cable or get in front of the camera; you know, I knew all the rules. And then, I never had a chance to talk to him about it.

HENRY PARKE:       In 1984 you did CALIFORNIA COWBOYS, aka ESCAPE FROM EL DIABLO, in Spain, with my old friend, director Gordon Hessler. What was that experience like?

ETHAN WAYNE:     That was crazy! There was a takeover of that production. Somebody was trying to put that thing together. They raised the below the line money (money for everything except star salaries), and then they were putting up the above the line money, but it was a shell game, so they're trying to pull the thing off on just what they'd gotten. And we weren't being fed, we didn't have hotel rooms. It was crazy. I called my agents and I said that this was going on and they were like, what? And so people flew over, and Gordon Hessler was stabbing the tires of the producer's car, trying to stop him from getting away with the film. Eventually the production got taken over by my agents and they ended up being producers. And they did a bunch of stuff later on.  But Gordon Hessler was such a nice man and the poor guy had to deal with three or four, like 20 year old kids (Note: Ethan’s co-stars were Timothy Van Patton, Jimmy McNichol, and the late Marilyn Burns of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE fame).

HENRY PARKE:       In THE ALAMO: 13 DAYS TO GLORY, you worked with James Arness, of course a western icon, and one who got his career-making role of Matt Dillon because your dad recommended him.

Ethan Wayne in THE ALAMO: 13 DAYS TO GLORY

ETHAN WAYNE:     He was very nice to me and an interesting man to talk to. He was a pilot and I started flying very young so I liked him. Brian Keith was there, Alec Baldwin was there. Those guys were great. It was an interesting bunch. Buck Taylor, he works a lot, he’s a great guy. We've maintained the friendship for many years because of that project. And then (director) Burt Kennedy. (Note: Burt Kennedy wrote a number of pictures for John Wayne, and directed him in THE WAR WAGON and THE TRAIN ROBBERS) Again, when I came to these guys in my early twenties, I didn't know the history. I didn't know it because when my dad died, the executors locked the house up and we were out. And then at one point I got 12 stickers, and the kids from L.A., and me and my sister, went in and put stickers on things. That's what we were able to take out, and that was it. I lived with my dad. I mean, I didn't live with my mother, and spent little time with her, and then was pretty much out of it. It was a difficult time for me, and I'm really grateful to those stunt guys for giving me just a nudge in the right direction. You know, sometimes that's all it takes to change someone's life, and they did it, so I’m forever grateful to those guys.

The Waynes at home - John, Ethan, Aissa, John's wife
Pilar, and Marisa

HENRY PARKE:       Speaking of Burt Kennedy, I read that you starred with Kris Kristofferson, Wilford Brimley, Gerald McRaney and Buck Taylor again, in COMANCHE, the true story of the only survivor of Custer’s Last Stand, a horse. It’s the last film written and directed by Burt Kennedy, but I can find hardly anything about it. Was it finished? Was it ever released?

ETHAN WAYNE:     I don't know if it was ever finished and I think he paid for it. You know, he was in the last regiment of mounted cavalry in World War II, in the Philippines. It was a story that he always wanted to see made, and it never happened, so he put this small production together and got people to go on it. I actually made a behind-the-scenes documentary on it, so I have a bunch of footage of the making of COMANCHE. But I never saw COMANCHE actually come out, and I wouldn't know where it is or who's got it. I think that was just a labor of love, something he wanted to do. He wanted to be with some friends, and those guys came out for him and we filmed it up in Canada and in Kansas, and it was just a pet project of his. Something he cared about,

HENRY PARKE:       In the 1980s and ‘90s, you acted in action films and TV series, not only in the U.S. but in Spain, Italy, Argentina. How does working internationally differ from working in the U.S.?

ETHAN WAYNE:     Oh, it differs significantly. (laughs) I got a job on a soap opera here, and that soap opera, THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, was sold a few years later to Europe, and they started at episode one. So they said, hey, we’ll go do some press for this, and when I got over there it was very popular. They ran it at night, with everybody's voices dubbed into Italian, but it became a big thing.  They did a lot of co-productions -- Italian-German, Italian- French, Italian-Spanish. And they're like, hey, will you be the Italian side of this coproduction because you're popular here. I did a few of those and I really enjoyed it. Because I would go work overseas and I'd be gone three to six months, and then I would come back home and it would be like vacation. So I can go earn some money, come back and put it into a rental, or I'd fix up an old airplane and sell it, or a boat. I would always have some project that I would do when I got back. It was pretty good. It was a little strange because sometimes you're filming with people speaking different languages and they give you a script that was translated. And the words don't work, so you try to figure out what's going on and play along. I liked every place I went, except Venezuela was tough; Caracas is a tough city. It's going through hard times down there and that was probably the only one I didn't enjoy. I'm pretty happy anywhere. I’ve worked in India. I've worked in Europe, in the city, in the country. I've worked pretty much everywhere and I'm typically happy, but that was tough in Venezuela, tough environment, tough attitude in that place.

HENRY PARKE:       I know that you started in one euro western, MA IL BUON DIO E PROPIO IN GAMBA.

ETHAN WAYNE:     I think that was one of the Italian things. It wasn't a western, it was like a six-month miniseries. The opening character is a guy who goes from Europe to South America to find his way. He goes down there and settles an area. That was me. Then I get killed and the generations start after that. But I never saw these things. I can't believe you found the name. It's funny, I felt like I had enough experience by the time I got through that European stuff to work and really be a great tool for somebody to tell a story on film. For years leading up to that, I don't think I was very prepared. It was all a learning process. You know, when you open a book and you read a couple sentences and all of a sudden, you're in that story, you're not even aware of your surroundings. That was starting to really happen for me and it's something that I thoroughly enjoyed. And it's something that I miss all the time. But when my brother Michael died, there was a void to be filled for the family business. That was also very interesting to me because I felt like what we were putting out, it was easy. It was celebrity collectible product. There's a place for it, but I didn't feel like the work had been done to try to create something timeless, and authentic, and with a level of quality that was appropriate for my father, something that maybe he would have enjoyed if he was still here and liked to have seen his name on.

In the next Round-up, the Ethan Wayne interview concludes with a discussion of his stunt work, his favorite Westerns, and his work heading both THE JOHN WAYNE CANCER INSTITUTE and JOHN WAYNE ENTERPRISES.


If you’re get Sirius Radio, it’s Jimmy Stewart Day for 24 hours today, with many episodes of THE SIX SHOOTER, guest shots on SUSPENSE, a LUX PRESENTS HOLLYWOOD version of DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, and much more. Tune in now!
Happy Trails,
All Original Content Copyright May 2018 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. Ethan was in a couple of Euro-westerns. MANHUNT (1984) with Ernest Borgnine a modern day western and GOD ONLY KNOWS with Jo Champa and Aldo Sambrell that I believe was filmed in South America in the early 1990s. Excellent interview and Ethan seems like a nice guy.